By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — We are getting dangerously close to Mac Jones shedding his No. 50 jersey and sliding on (presumably) his comfortable No. 10, as he and the Patriots will host the Washington Football Team on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.
Considering every pass, hand-off, cadence, smile, fist-bump and any other sign of emotion has been documented and analyzed intently thus far in his young NFL career, it’s a safe bet that a whoooole lot will be made of Jones’ performance on Thursday night.
The challenge for Jones will be multiple. For one, there’s the simple aspect of playing in an NFL game, with live tackling, at full speed, in front of 60,000 fans in the building and countless more watching around the country on television. There’s also the aspect of Washington carrying an elite defense from last year into this year.
Washington ranked second in yards allowed and fourth in points allowed last year, allowing the second-fewest passing yards and recording the fifth-most interceptions in the NFL. You’ll also remember that defense gave Tom Brady a whole lot of trouble for a large portion of their playoff meeting in the divisional round.
Now, how much or how little the starters play for Washington is anyone’s guess, as is the manner in which Bill Belichick will employ Jones and Cam Newton, who by all accounts is the starting quarterback of the team.
But with that in mind, it’s worth taking a peek back to see how all of the other rookie quarterbacks have fared in their preseason debuts with the Patriots. The situation is obviously different now, both because the preseason has been shortened by a game, and because there’s not a man named Brady who’s obviously atop the depth chart no matter what happens in August.
Nevertheless, here’s the rundown. We’ll work backward, from Jarrett Stidham all the way back to that sixth-round pick from Michigan in the year 2000. (The list will include only drafted QBs, except for Brian Hoyer, who has obviously stuck around quite a while after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2009.)
Jarrett Stidham – 2019 at Detroit
14-for-24, 179 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 95.7 rating
Stidham got a lot of run in the 2019 preseason, helping ease the Patriots’ decision to cut Brian Hoyer. In his debut in Detroit, Stidham completed 14 of 24 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown while taking one sack. He also rushed for 16 yards on four carries.
Stidham was actually better than his stats showed, too. He delivered two perfect deep balls, but Maurice Harris couldn’t catch either. And receiver Dontrelle Inman was tackled about an inch shy of the goal line after a reception, taking a would-be touchdown off Stidham’s stat sheet.
That was the start of a solid preseason for Stidham. He’d end up going 61-for-90 (67.8 percent) for 731 yards (8.1 Y/A) with four touchdowns and one interception, while also rushing for 88 yards on 17 carries. That of course hasn’t really translated to the regular season, where Stidham is 24-for-48 (50 percent) ofr 270 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Danny Etling – 2018 vs. Washington
2-for-5, 21 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
Much like his Patriots career in general, Danny Etling’s debut was forgettable. In addition to not doing much at all as a passer, he also lost a fumble.
His rookie preseason was mostly remembered for his epic touchdown run vs. the Giants in the preseason finale, which was a game where he threw a touchdown and two interceptions.
Jacoby Brissett – 2016 vs. New Orleans
7-for-13, 63 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
With a Tom Brady suspension looming, this was an important preseason for Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Jacoby Brissett. In his first action, Brissett was fine if unspectacular. In addition to the 63 passing yards, he also had 19 rushing yards on two carries, one of which went for 14 yards.
Brissett didn’t look totally in command during that game, which was to be expected of the third-round pick out of NC State. Little did he or the Patriots know that he’d be leading the Patriots to a victory on national television just six weeks later.
Jimmy Garoppolo – 2014 at Washington
9-for-13, 157 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
“We know what Tom’s age and contract situation is … “
Imagine the pressure of getting drafted to a team with Tom Brady as the quarterback and with Bill Belichick uttering that line after your selection. That’s really something.
