When attempting to discuss the ramifications of the Matt Patricia and Joe Judge experiment for the 2022 season, most assume it all culminates into an excuse for Mac Jones' poor play and somehow exonerates him from any culpability or blame.
Even though much of his performance resulted from bad decision-making and costly turnovers, it cannot be overstated how much the lack of proper and experienced coaching directly impacted his development and growth as a quarterback in the NFL.
That's the funny thing about sports that people often ignore or label as something it's not.
Wins and losses define a team's future, whether it's post-season contention or where they will be positioned in the following draft; their record dictates a lot about the state of the franchise. As fans of the Patriots during the two decades of unimaginable success and the complete opposite over the last three years, New England is more than aware of what it means to win and lose.
But in the NFL and many other sports, context matters.
Simply looking at the final score of a game or a player's stats doesn't tell the entire story of how a game was played. Plenty of teams can play poorly and still do enough to scrape out a win, while others can do everything right but have one mistake that guarantees a loss.
It goes back to the saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover." There's always more to a game than what a stat sheet, final scoreboard, or win/loss record will tell you. And in the case of Mac Jones, that's certainly applicable to his career thus far.
Mac Jones' rookie season was one of the better ones by a quarterback in recent history
The departure of Tom Brady set the Patriots back further than anticipated, mainly because there wasn't a suitable backup quarterback waiting in the wings to take over. Brian Hoyer was never the guy, and although he was young and maybe had potential, Jarrett Stidham would not be the right choice either.
It's what led Bill Belichick to sign Cam Newton for the season, a decision that made sense at the time but unfortunately didn't yield the desired results.
The 2020 season put the Patriots in a position to draft a quarterback in the first round. It was a deep class, with the first overall pick known months ahead, but left options on the table for other quarterback-needy teams.
Although New England didn't select until pick 15, they were fortunate to have Mac Jones fall into their lap, the presumed favorite to take over the Patriots offense post-Brady. Coming off a championship-winning team at Alabama, plus being coached by Belichick ally Nick Saban, it seemed like the perfect match for Jones and the Patriots.
And that's how it continued to appear throughout his rookie season.
The immediate chemistry between Jones and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels paid off on the field, allowing the quarterback to impress on game day with accuracy and poise. Despite finishing with a below-average record according to New England standards, it was good enough to make the playoffs, a privilege they missed out on the season before.
It was an impressive feat, given the massive shoes he was handed to step into, all of which sparked considerable hype about what he could accomplish in his sophomore season.
Bill Belichick essentially set him up to fail during the 2022 season
Throughout the offseason, Jones was credited with seeking top trainers and nutritionists to transform his football capabilities and body. Photos posted online began circulating, and the excitement surrounding the 2022 season grew stronger each week.
Because of how well his rookie season went, it seemed inevitable that Jones would build upon that and was doing everything in his power to ensure it would happen. But doubt crept in with the news of Josh McDaniels leaving the team to become the new head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, as it's never an ideal scenario for a young quarterback to have a drastic coaching change so early in their career.
That pessimism increased once it became clear that recently fired Joe Judge would be working with the quarterbacks and longtime defensive coordinator Matt Patricia would be assigned the role of offensive line coach and take over McDaniels' position as the offensive play caller.
It was a bizarre decision made by Belichick, who had worked with both men for years in the past. But since they were not long removed from failed stints as head coaches elsewhere, the move to put them in positions they were unfamiliar with and unqualified for felt wrong from the start. And unfortunately, the way the season transpired only cemented that concern.
Everything about Jones' game declined throughout the year, some of which could be attributed to suffering a high ankle sprain in the week three loss to the Ravens. The team stayed afloat in his absence, with rookie Bailey Zappe holding down the fort while he recovered.
Because of his success in Jones' place, it created chaos and controversy when he was ready to return, as Belichick played a bit of quarterback carousel in the first few games Jones was back for.
Then came the rise of 'Zappe fever'
After a disastrous loss against the beatable Bears, Jones seemed to solidify his role as the starter moving forward with three straight wins. But once the losses started again and accusations came flying against him, frustrations boiled over into games, and negative press began to dominate headlines about the Patriots.
Belichick didn't make the situation better either; if anything, he made it worse. On top of avoiding the much-warranted criticism of Patricia's play calling and coaching, his denial to answer questions regarding Jones' future as the starting quarterback created evident tension for the team.
Zappe fever had been running wild with no end in sight, and Belichick chose not to adequately address the quarterback situation at all until the following offseason.
Patriots fans started to turn on Jones for his poor play, disregarding all contributing factors to his sudden decline in performance. It got to the point that Gillette Stadium was filled with booing fans when he took the field and instead chanted for Zappe to take over. Some even cited Belichick's lack of public support as a reason for the sudden change in support for the quarterback.
Although it was never explicitly said, the confidence Jones exuded as a rookie was long gone, and the look of defeat, even after a win, became commonplace. It was a noticeable shift for the once highly praised quarterback, who was believed to be the most promising of his draft class just one season before.
A lot was revealed after the 2022 season ended
Once the season finally ended, stories about the alleged turmoil in the locker room started dominating all New England sporting news.
From Jones having issues with Judge stemming back to OTAs in the spring and Belichick allegedly never wanting to draft him to rumors of the head coach shopping Jones at the NFL combine, it became a plethora of gossip regarding the historically tight-lipped franchise.
The speculation and whispering continued through the draft since some suggested Jones would be traded for picks or another quarterback. Although it would've been easy to shut down, Belichick took his time to do so, thus allowing the rumors to run rampant and create more tension within the team.
