By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots didn’t win on Sunday night, when Tom Brady returned to his former home and — as usual — left Gillette Stadium with a win.READ MORE: The Patriots, Now 0-4 At Home, Have Fully Lost Their Foxboro Mystique
Yet it wasn’t a total loss for the home team, as the young quarterback tasked with following in the footsteps of Brady acquitted himself quite well.
Mac Jones faced a barrage of pressure all night long, but popped up from all 12 of the QB hits made by Buccaneers defenders. At one point, he completed 19 straight passes, and he finished the night 31-for-40 for 275 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
In a game that featured Tom Brady on the other sideline, Jones was the best quarterback on this night. And his teammates took notice.
“He’s ready for everything that’s coming his way and he’s improving in that direction,” receiver Kendrick Bourne said. “You know, football is football. You don’t know how it’s going to go, but the way he’s handling the situations like this, playing the Jets or whoever it may be, he’s the same quarterback, the same kind of mindset. And he looks like a baby Tom [Brady]. Like, that’s what’s my opinion is. So it’s just good to see his growth and hopefully he continues to grow that way.”
The 23-year-old Jones is still just four games into his NFL career. But veteran teammate and longtime team captain Devin McCourty said that the “rookie” label can already be dropped for Jones.
“I think the best thing about it is we’re not thinking about it. We’re not worried about the kid. He’s been preparing. I mean, the guy’s in here late, he’s in here early, every day. He’s one of the guys now. Like we don’t see him as a rookie,” McCourty said. “We honestly expect him to lead, we expect him to be our quarterback. And I think that speaks volumes about how far he’s grown since he’s been here. He has everybody’s trust in that locker room.”READ MORE: Ups & Downs From Patriots OT Loss To Cowboys: Bad Day For Pair Of New England's Big Free Agent Signings
As part of his night, Jones finally got both of the big-name additions at tight end involved in the red zone, throwing a touchdown to Hunter Henry in the second quarter and a touchdown to Jonnu Smith to start the fourth quarter.
“The kid is dialed in, man,” Henry said. “He’s continued to get better. Like Kendrick said, he’s super poised and handles himself tremendously. He never is down, never is too up, he stays very even keeled throughout the game and he’s only going to continue to get better. That was a big-time game right there and I feel like he handled himself like a veteran, like he’s been there before. He’s just going to continue to grow. I’m proud of how he played, how he communicated, and how he executed out there.”
While Jones showed the national audience and the raucous home crowd that he can handle the pressure of a high-stakes, nationally televised game like this one (his Alabama career surely showed that, but the level of competition has now changed significantly), his performance wasn’t surprising to opposing head coach Bruce Arians.
“Just like I thought he would be — calm and cool,” Arians said of Jones. “Played his tail off. Yeah, he gave his team a chance to win.”
That chance ultimately came up a few yards short. On a third-and-3 at the Tampa Bay 37-yard line, Jones threw incomplete to Jakobi Meyers. The field goal unit came on, but Nick Folk’s kick was inches off the mark, allowing Brady to kneel out the rest of the clock.
It was an encouraging performance, no doubt. But Jones wasn’t much for soaking up any praise that was heaped upon him after the loss. As has been the case for a long time in Foxboro, the focus remains on getting better.MORE NEWS: Missed Facemask Call In Overtime Has Patriots Fans In Uproar
“Yeah, I think just coming in and learning from a lot of the older guys, I have a long way to go, and I just try to put my best foot forward every day, and we all want to win. So it sucks right now, but I think we have to take it for a positive and just trust our leaders,” Jones said. “We have great leadership on the team, and I can do a better job in practice just being vocal, getting everybody going and I think we made strides but we just have to listen to our leaders and not lose hope. We have a long season ahead and there’s a lot of work to do and we have a lot of progress to make, so we will.”