Jimmy Garoppolo did always seem to handle that pressure with aplomb, though, and his strong preseason debut was evidence of that. That 9-for-13, 157-yard performance took place not just in the first NFL game played for Garoppolo, but the first NFL game he had ever attended in his life. He’d end up having a tremendous preseason overall, completing 46 of his 79 passes (58.2 percent) for 618 yards (7.8 Y/A) with five touchdowns and one interception.
Tom Brady was watching with eager eyes. While it wasn’t the only inspiration, that push from Jimmy Garoppolo certainly helped spring Brady on a truly unbelievable late-career run — one that hasn’t yet ended.
Ryan Mallett – 2011 vs. Jacksonville
12-for-19, 164 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
The rocket-armed QB out of Arkansas — by way of Michigan — never really worked out in the NFL, but he got off to a good start in the summer of 2011. After being picked in the third round with the 74th overall pick in 2011, Mallett put forth a strong debut vs. the Jaguars. He threw his lone touchdown of the preseason, a 16-yard connection with Stevan Ridley in the third quarter to give New England a 33-9 lead at the time.
That was Mallett’s most action — and best performance — of his rookie preseason. He’d end up seeing regular-season game action just four total times, going 1-for-4 for 17 yards with an interception before being traded to Houston in 2014.
Zac Robinson – 2010 vs. New Orleans
3-for-8, 48 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
Before working as an analyst for Pro Football Fous, and before joining Sean McVay’s coaching staff in L.A., Zac Robinson was a seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma State.
His NFL debut wasn’t great. He went 3-for-8 for 48 yards, while taking one sack and losing a yard on his only rush attempt. None of the three Patriots QBs — Brady, Hoyer, Robinson — threw a TD that night, but Robinson completed the longest pass of any QB on the night with a 52-yard connection with Darnell Jenkins.
Robinson would barely see the field for the rest of the preseason, going 3-for-7 for 23 yards the rest of the way.
He didn’t make the final roster, and later spent time with the Seahawks, Lions, and Bengals.
Brian Hoyer – 2009 vs. Cincinnati
11-for-19, 112 yards
An undrafted free agent out of Michigan State, Hoyer actually didn’t play at all in the Patriots’ first preseason game of 2009. Those reps against the Eagles went to Brady (coming off the torn ACL season), Andrew Walter, and Kevin O’Connell.
Hoyer did see action the next week, though, and he was so good that Walter didn’t see the field again. Hoyer was 11-for-19 for 112 yards vs. the Bengals, and he was even better in the preseason finale, when he went 18-for-25 for 242 yards with a touchdown, as well as six rushes for 22 yards.
While Hoyer won’t be getting his own bust in Canton, the fact that he’s still an active NFL QB in 2021 after entering the league as an undrafted free agent a dozen years ago — one who didn’t even get to play in the first preseason game, no less — is a heck of an accomplishment.
Kevin O’Connell – 2008 vs. Baltimore
6-for-13, 57 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
The man who will come to Foxboro this week as Washington’s offensive coordinator made his own preseason debut in the same building 13 years ago.
O’Connell was an interesting pick, in that Tom Brady had just completed one of the best quarterbacking seasons in NFL history before Belichick spent a third-round pick (No. 94 overall) on the QB out of San Diego State.
He got a fair amount of playing time in his preseason debut, completing just six of his 13 passes for 57 yards, while throwing a pick. Mat Gutierrez — an undrafted QB from the ’07 class — and Matt Cassel took the rest of the snaps for New England in that 16-15 loss for the Patriots.
O’Connell was worse the next week in Tampa, going 6-for-15 for 61 yards with another pick. O’Connell would end up seeing very little NFL action, completing four of his six passes for 23 yards in the 2008 season, while rushing for negative-6 yards on three attempts.
He’s mostly remembered for being named a Jets captain by Rex Ryan for the week of a game against the Patriots. Absolute ownage of Bill Belichick by Rex Ryan there. Bill has simply never recovered.