Even after he seemingly put it all to rest when he proclaimed Jones as the starting quarterback of the Patriots, his demeanor wasn't enough to end it all together.
On top of that, Robert Kraft's statements to the media didn't settle the chatter either, as he consistently showed his support of Jones when Belichick wouldn't, which was also said to have created some drama between the head coach and owner behind the scenes.
The 2023 offseason was filled with necessary changes
Because of the premature ending in two of the last three seasons, Kraft made it known that he wanted significant changes made to the team to put them in a position to win again.
It was reported he was unhappy with the coaching staff during the 2022 season and made that well known to Belichick during their end-of-the-year meeting. It resulted in the team putting out an uncharacteristic memo revealing their plans to interview for a new offensive coordinator, much to the delight of fans and (probably) Jones, too.
The right decisions were seemingly made when Bill O'Brien was re-hired after his stint at Alabama. He would be back as New England's offensive coordinator while also filling the quarterbacks coach role.
Adrian Klemm was hired from Oregon to take over as the offensive line coach, meaning Patricia was on his way out for good. Judge was also removed from his position, placed back with special teams, and given the title of assistant head coach.
All of it pointed to a successful start to the offseason, restoring confidence and optimism, particularly for the offensive roster. Jones was reportedly pleased with the addition of O'Brien and stressed their communication as one of the best parts of their working relationship.
But all still wasn't well between Belichick and Jones, as their alliance took a hit far more extensive than the stress that comes with just a bad season.
It was alleged that Jones was having a tough time working with Patricia and the offensive game plan during the 2022 season, which forced him to reach out to O'Brien and other coaches at Alabama for help. Considering the offense was so vanilla and predictable to the point of opposing defenses calling out the plays before they happened, it's hard to blame Jones for exhausting his options for some guidance.
But it was said that Belichick took it as a betrayal, resulting in his disdain for Jones for much of the season. Clearly, their relationship needed repair and they were repeatedly questioned about it leading up to the start of the 2023 season.
It was more than apparent the unwise choices made by Belichick took a toll on Jones and his confidence, especially since it appeared he had lost the trust of his head coach to the point of essentially being thrown under the bus by him publicly unwarranted.
When they finally addressed the elephant in the room, they weren't interested in sharing the details of their conversation or the state of their relationship for obvious reasons. They seemed to squash any persisting speculation and have since appeared better than last year, which is great to see.
But at the same time, Jones still appears defeated in most situations, and the lingering effects of the 2022 season are apparent.
Not enough has been done to restore Mac's confidence
Besides clearing things up with Belichick and having the unconditional support of Kraft, not enough was done to instill the security needed for Jones to feel comfortable and confident in his position on the team. On top of that, changes to the roster didn't set the team up for success, which has been proven accurate through the first four games.
The coaching changes were necessary and brought the locker room back together after a tumultuous 2022 season, But the improvements needed to set Jones up for success were not prioritized, and that was on full display against the Cowboys last weekend.
It was the worst performance of Jones' career, and although he did play horrifically by making questionable decisions with no ball security and more, it all seems to trace back to the trauma of last year and the impact it continues to have on him.
It seemed apparent that he was trying to do too much in Dallas, mainly to overcome the inefficiencies of the offense as a whole, which led to some of the worst football the quarterback has ever played. The lack of consistent protection from his offensive line, the lack of separation by the wide receivers when it was time to make a play, and debatable play-calling became the story of the game, other than being blown out 38-3.
It was an atypical performance for Jones, which created a firestorm of media coverage in the days since.
On Wednesday, Robert Griffin III shared his thoughts on how Jones looked in the week four matchup, which led him to discuss what has transpired over the last three seasons in New England, specifically with Jones. He expressed his belief that Belichick deserves more blame for possibly ruining any chance of success for the quarterback permanently due to the disastrous staff decisions he made last year.
After the game ended on Sunday, all the negative talk from last year that haunted Jones was revitalized, with fans and media demanding he be benched, cut, or traded. The quarterback shouldered all the blame for the loss, admitting he let his coaches, teammates, and fans down. And it was all very reminiscent of his attitude last year: defeated, deflated, and hopeless.
Jones's slightly restored confidence during the offseason was gone, and it was another reminder of how genuinely detrimental last season was on his psyche. It's not something most fans and media members want to admit because they believe it's just an excuse, but it's hard to overlook what he has gone through in just two and a half seasons.
Not only is he on his third offensive coordinator in three years, but he's also had multiple replacements of other coaches around him that are key to a quarterback's success. He still doesn't have a clear WR1, which has been proven to elevate young quarterbacks in recent history, and doesn't have a suitable offensive line that provides the protection needed for the offense to perform at its best.
The defense has continued to be Belichick's prioritized part of the team, and the years of having a mediocre offense disguised by the impeccable performance of Tom Brady is no longer; Jones is not equipped to do such at this point in his career if ever.
Expecting that much from a third-year quarterback is too much and setting him up to fail. All of this has culminated in an unfair resume to judge, despite many having already concluded he is not the quarterback for the job in New England.
Perhaps that is accurate, but as of right now, not enough has been done to restore the confidence Jones had as a rookie, nor has he been put into a position to thrive in this offense. It's difficult to determine if anything can be done to put him back in the right mindset other than maybe time and experience over the next few months.
However, it's abundantly clear that last season has left its mark on Jones forever, potentially vacating all possible success he could have had as the quarterback in New England.