Mac impresses, but Pat loses: ‘We can get better’

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass.-Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones delivered an excellent performance in his NFL debut Sunday, but a late fumble by running back Damien Harris on the Miami Dolphins’ 9-yard line ended with what could have been a starting- up touchdown drive as New England fell 17-16 at Gillette Stadium.

Jones finished 29-of-39 for 281 yards and a touchdown without interceptions. The 281 passing yards are most of a Patriots quarterback in his first career start, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

“I think we can get better; that’s just the way we should look at it. It certainly wasn’t good enough, started with me,” Jones said.

When the Patriots took over at the 50-yard line with 8 minutes, 7 seconds left in the fourth quarter on a Jonathan Jones interception, the stage was set for some magical late games that fans used to get used to seeing Tom Brady from 2001 to 2019.

But Harris got the ball removed from him by Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard at the 9-yard line with 3:31 left, and Howard restored it as well.

The Dolphins converted the first two downturns to run out of the clock.

“Damien is obviously very disappointed, but it doesn’t quite go down well with Damien,” said Jones, who was also teammates with Harris in Alabama. “There are a lot of things I could have done to be better, not to even be in the situation of taking some bigger chunks.”

It was an amazing trip in a day where Jones met the expectations that came with him after the Patriots selected him with the 15th overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft.

He threw his first career touchdown pass late in the second quarter, a 7-yard connection to receiver Nelson Agholor. One of today’s themes was Jones’ production under duress when he was 8-of-12 with touchdown when faced with pressure, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

I have led three drives on 14 plays, but they all ended with field goals. The lone touchdown drive covered seven games and 54 yards, and when Agholor tried to give him the football to keep, Jones did not want it.

“It does not really matter; it’s just a touchdown,” Jones explained after the match. “We have to score more. It’s not like the match was over right there. We have to do better in the red zone and get more touchdowns. And we will.”

The Rookie quarterbacks had been 6-0 under coach Bill Belichick in their first career start. Jones’ debut was much awaited in New England, where the crowd rose as he took the field in warm-ups while the song “Mr. Jones” by Mike Jones played.

With the Jones and Patriots against Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins, the matchup marked the first time two Alabama quarterbacks started against each other in the NFL since 1993.

“I was happy for his sake,” said Tagovailoa, who finished 16-of-27 at 202 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. “When it was his first real game, with a crowd like this, I thought he made some really good throws. Macs seem to fit perfectly into their offense and system.”

Jones said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had a simple message for him to get into the game.

“[He] told me: ‘Just enjoy the day. You will never play a rookie-year opening match again. ‘But that’s not how I wanted it,’ said Jones.

This is the second season in a row the Patriots lost an AFC East game on a fumble in the field goal area. Last year, they beat the Bills 24-21 at Buffalo 19 before QB Cam Newton fumbled with 37 seconds left.

The Patriots finished Sunday with four fumbles and lost two. The last time they had four fumbles in a season opener was September. 5, 1993, in a 38-14 loss to Bills Day first-round quarterback Drew Bledsoe made his NFL debut.

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