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New England Patriots

Report Details Downfall of Coach-QB Relationship in New England



New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, left, talks to quarterback Mac Jones during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

By the time the 2023 New England Patriots season came to an end, Bill Belichick hadn’t spoken to Mac Jones in more than a month. The dysfunction of the 4-13 season has been well-documented. Just the same, it is surprising Belichick had resorted to giving Jones the silent treatment by the season’s end.

According to a report by Mark Daniels on MassLive however, that is exactly how things between the two were left.

Solid Start in the NFL

Mac Jones had an excellent first season for the Patriots. He became the first rookie QB in AFC East history to win 10 games. For every rookie in NFL history, Jones finished with the second-highest completion percentage (67.6%) and fifth most yards (3,801). His 22 touchdown passes ranked ninth. Although New England got slaughtered by the Buffalo Bills on Wild Card Weekend, it was a promising start to Jones’ career.

Following the season offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels left to become head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. He took several members of the Patriots coaching staff with him. Ultimately, it would seem he took Mac Jones’ confidence with him as well.

Matt Patricia Takes Over the Offense

Following McDaniels departure, former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia was brought in to run the offense. Not only would a new person be calling the plays, but the scheme was different too. Mac Jones resisted the change. He let this be known. Daniels’ report indicates that Bill Belichick did not appreciate his quarterback’s feedback.

“According to a team source, Jones’ frustration over the insertion of Patricia, and moving to a more Shanahan-based offense was immediate. Before training camp, he showed resistance to changing offensive systems, especially after having success with McDaniels. That drew Belichick’s ire.”

If the preseason disapproval from Mac Jones didn’t sit well with Belichick, his behavior during the season certainly went over even worse. Jones was often seen showing his annoyance with Patricia. Sometimes it was the play call. Other times it was the play call coming in late. The quarterback made no secret of hiding his annoyance and his head coach was not the only one who did not enjoy it.

Patriots legend Julian Edelman publicly criticized Mac Jones for making “pissy faces” and waving off his coaches. By season’s end, Matt Patricia would be gone. Mac Jones’ problems would not be.

Frustration Builds in Year Three

For those who opted to see the Mac Jones glass as half-full, it was easy to pin the bulk of 2022’s poor performance on factors outside of Mac Jones’ control. If that meant making Matt Patricia for the offense’s woes, so be it. But after the team replaced Patricia with Bill O’Brien (reportedly against the wishes of Bill Belichick) things got even worse.

Taking both Mac Jones and Bill O’Brien out of the equation for a moment, the team’s personnel decisions put them behind the eight-ball before training camp even got underway. The Patriots top receiver and Jones’ close friend Jakobi Meyers was allowed to walk in free agency, replaced by JuJu Smith-Schuster. Right tackle was not addressed in a serious way in the draft or free agency, a decision which proved costly. New England had many right tackle options, but the only quality one (Mike Onwenu) was being played at right guard.

Mac Jones had no confidence in those around him and, contrary to O’Brien’s advice, began to freelance as a result.

“According to multiple team sources, Jones’ biggest downfall was playing outside his comfort zone due to frustration. With receivers struggling to beat man coverage and offensive linemen struggling to pass block, Jones tried to do too much. By playing outside of O’Brien’s play call, the quarterback made things worse.”

One example cited in the article was multiple throws back across the field in New England’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Things Fall Apart in Germany

After the Patriots lost to the Colts in Week 12 in Germany, even the last remaining believers that Mac Joens could turn it around had thrown in the towel. On Patriots Football Now it was declared. “New England’s 2024 Starting QB Is Not on the Roster.”  It was incredibly obvious that not only had the coaching staff lost confidence in Mac Jones, but he had also lost confidence in himself.

The MassLive article indicates there was more going on in the game, however.

“Unknown to most, Jones was playing hurt. In Frankfurt, Jones suffered a stinger when Tyquan Lewis hit him at 7:56 of the fourth quarter. It caused his right arm to go numb, according to a source.”

If the report is accurate, Jones had almost no feeling in his arm (aside from “pins and needles”) when he threw the awful fourth quarter interception that sealed his fate. It was an atrocious throw and would be his last of the afternoon.

New England would get the ball back for one final drive, down 10-6 with a chance to win. Jones, who had regained sensation in his arm, was replaced by Bailey Zappe at quarterback. This was not communicated to Mac Jones, who was surprised.

