Follow The Leader: Why Patriots QB Mac Jones Earning Praise?

Patriot Country
Patriot Country

Jones ability to tackle adversity has impressed his several of his Patriots teammates, including two of his most prominent pass-catchers.

FOXBORO — As the old saying goes: “Success and failure are two sides of the same coin.”

Such is life for New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones.

As the Patriots prepare to host the Buffalo Bills for a pivotal divisional matchup at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night, Jones will be in the spotlight … not just for his performance on the field, but also for the example he is setting for his teammates by playing through adversity.

“He’s doing a great job, man,” tight end Hunter Henry told reporters on Monday. “This year has been tough at times. Just going through an injury and battling his way back. It’s fun to see him have success and just the leader he is. We just continue to ride him throughout this whole year. He’s a stud. I’m glad he’s my quarterback. Glad he’s our quarterback. Excited to go out there and compete every single week with him.”

Despite entering the season on the heels of an impressive rookie campaign, Jones has struggled to rekindle his previous success in 2022. The 24-year-old has completed 162 passes for 1,768 yards, with six touchdowns and seven interceptions. Though missing three games due to a high-ankle sprain has undoubtedly contributed to his regression, it is clear that the Alabama product has looked uncomfortable and even confused in New England’s ‘new-look’ offense.

In contrast, Jones was largely the talk of the town just one year ago.

In just his first season as the Pats’ starter, Jones led all rookies with a 67.6 completion percentage and a 92.5 passer rating, while compiling 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns. He completed at least 70 percent of his attempts in nine games and twice threw for 300-plus yards through the air. Jones was the centerpiece of a rookie class, which was chosen as the best in the NFL this past year by Pro Football Focus (PFF). His PFF grade ranked 12th among quarterbacks. The Alabama product was also selected to the PFWA's All-Rookie team.

Jones entered his preparations for 2022 intent on avoiding the dreaded ‘one-hit-wonder’ moniker. He adapted a stricter offseason workout regimen and healthier diet heading into his second season with the Pats. As a result, he looked leaner and impressed his teammates with his work ethic and leadership skills. Accordingly, Jones also took the proper steps not only to increase his velocity, but also to build upon his accuracy in various spots on the field. Those preparations involved collaborating with noted throwing guru Tom House.

However, the results have been mixed. Jones has had significant trouble when under pressure. Through eight games played, Jones has been sacked 21 times. His decision-making has been suspect, leading to notable criticism from fans and media alike. To make matters more difficult, rookie Bailey Zappe appeared to inject life back into the Patriots offense during Jones’ injury-related absence. Zappe’s control, poise and aesthetically-pleasing scoring strikes had fans clamoring for him to supplant Jones’ as the starting quarterback. In fact, Jones was booed off his home field in his Week 7 return against the Chicago Bears.

Never one to make excuses or hang his head, Jones persevered. Since the Pats’ 33-14 loss to the Bears, Jones has shown gradual improvement. Albeit in a 33-26 losing effort against the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving night, Jones had his best performance of the season. He looked more decisive, confident and aggressive; completing 28 of 39 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns.

While his stat line has been more impressive as of late, it has been Jones’ determination that continues to make him beloved among his teammates. Echoing Henry’s previous sentiments, wide receiver Jakobi Meyers praised his quarterback’s ability to remain steady and focused, despite the rocky road he has traveled.

“I wouldn't necessarily say it’s changed,” Meyers said on Tuesday of Jones’ demeanor as it relates to his rookie year. “But, the fact that it wasn’t as easy for him this year. I feel like he had a rough patch and people looked down on him for a second. But he stayed the same guy the whole way through it in the locker room. Wow! … I still respected him. So just seeing the resiliency in him … the respect for him has grown.”

Jones’ leadership abilities may be attributed, in part, to the example he sets with his teammates. With a fearsome Buffalo Bills defense standing between his team and continued playoff contention , he will need to set the example by always remaining in the fight.

As he did at Alabama, he demonstrates a strong command of the playbook, but is also not afraid to mix it up, or even take a hit. In the early stages of the season, Jones often found himself being hurried, pressured and hit at an alarming rate. Still, the rookie showed tremendous resolve, as well as physical resilience. Though he may have taken a hard hit, Jones would immediately get back up to lead his team, even with the occasional spot of blood on his jersey.

Physical toughness of that type is inherently inspirational.

Yet, his emotional maturity and mental persistence is what makes Jones a quarterback which his teammates are proud to follow … and follow him they will into their most important game of the season.

The Patriots and Bills are set for an 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff from Gillette Stadium.

Follow Mike D’Abate on Twitter @ mdabateNFL and Listen/Subscribe to his daily podcast: Locked On Patriots

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