Mac Jones’s performance was the worst in Patriots history

Patriots

In the second half, he was so stunningly bad — in execution and decision-making — that it felt like we were watching the unofficial end of his Patriots career.

Martin Meissner
Mac Jones’s ill-advised attempted pass in the third quarter earned him an earful when he reached the sideline. Martin Meissner/Associated Press

Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to standouts, stats, and story lines from the Patriots’ most recent game . . .

  • Matthew Slater on Patriots’ struggles: ‘It’s got nothing to do with Coach Belichick’

  • Bill Belichick benched Mac Jones again. Should it be permanent? Plus, other final thoughts

By unemotional, objective, analytical measures, Mac Jones’s performance in the Patriots’ 10-6 loss to the Colts Sunday was not close to the worst game by a quarterback in franchise history.

With the research assistance of pro-football-reference.com and its awesome Stathead feature, the worst passing performance in Patriots history – by lowest quarterback rating, with five completed passes as the baseline — was by Don Trull in a 44-16 loss to the Bills on Dec. 9, 1967.

He went 5 of 20 for 57 yards and three interceptions, for a QB rating of 0.0, which I believe Shaughnessy would call the Full Blutarsky. Poor Don Trull was replaced by Babe Parilli, who went 2 for 9 for 67 yards, a touchdown, and three picks.

There have been many other brutal performances by quarterbacks both obscure and legendary in Patriots lore. Jeff Carlson — who was basically the 1992 version of Bailey Zappe — went 7 for 20 for 67 yards and two interceptions in a 20-10 loss to the Bengals on Dec. 20 of that lost season, for a 4.2 QB rating. Jim Plunkett had five of the 25 worst games by quarterback rating in Patriots history, and Steve Grogan had four. Drew Bledsoe had an 18.2 rating after throwing four interceptions and no touchdowns in a November 1994 loss to the Browns, who had a very familiar coach.

Lousy games happen to every quarterback, even football immortals. Your guess on Tom Brady’s worst is probably correct: the 2003 They Hate Their Coach season-opening 31-0 loss to the Bills, when he threw four picks without a TD pass. From what I understand, he avenged it and then some.

Now, with requisite history and context aside . . . and by all emotional, subjective, unscientific measures . . . Jones’s performance Sunday was the worst I have ever seen from a Patriots quarterback. His first-half numbers (10 of 11, 105 yards) were fine, though padded by a 30-yard dump off to Demario Douglas when they should have tried a Hail Mary on the final play. But in the second half, he was so stunningly bad — in execution and decision-making — that it felt like we were watching the unofficial end of his Patriots career.

Jones made three truly inexcusable plays: a no-look fling to Rhamondre Stevenson on third and 3 at the Colts’ 17 midway through the third quarter, which resulted in offensive coordinator Bill “Teapot” O’Brien tearing into him on the sideline; an alley-ooped third-and-5 throw to Hunter Henry that Colts defensive back Julian Blackmon dropped in the end zone; and — in what had to be the worst throw of his Patriots career, no hyperbole — a soft-toss directly to Blackmon with Mike Gesicki steps beyond him and wide open in the end zone.

He was benched for Zappe for the final drive. Jones’s final numbers – 15 for 20, 170 yards, one pick, 79.2 rating — weren’t awful. But the performance was. It wasn’t that long ago that it seemed he was the answer at quarterback for the Patriots, a modern-day Chad Pennington. Now? Jones makes me appreciate the Tony Eason years. His best football life might be as a reclamation project for a team that has a starter much better than he is. Turn out the lights, because the party is over for him here.

Some further thoughts, upon immediate review . . .

Three players who were worth watching

Players suggested in the Unconventional Preview: Jonathan Taylor, Rhamondre Stevenson, Kenny Moore.

Rhamondre Stevenson: It’s time to declare him officially back to his 2022 form. After running for 87 yards – including a 64-yard touchdown burst — on just nine carries in the loss to the Commanders last Sunday, Stevenson took on a heavier workload this week and gained 88 yards on 20 carries. He was especially impressive on a drive that began with just under six minutes left in the third quarter and carried into the fourth, when he had three runs of 8 yards each and another for 9. Arguably his most impressive run came in advance of Jones’s interception, when he rammed his way for 6 yards on third and 5 with 5:40 left in the game, giving the Patriots a first down on the Colts 13. Stevenson now has 482 rushing yards this season – 175 the past two weeks. It’s actually not out of the question he reaches 1,000 yards for the second straight year.

Rhamondre Stevenson has 175 yards in his past two games, 88 Sunday against the Colts. (Steve Luciano/AP Photo)

Demario Douglas: The promising rookie receiver had his most productive game yet, making six catches for 84 yards on nine targets. A big chunk of his yardage came on the aforementioned 30-yard dump off right before halftime, but even without that play he would have been far and away the Patriots’ leading receiver. He may have made a couple of damaging mistakes, though. He appeared to be caught in no-man’s land as the returner on Colts punter Rigoberto Sanchez’s 69-yard boot that bounced at the Patriots’ 37-yard-line and rolled to the 18. And on Rodney Thomas’s interception that thwarted the Patriots’ desperate final drive, quarterback Bailey Zappe’s reaction seemed to indicate that his target, Douglas, wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

Dayo Odeyingbo: Anyone predict this guy as their player of the game? Didn’t think so. But he sure made a case. The Colts’ third-year defensive end entered with three sacks this season. He doubled that total less than 18 minutes into the game. Two of his sacks came on third down, including his first on the Patriots’ promising opening possession, when they had to settle for a 37-yard Chad Ryland field goal.

Grievance of the game

It has to be Jones’s interception that got him benched. There were other options — JuJu Smith-Schuster had a pair of penalties before the snap, which is unacceptable — but nothing as egregious or impactful on the outcome of this game and, for that matter, the direction of the franchise.

Three notes scribbled in the margins

Predicted score: Colts 31, Patriots 17

Final score: Colts 10, Patriots 6

Isaiah McKenzie, who torched the Patriots for 11 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown in a 2021 game while he was with the Bills, remains a nuisance. He hauled in a 30-yard catch on third down on the Colts’ first possession, and later returned a kickoff 42 yards . . . The Patriots defense did a respectable job containing Jonathan Taylor. The Colts back ran 9 times for 31 yards on their first series, punctuating it with a 2-yard touchdown run on fourth down. But he gained just 38 yards on 14 carries after that drive . . . Bryce Baringer averaged 62.5 yards on four punts, including a 79-yarder. Any chance he can play quarterback?

Bryce Baringer averaged 62.5 yards on four punts, including a 79-yarder. (Greg M. Cooper/AP Photo)

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