FOXBORO — Mac Jones took a good deal of punishment against the New Orleans Saints Sunday.
But it didn’t deter him. Instead, the 23-year-old rookie quarterback kept standing in there amidst the continuous pressure, trying to lead a late rally that ultimately fell short with the New England Patriots falling to the Saints, 28-13, at Gillette Stadium.
Jones’s ability to bounce back up after getting hit 11 times and sacked twice along with his no-quit attitude impressed his teammates and are signs that Jones has at least the right mental makeup to succeed at one of the most difficult positions in all of sports.
“You saw him there but you really didn’t see him in the huddle,” said Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, who recorded a game-high nine receptions for 94 yards. “He is trying to get the guys going, with 10 seconds left on the clock he still feels like we had a chance. I mean it is good to see that in your quarterback, the guy you’re supposed to follow. He was just out there fighting to the last possible second even with the pick, he was still out there trying to score. … I am just happy to see him go out there and fight even if we were losing by a lot.”
With the Saints getting after Jones, he completed 30-of-51 passes for 270 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.
Despite the turnovers, one of which tight end Jonnu Smith is entirely at blame for and another coming on a desperation attempt in the waning seconds, Jones made it a one-score game with 9:22 left in the fourth quarter.
Prior to the score, Jones scrambled for a 12-yard gain — he was forced to do that a few times due to the pocket collapsing and led the Patriots with 28 yards rushing on six carries — and chucked his knee brace to the sideline following the run.
On the very next play, Jones dropped back to pass and felt pressure almost immediately and lofted a pass down the sideline off his back foot to Kendrick Bourne (six receptions 96 yards) for a 22-yard touchdown.
“I think Mac played with poise even through adversity,” Bourne said. “He still was relaxed and didn’t look rattled in the huddle and when he took off his brace, it just showed how tough he is. You can tell he is just here to make plays and the brace can’t stop him and he has the nobody can stop me but me mentality and that is what you want to see out of your quarterback.”
Patriots center David Andrews noticed the same composure out of Jones that Bourne saw. Jones needed it as well. In the Patriots two losses, Jones has been hit 20 times, which says as much about Jones’s toughness as it does New England’s offensive line.
At times, Jones holds onto the ball too long, but the protection around him surely hasn’t been great from an offensive line that hasn’t had the services of behemoth right tackle Trent Brown the last two games due to a calf injury he sustained early in the season-opening loss to the Miami Dolphins.
“Poise, keep going out there, keep throwing punches by him,” said Andrews of Jones. “It is our job to stand up for him and he is standing back there and delivering the ball, so we have to help uphold our end of the bargain and the entire team has to hold up our end of the bargain better. We just have to play better overall.”
Jones tends to have a quick memory, a good thing to have after making mistakes. One of Jones’s miscues came late in the second quarter, when instead of just taking a sack he tried to force a pass down field.
Jones couldn’t get enough on the throw and tossed his first career interception right to P.J. Williams. Thanks to a long return by Williams, the Saints converted the turnover into a 14-0 lead.
But according to Jones, his teammates didn’t lose faith in him and he kept moving forward. That’s something Jones hopes the offense will do as well with the Patriots needing more of an output in that department.
“Everyone did have my back. It seemed they were very supportive,” Jones said. “For me, I’ve worked a lot on just playing the next play, and I felt like I wasn’t lingering or thinking about the last play at all and neither was any of our team. We can definitely get better there, and I appreciate everyone supporting me, and I’ve got to get better. So I will.”