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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A little over a month ago, Pro Football Hall of Famer Kurt Warner told how impressed he was with New England Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones. He pointed out that Jones did more in 2021 than Tom Brady had done in his first year starting in 2001.
But Warner also said at the time that Jones’ ceiling remained a mystery; remarks that are timely to revisit with the Patriots preparing to visit the Buffalo Bills in the wildcard round of the playoffs on Saturday (20:15 ET, CBS).
Jones’ recent game, in which the Patriots have lost three of their last four, has led some to wonder if he has hit the rookie wall.
In the Patriots’ seven-game winning streak, Jones threw nine touchdown passes and two steals. In the four games since, he has six touchdown passes, five interceptions and one costly lost fumble. Jones called his recent performance in Sunday’s regular season finale (20-of-30 for 261 yards and a touchdown and an interception in a 33-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins) “super embarrassing.”
They have growing pains most beginners experience, and for Warner, Jones has already proven he’s worthy of being one of the NFL’s 32 starting quarterbacks. This is how Warner looks at QBs – through a prism of 32, one for each team in the league – and he ranks a player like Chicago Bears veteran Andy Dalton among those closest to 32.
This is also where he sees Jones at this point.
“I’m a big fan of Andy, but he’s physically limited,” Warner said. “Still, he makes the right decisions, he makes layups, he gets the ball to the right guy, and that’s why [When Dalton was] in Cincinnati, they went to the playoffs all those years. Now they did not win in the playoffs because he was not a guy to lift the team and win championships. He needs help around him. “
When the 2021 Patriots get started on a strong running game and the defense creates turnovers and wins in critical situations, Jones is best suited for success.
Problems have arisen as the other pieces do not fall into place, which is why Warner Jones is putting in Dalton’s class right now.
“It’s the lower level of the 32. … Then you go up the chart to Tom Brady. For me, the reason Tom is the greatest ever is that he does all those things. and he makes the special throws. The keystroke at the moment of the key. Thrown into the tight window, “Warner said. Then there are all the guys in between. Someone like Patrick Mahomes; he does not do quite as many layups, or does not read quite as well – even though he does it well. But he does a lot of special plays. Aaron Rodgers – a bit the same way.
– New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 9, 2022
“So there’s a kind of relationship out there about how good you are at making layups, the right game. And then how you make it special. That relationship places you where you are in the 32 guys.”
This also seems to reflect how conflicting teams view Jones. The Indianapolis Colts, on “Hard Knocks,” after beating Jones on Dec. 18, shared that their plan was to stop the race and force Jones to play. The next week, Bills players repeated similar remarks.
That is the challenge Jones is facing again in the playoffs, and the stakes have been raised.
The teammates believe he is ready for the challenge and say his harsh self-criticism is endearing.
“I’ve been around a lot of quarterbacks and they carry a lot of the weight and I think it’s very humiliating and very mature of him to show the responsibility and also accept the realities of what the band can show sometimes,” the veteran said receiver Nelson Agholor and added that he thought Jones played well on Sunday.
“He wants to be perfect and there’s nothing wrong with that. We can all get better. How he sees it and how he calls it is something you have to respect because he has a standard and expectations for himself. “
Starting center David Andrews, who has developed a close relationship with Jones, added: “As a competitor, when your team suffers, you micro-analyze all the little things you could do better. It’s the sign of a competitor for me.”
Jones’ determination showed in the fourth quarter on Sunday when he was 9-of-9 in 121 yards, a concluding kick that provides a contrasting view to those who think he has hit the rookie wall.
The truth, as it often does, can fall somewhere in between as there is a reason no rookie quarterback has ever won a Super Bowl championship.
“Most rookies are not in the top 32. Most rookies I look at and say, ‘That guy should not start right now; he’s starting because they’re forcing him to start.’ “Not Mac. He should start in the NFL and he’s doing enough to win games,” Warner said.
“Now, over the next 10, 12, 15 years, the question becomes, ‘Where is he?’ Will he get into the top 10? Top five? Or will he just be a really good starter, Andy Dalton-like, for most of his career? That’s not a bad thing. It’s just “Can you reach that point win? a championship without all the other pieces around you? ‘”