By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — Mac Jones was not perfect on Sunday afternoon. In fact, he wasn’t particularly close.
He had some misfires — notably an overthrow of a wide-open Hunter Henry in the second quarter — and mistakes, and he wasn’t particularly dazzling with downfield throws or spectacular plays.
But by the end of the Patriots’ 36-13 win over the Titans, Jones’ stat line looked like something we’re all getting used to seeing on a weekly basis. He was highly efficient, he avoided turnovers, and he did what he needed to do to help the Patriots win the football game.
Jones was 23-for-32 (71.9 percent) for 310 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
A skeptic might say that much of that damage was inflicted by yards after catches, from Kendrick Bourne, Brandon Bolden and Jonnu Smith. A doubter may note that Bourne’s first touchdown required great individual effort from the receiver, and that the quarterback had almost nothing to do with Bourne’s second score. A flat-out hater would argue that Jones wasn’t all that good and merely benefited from his defense and some safe play calls.
But a realist would simply point out that Jones is 8-4 as a starting quarterback in the NFL. (The four quarterbacks drafted before Jones have combined to post a 6-21 record through Week 12.) He’s won six straight games, which is something many quarterbacks never do in their entire careers, throwing nine touchdowns and two interceptions with a 69.4 percent completion rate and a 106.5 passer rating since the loss to Dallas in mid-October.
— NFL (@NFL) November 28, 2021
His 123.2 passer rating on Sunday was the second-best single-game mark of his rookie year, topped only by his 142.1 rating against the Browns in Week 10.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 28, 2021
Mac Jones completed all 11 of his play action pass attempts for 169 yards in the #Patriots 36-13 victory over the Titans.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 28, 2021
Mac Jones sets a new career-high in passing yards 🚀 pic.twitter.com/jNcQpmAPb6
— PFF (@PFF) November 28, 2021
Most games with 100+ Passer Rating, among first-round QBs from 2021 Draft:
Mac Jones 6
Trevor Lawrence 0
Zach Wilson 0
Trey Lance 0
Justin Fields 0
*min. 20 pass attempts pic.twitter.com/lUAf9iAF75
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) November 28, 2021
For various reasons, there’s been an urge locally to try to project the future of Jones’ entire career. Whether that’s comparing him to Chad Pennington or Kirk Cousins or Matt Ryan or any other pocket passers of the 21st century, or whether it’s doing the unthinkable and comparing him to the man who used to wear No. 12 in Foxboro, the specifics don’t really matter. The fact is, Jones’ career is three months old. Where he’ll be 12 months from now, two years from now, or a decade from now? It is truly and genuinely impossible to even pretend to know the answer to that mystery.
What we do know is that for now … Mac is pretty damn good. He’s not lighting up too many highlight reels with scintillating plays where he escapes pressure, runs to his left, and throws 40 yards downfield across his body for touchdowns. But he’s playing winning football … and he just keeps getting better as the season goes on.
As a result, the Patriots are in first place as the calendar turns to December. The level of overall success of his rookie season will be determined by what he does from this point forward, beginning with a Monday night trip to Buffalo next week. If things go south for the rookie, the story will reflect that.
Yet based on everything he’s shown thus far, based on every challenge thrown at him — from beating out Cam Newton in the summer to playing with the temperature in the 30s on Sunday — Jones has indicated that he is fully equipped to respond positively.
In other words, he’s been able to do exactly what Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels have wanted him to do. He’s added to his arsenal, he’s improved in areas seen and unseen, he’s been his own harshest critic (even after good games, like Sunday’s), and most importantly, he’s helped the Patriots to six straight victories and has the team squarely in contention for the No. 1 seed in the AFC through 12 weeks.
While everyone has been eager to throw out their career comparisons and projections, Jones has just kept winning and improving. That’s a good reputation to have built while entering the final six weeks of the season.