Quiet Down the Stretch

Mac Jones did start the Patriots next game in Week 12 against the New York Giants. He struggled, throwing two interceptions. Once again he was pulled in favor of Zappe. He did not see the field again in 2023. Based on his play, being benched was understandable. What Mark Daniels detailed in his report is not.

“After Week 12, when Jones was benched, Belichick eventually stopped speaking to his quarterback. That lack of communication came to a head in the Patriots’ final game.”

Daniels goes on to detail how Jones did his best to be a good teammate and work hard despite being relegated to a backup role. If the coaching staff noticed this, it went unacknowledged. This became painfully obvious in the Patriots season finale.

“That hard work didn’t influence the coaches. Not only was Jones demoted to third string, but nobody told him. He found out he was inactive when the Patriots released the list 90 minutes before kickoff, according to a team source.”

The Patriots Week 18 game was against the New York Jets. They also had a struggling first-round quarterback from the 2021 NFL Draft, Zach Wilson. However, unlike with Jones and the Patriots, the Jets had communicated to Wilson that they planned to sit him and try to trade him in the offseason. Daniels’ reporting makes it clear Jones would have preferred the same type of courtesy from his franchise.

“According to a source who was on the field pregame, the Patriots quarterback was so bothered by his team’s lack of communication, he told a member of the Jets’ staff that he appreciated how their organization handled Wilson’s situation.”

Can Mac Jones in New England Be Salvaged?

To reiterate, Mac Jones was a solid if unspectacular quarterback in New England as a rookie. He regressed significantly in his second season and this past year his play was unacceptable. Whether some fault lies with the front office, coaching staff, or other offensive players (it does), Mac Jones is far from blame-free.

He did not handle the Matt Patricia situation with the maturity needed from an NFL quarterback and team leader. He did not follow advice from Bill O’Brien. By the time Mac Jones was replaced for the final time in 2023, he looked like a shell of his former self. His confidence was gone. His reputation had become that of a whiny finger-pointer without the football IQ to make up for his physical shortcomings.

Regardless of what other aspects of the lockerroom dynamics this report uncovered, it does not take Mac Jones off the hook for his poor play.

With that said, there could still be a place for Mac Jones in New England in the post-Belichick Era.

Silver Lining for Mac Jones

“Teammates said Jones worked hard inside Gillette Stadium following his demotion on the team’s quarterback depth chart,” described Daniels. “He showed up early, worked more in the weight room, and stayed late.”

Time away from the field also gave Jones a chance to do some self-reflection, which seemed to lead to self-realization.

“When Belichick told him that Zappe would start, Jones reacted by watching every NFL game he played in to see where things went wrong. He later admitted his mistakes to those around him and realized that despite players struggling around him, some of his biggest errors were on him for freelancing.”

If he works hard, has a positive attitude, and is a good teammate, there is no reason Mac Jones cannot be in New England next season. The Patriots won’t pick up his fifth-year option at this point, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still be a reasonable backup option. Trading him won’t fetch a solid return, so why give him away?

And as Mark Daniels also points out, there were several plays this season that could have significantly altered the path of Mac Jones’ season. It also could have changed the perception of him by fans, coaches, and even his perception of himself. Some of the examples cited were:

Kayshon Boutte failing to get two feet in bounds against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1…

Devante Parker dropping a perfectly thrown deep ball against the Las Vegas Raiders…

Jalen Reagor dropping another well-thrown deep ball against Washington…

…and JuJu Smith-Schuster not catching  a pass, resulting in a game-securing interception for the Commanders.

The Aftermath

Some will view the article on MassLive as a smear campaign against Bill Belichick. That feeling has existed from Belichick supporters since he was let go.

If Mark Daniels became aware of this situation in Foxboro, similar rumors/reports likely made their way to NFL franchises seeking a new head coach this offseason as well. It is difficult for even the winningest coach of the Super Bowl Era to justify giving his quarterback a six-week silent treatment to end the season.

Some may also view this as an attempt at revisionist history, excusing Mac Jones’ poor play. That does not seem to be the case, however, as the article confirms that even Jones realized his mistakes when he had an opportunity to step away from the field.

The 2023 New England Patriots season seemed doomed from the start in many ways. Consecutive close losses to playoff teams out of the gate, followed by a surplus of key injuries and awful play. The good news is that the 2023 season is now over. Bill Belichick is now gone (for better or worse). There is no need to drudge up every miscue of his overwhelmingly successful run in New England.

But maybe Mac Jones still has a chance to redeem himself under a new regime, even if he’s holding a clipboard in Week 1 while doing so.