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FLORHAM PARK, NJ – The New England Patriots -New York Jets rivalry enters a new phase on Sunday. Let’s call it the Mac & Zach era.
For the first time in the series’ 62-year history, the Patriots and Jets rookie quarterbacks start against each other – Mac Jones and Zach Wilson, respectively. These are not just any rookies. They are both draft first rounds and are considered the long-term answers to the post.
Wilson, 22, was overall draft No. 2 out of BYU. Jones, 23, of Alabama, was number 15. Chapter I of the quarterback rivalry begins on Wilson’s turf at MetLife Stadium (13:00 ET, CBS).
NFL Nation reporters Mike Reiss (Patriots) and Rich Cimini (Jets) take a closer look at Jones and Wilson:
What has each organization learned about its quarterback?
Travel: That Jones can handle pressure – first as the potential franchise quarterback in the time after Tom Brady, and then on the field. The Miami Dolphins flashed Jones 45% of the time in the season opener (second-highest overall in the NFL), and Jones was 9-of-13 with a touchdown when under duress, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was free for Jones’ opening performance (29-of-39 for 281 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT).
“They certainly challenged us with a lot of different looks and pressures. That’s to be expected, and I thought Mac did most of it very well,” McDaniels said. “His communication, I thought, was clear. It was consistent. He was loud.”
Overall, Jones has earned the respect of teammates and coaches with a veteran-like approach – always working and keeping an even keel.
Cimini: That Wilson can take a hit. He was hit nine times by the Carolina Panthers in Week 1, including a two-man body that struck late in the game, but he never shook. You never know about a young quarterback until you see him in action – how he reacts to being hit. Wilson was not knocked down in the preseason and he certainly wasn’t screwed up last season against BYU’s cream-puff schedule, so it was an unknown time in the normal season. His resilience impressed teammates. “Man, he’s a tough guy,” Jets wide receiver Corey Davis said. “He was hit a lot. Just to see how he reacted, there was no frustration, no anger. He was just ready.” His total under pressure was not good (3-for-13, 87 yards, 1 TD), but he improved a lot in the second half.
And the biggest concern for these rookies this season will be …
Travel: Jones took nine hits in the season opener, and Patriots center David Andrews said the team should do a better job of taking care of him. “We were disturbed by it,” added offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo. Jones is 6 feet-3 and 214 pounds, wears a protective harness over his left knee and has not experienced the benefits of a full NFL off-season program, so it is not a stretch to say that preservation is a major concern. It ties in with the challenge for all rookies in a way – a longer 17-game NFL season compared to college.
Cimini: The obvious answer is to protect him better, but it goes deeper than that. The Jets cannot let Wilson fall victim to Sam Darnold’s syndrome – that is, wrong QB development. They have surrounded Wilson with a competent set of wide receivers, which is a start, but they need to be careful not to put too much on his plate. They need to have the running game and make the offensive as balanced as possible. There will be a temptation to go the other way and be pass-happy, especially if they play from behind, but coach Robert Saleh can not lose the big picture. He can not let Wilson be this year’s Joe Burrow (Cincinnati Bengals) and expose him to injury by making him throw 40 times in combat. For Wilson’s sake, you hope this regime does not repeat the sins of the past.
Rich Cimini says Corey Davis should expect similar production as he saw in Week 1 going forward.
Tell us one thing people may not know about Mac & Zach:
Travel: I will give you a few pieces to cover the bases. His birth name is Michael McCorkle Jones, as McCorkle is his mother Holly’s maiden name. He and his girlfriend, Sophie, have a Maltipoo dog named Rose. And Jones practices breathing exercises on the sidelines during games to calm himself. In many ways, the New England region is still learning about Jones and what makes him tick off, and those are a few things that have come to light in recent weeks in interviews and TV shows.
Cimini: When Wilson thinks of something, he usually achieves it. In college, he decided he wanted to teach himself to juggle. He made himself a really good juggler. When he was younger, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Classwork was a challenge in college, but he overcame it. He never let it affect his ability to learn football games and concepts. He has been known to spend hours watching movies and preparing for games.
What do matchups look like for this game?
Jones vs. the jets: Just as Jones faced many blitzes against the Dolphins, he should expect the same Sunday. The Jets flashed 41.7% of the time in their season-opening loss, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, which was the fifth-highest total of any team in Week 1.
Wilson Vs. that Patriots: Rookie quarterbacks do not have the huge success against Bill Belichick-coached defense. The Patriots are 9-1 in their last 10 games against the rookies, even though they lost the most recent (week 15 of 2020 to Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa). The last Jets rookie to beat a Belichick-led team was Geno Smith in 2013.
From ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky:
On Jones’ debut: “Two things about Mac Jones: One, he was very judgmental with his eyes. He knew what he was looking at and believed what he was looking at, and was judged where he went. Two, I thought he was making four or five hard, big-time throws while hit. It was as impressive as anything any rookie did. “
About Wilson’s debut: “For Zach, the game was very fast for him early physically, but his eyes were fast, which was a good thing. He realized that even though college football windows can be the same size as the NFL, they close faster. It’s mainly because below the defenders are “The interception was a perfect example. That said, I was really impressed with his toughness.”