The Patriots find themselves in a position ahead of the 2023 season that is entirely unfamiliar to them.
As an organization that has been historically and unfathomably successful over the last 20+ years, the Bill Belichick-led team has rarely dealt with endless amounts of scrutiny regarding their performance or coaching overall, primarily due to their repeated high-level performance each and every season.
But things have changed.
Tom Brady is gone. Several of the most iconic pieces of the Patriots' team over the years have retired, leaving Belichick to rebuild the team he has helped coach so well. And he finds himself in a unique situation heading into the 2023 season, with a lot of emphasis on his coaching credibility and the team's overall success coming off a struggling year.
An effort has been made this offseason to dramatically change the forecast of the offense, specifically after crumbling under the inexperienced coaching of Matt Patricia last season. From hiring Bill O'Brien and Adrian Klemm to drafting dynamic offensive players with high potential, Belichick has made the necessary moves to get back on track.
But the pressure to improve is not only on the shoulders of the Patriots head coach. Much of that pressure is also on Mac Jones.
We all know the story; Jones had a standout rookie season in 2021, leading the Patriots to the playoffs after the team missed it the season before. He made the Pro Bowl, the NFL Top 100 list, and was considered to be one of the offensive rookie of the year candidates at one point during the season.
The hype around the quarterback came to a screeching halt throughout the summer last year when Jones and the Patriots offense could not execute nearly anything during practices and were abysmal to watch in the preseason.
Not much changed during the regular season, with some calling for Jones to be permanently replaced by his rookie backup Bailey Zappe. Even now, that remains a talking point, creating questions surrounding Jones' capabilities as a quarterback on the Patriots and in the NFL.
Despite his overwhelming criticism since last season, Jones has fortunately found allyship in some current and former teammates, most notably Super Bowl-winning running back James White.
Over the course of the 2022 season, White consistently defended his former quarterback and has continued to do so as recently as earlier this week.
While appearing on a recent episode of NBC Sports Boston's Tom E. Curran's "Patriots Talk" podcast, White was asked if he had any words of advice for Jones as he prepares for a pivotal third season with the Patriots.
“Move forward," he said. "Obviously, everybody’s gonna bring up last season and what they saw. Some people are gonna be wanting (Bailey) Zappe to be the starting quarterback. But move forward. Put your blinders on. Come in the same way you did your rookie season — put in the work, earn that trust (from) your teammates once again.
“Everybody in the locker room who’s gotten the opportunity to be around him or play with him knows what type of player he can be. I think if he just goes out there and earns the trust of his teammates once again, I think he’ll be just fine.”
Curran followed that question with another hot topic since last season ended, focusing on the alleged "lack of trust" that Jones' teammates have in him resulting from last season's performance and the quarterback's questionable attitude.
“I don’t think it’s ‘re-earn the trust’ — I think just go out there and show them in a sense,” White said. “I think they all trust him, but you’ve got to go out there and show it in practice and show it week in and week out during the game. Because otherwise, obviously, they got a little taste of somebody else who’s behind him … with this generation now, everybody’s looking for what’s the next best thing.
“I think Mac is a guy that’s gonna come in confident this upcoming season, I think he’s the guy that will lead them to the most victories they can possibly get.”
Considering all the factors that dramatically impacted the team's overall performance last season, it would seem unfair for Jones' teammates to hold much against him.
Could he have performed better? Absolutely. But was he the only that struggled under Patricia and Joe Judge's leadership? No.
With that said, this offseason has already felt much different than last spring. Based on the attitudes of several players and their shared excitement for all the changes Belichick has made over the last several months, it seems the road to success is far better paved this time around and hopefully, they can capitalize on it.