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Drive by Drive: Mac Jones v. Los Angeles Chargers

Drive by Drive: Mac Jones

After deviating from the rookies last week, we’re back on track this week with our first look at Patriots’ first-year signal-caller, Mac Jones. He and the Patriots went into Los Angeles and scored an upset victory over the Chargers, 27-24. How did they do it? Let’s dive into the tape… 

First Drive: Starting on own 25, 10:54 left in 1st quarter, Chargers lead 7-0

The Chargers took their opening possession 75 yards and scored a touchdown, leaving Mac Jones and the Patriots offense trailing 7-0 before even stepping foot on the field. After a short run and an incomplete pass, the Pats faced an early 3rd and 7. Jones has time and finds an open Kendrick Bourne near the right sideline for a first down. On the very next play, Jones sits in a clean pocket and then steps up as the edge rusher finally gets there and fires a strike down the field to Nelson Agholor for 44 yards. He hit Agholor on the outside shoulder, taking him just far enough away from the safety who was closing in. 

A run for a short loss and an incomplete pass set up a 3rd and 11 from the LAC 15. Jones scrambles for a short gain, but Chargers are called for holding, giving the Patriots a first and goal at the 7. A Damien Harris run for 4 is followed by a completion to Jakob Johnson down to the 1. On the play to Johnson, Jones faced no pressure, and surveyed every receiver on the field, even directing traffic until Johnson finally came free. Harris plunged in on the next play and tied the game.   

Second Drive: Starting on own 29, 2:43 left in the first quarter, tied 7-7 

The Chargers are forced to punt, and the Pats start inside their own 30. The Patriots picked up a first down on a swing pass to Rhamondre Stevenson, followed by a Stevenson run.  Jones throws incomplete on first down, and then Harris runs for five, setting up a 3rd and 5. The pocket quickly collapses on Jones, who turtles up and takes the sack, forcing the Pats to punt. 

Third Drive: Starting on own 25, 12:35 left in the second quarter, 14-7 Chargers 

Herbert and the Chargers engineer another long scoring drive, putting the Pats in a 14-7 hole. First play of the drive is a quick pass to Jonnu Smith who breaks a tackle and picks up 11. Back-to-back Harris runs, sandwiching a false start, set up a 3rd and 4. Jones drops back and then immediately takes off to the right as the pocket is never established. He made a nice cut to get past the sticks, and a (questionable) late hit on Jones tacked on 15 yards. The very next play, Jones steps into a clean pocket and hits an open Hunter Henry, running a medium-crossing route across the middle. Henry catches the ball around the 20 and takes it inside the 5 to set up first and goal. Next play is a throw to Kendrick Bourne, a ball that was a little high but catchable and Bourne isn’t able to bring it in. He likely scores if he catches it. Harris runs it down to the one-yard line on second down, bringing up third and goal. Jones runs play-action on a pattern designed for Henry who isn’t able to get free and Jones throws it away. The Pats elect to go for it on fourth and goal, and they don’t get it. Pats came out in shotgun and tried to run a corner fade to Jakobi Meyers, but he was well-covered, and the throw was out-of-reach. After a first and goal from inside the 5, the Patriots elected to throw three out of the four plays that led to the turnover on downs. 

Fourth Drive: Starting on LAC 36 , 6:51 left in the second quarter, 14-7 Chargers 

The Chargers go three-and-out from their own 1 and after a nice punt return by the Pats, the offense is set up in great field position. They start with an incomplete pass to Bourne on first down and go right back to him on second down for 7 yards. Bourne found a soft spot in the zone and Jones got it to him quickly. The Pats go with a run on third down and pick up the first. Damien Harris then takes three-straight runs to set up a 2nd and 5 from Chargers 6. Pats go play-action on second down, but the rush immediately forces Jones to flush and throw it away. Third and 5 from the 6, pressure gets to Jones again and he throws it into the feet of Hunter Henry. Pats elect to kick and make it a 14-10 game. Jones is 1-7 on his last seven attempts as the Chargers’ pressure is starting to ramp up. 

Fifth Drive: Starting on own 32, 2:13 left in the third quarter, 14-10 Chargers 

The teams trade three-and-outs as the Chargers punt to the Pats who punt it right back. Jones made a very nice “drop-in-the-bucket” throw to Meyers on the third-down play and hit him right along the left sidelines into tight coverage, but Meyers couldn’t stay in-bounds. Jones is now 1-9 on his last 9 throws. 