Matt Cassel – 2005 at Cincinnati
13-for-21, 135 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Another of the more fascinating career arcs of the 21st century, Cassel went from making zero starts in college, to making zero starts in his first three NFL seasons, to suddenly being at the helm of a team coming off a 16-0 season, to capitalizing and building a solid NFL career. Wild stuff.
His first taste of NFL action came at Paul Brown Stadium, as he and Rohan Davey split the QB reps. Cassel was good, completing 13 of his 21 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown, though he was sacked three times. He did run for 46 yards on five carries, including a 14-yard scamper.
It was an early sign that despite having thrown just 33 total passes in four years at USC, Cassel just might have been capable of being an NFL quarterback. He’d end up putting together a 14-year career.
Kliff Kingsbury – 2003 vs. NY Giants
1-for-4, 11 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
On a night when four Patriots quarterbacks combined to throw just 23 passes, Kingsbury managed to complete one pass for 11 yards. He entered the game midway through the fourth quarter, with the Patriots leading 23-6. His 11-yard completion to Michael Malan helped set up an Adam Vinatieri field goal.
Kingsbury wouldn’t end up making his regular-season debut until 2005 with the Jets. He completed one of his two passes for 17 yards in a 27-0 loss. And now he’s a hot shot head coach with a sweet house.
Rohan Davey – 2002 at NY Giants
5-for-9, 91 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT
A fourth-round pick by the first-time-champion Patriots, Rohan Davey exited Nick Saban’s program at LSU and entered Belichick’s program in New England.
Davey — along with Brady and Damon Huard — played in the preseason opener at Giants Stadium, completing five of nine passes for 91 yards with one pick and one sack. He rushed for 18 yards on two carries. That performance included a 46-yard completion to Fred Coleman, in what turned out to be a field goal drive. But he threw a pick in his next drive, and the Giants turned it into a touchdown en route to a 22-19 win for New York.
Davey would finish his NFL career with just 19 regular-season pass attempts … and two Super Bowl rings. Hanging out with Tom Brady sure pays dividends.
Tom Brady – 2000 vs. San Francisco (Hall of Fame Game)
3-for-4, 28 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
It’s kind of poetic, isn’t it — the greatest quarterback of all time, playing his first NFL snaps in Canton?
Of course, exactly zero people in the world believed the GOAT was on the field for this one, as the sixth-round selection out of Michigan didn’t qualify as a hot ticket at the time.
But sure enough, after Drew Bledsoe got in some work, and after Michael Bishop handled the bulk of the Patriots’ quarterbacking duties, Brady trotted out to the field to lead the huddle midway through the fourth quarter.
Because he’s Tom Brady, we’ll do the full play by play of what took place:
–Harold Shaw, 2-yard run
–Harold Shaw, 7-yard run
–Brady pass COMPLETE to Sean Morey, 8 yards
–Harold Shaw, 6-yard run
–Harold Shaw, 1-yard run
–Brady pass COMPLETE to Chris Floyd, 8 yards
–Patrick Pass, 3-yard run
–Patrick Pass, 7-yard run
–Brady pass INCOMPLETE to Shockmain Davis
–Brady pass COMPLETE to Shockmain Davis, 12 yards
–Patrick Pass, 5-yard run
–Patrick Pass, 2-yard run
–Harold Shaw, 2-yard run
–Patrick Pass, 0-yard run on fourth-and-1
Brady later came on to take a couple of kneeldowns to kill the final seconds off the clock, as the Patriots won 20-0. That would certainly be considered an unspectacular debut.
He’d end up going 10-for-15 for 129 yards the next week against the Lions, before seeing no action in the Patriots’ third or fourth preseason games. He’d get back on the field for the fifth and final preseason game, completing nine of his 13 passes for 97 yards and his first NFL touchdown. (That TD went to Dane Looker, in case you ever want to impress your friends with some trivia.)
While the preseason is just the preseason, Brady was good enough that summer to earn a spot on the roster, and the rest, well, that’s history. A whole lot of history.