Sixth Drive: Starting on LAC 40, 1:06 left in the third quarter, 14-10 Chargers 

Justin Herbert throws a pick on the ensuing drive, again setting New England up in plus-territory, this time with just over a minute left in the half. Jones gets protection on first down and fires a 10-yard strike to a well-covered Kendrick Bourne. Despite having three timeouts and Bourne being stopped in-bounds, the Patriots don’t use one and allow over 20 seconds to run off the clock before the next play, an incomplete deep shot to Agholor. The pressure closed in on second down and forced Jones to make a high throw, incomplete. Third down, Jones overthrows Bourne on a short crosser that wouldn’t have picked up the first down. Pats kick a field goal and we go to the half with the Chargers leading 14-13. After starting the game 6-for-9 passing for 109 yards, Jones finishes the half on a 2-for-13 run, and just 17 yards. 

Seventh Drive: Starting on own 22, start of the third quarter, 14-13 Chargers

Pats get the ball to start the second half. Harris and Stevenson combine for three-straight runs to pick up 20 yards. Jones hits Meyers on a short pass across the middle to set up a 3rd and 2. The Pats pick up the first down on the ground with Brandon Bolden and then go play-action on first down where Jones finds N’Keal Harry for 15 yards across the middle. Good throw by Jones as the play-action allows him extra time in the pocket. Harris runs for 5 on the next play, and then has a 28-yard penalty called back due to a hold. Now second and 14 from the LAC 37, Jones has time and tries to hit Agholor in the endzone but just overthrows him. On third down, Jones throws short to Bourne who catches it and then coughs it up, recovered by Los Angeles. 

Eighth Drive: Starting on own 39, 8:48 left in the third quarter, 14-13 Chargers 

After a quick Chargers’ punt and another good punt return, the Pats are back on offense. The Patriots start with a pair of runs that net 2 yards, bringing up 3rd and 8. Chargers get some late pressure, but Jones rips one into Meyers across the middle for 14 yards and a first down, while taking a hit. The Pats run three more times for a first down, and then get called for a hold on the ensuing first down, setting up 1st and 20 for the LAC 44. Harris has now had two runs of 20+ yards nullified by penalty. Jones navigates the pocket on the first and long but can’t hit a well-covered Meyers. A 14-yard draw to Bolden brings up 3rd and 6, but again Jones can’t quite get it into Meyers and the Pats kick another field goal to take their first lead of the game, 16-14.  

Fast-forward: We’re going to skip ahead to the tenth drive below because the Chargers would kick a field goal on their next possession to retake the lead, followed by a Patriots three-and-out. Then Justin Herbert throws a pick-6 that allows New England to grab the lead back, 24-17. Mac Jones hit Jakobi Meyers for the two-point conversion. And then, a Chargers three-and-out gives it back to the Pats. 

Tenth Drive: Starting on own 34, 9:15 left in the fourth quarter, 24-17 Patriots 

The Pats take the field with a seven-point lead and under 10 minutes remaining and they begin with four-straight runs. On 2nd and 9, Jones feels the blindside pressure coming and gets rid of the ball just in time to Meyers who finds an open area and picks up 17 yards. After a short run, the Pats go play-action and Jones has plenty of time to find N’Keal Harry for another 15 yards. A mix of runs and short passes ultimately lead to a field goal to take a 10-point lead with 2:19 left and all Chargers’ timeouts spent. Worth noting: Patriots players had about six opportunities on the drive to go out of bounds and all made the extra effort to go down in-bounds and keep the clock moving.  The drive chewed up nearly seven minutes and essentially put the game out-of-reach. LA would score a late touchdown, but fail on the onside-kick, and the Pats walk away with the 27-24 victory. 

Final thoughts: Mac Jones was good but not great. He was efficient and solid. When he had time to throw, he made the plays. When he was pressured, he struggled. Towards the end of the game, with the Pats trying to run down the clock, Belichick allowed Jones to throw several times, showing that he had trust in his young signal-caller not to make a mistake. Though he struggled at times, Jones never really put himself or the team in a position to lose the game — he took one sack but protected the ball when he did. Almost all of his misses were on throws that were out-of-reach for the receivers, but also passes that could not be intercepted. He plays safe and smart, and made a few nice downfield throws. Of all the rookie QBs I’ve watched (which would be all of them), Jones is clearly the most NFL-ready. He commands the offense well and he understands the game and makes good decisions. He never tried to force a play that wasn’t there, which is something that plagues the other first-rounders in his class — and many NFL QBs for that matter. 

Overall, Jones is a guy who likely won’t lose the game for you, but he’s not going to win it, either. He was at his best when the Patriots’ run game was going well and could set up the play-action. He’s a great fit in New England and it’s clear why Belichick used a first-round pick on him and why he elected to let Cam Newton go and start the rookie.

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