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Belichick, Patriots Teammates Praise Mac Jones After Team Clinches Playoff Spot

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- Mac Jones is a rookie. He's also a winner of 10 games, a starter of 16, and he'll soon get his first taste of NFL playoff action.

That's relatively rare ground for a rookie QB, and this year's current crop of first-year signal-callers reveals that harsh truth. Jones shared the field on Sunday with No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, who will soon welcome a new No. 1 overall pick as his teammate in Jacksonville. Zach Wilson (the No. 2 pick) and the Jets were essentially eliminated from the playoffs by Week 5. Trey Lance (No. 3 overall) has barely played for a playoff-bound 49ers team, and Justin Fields (No. 11 overall) will soon be working under a new head coach after the Bears' dreadful season.

According to USA Today, entering this season, only 12 rookie quarterbacks had ever started 10 games in the regular season while leading their team to the playoffs. Jones is now set to become No. 13.

It's been quite the rookie year for Jones, who beat out Cam Newton in training camp for the starting job and has been a steady influence on a Patriots offense that ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of yards but eighth in points scored. Jones' accuracy has transferred from the college level to the NFL, as he tied Dak Prescott's rookie record with his ninth game with a 70 percent completion rate on Sunday.

Jones was well-prepared for this stage during his college career at Alabama, where he led the team to an undefeated, national championship season. As such, he made it a point to not get too far ahead of himself when asked Sunday about the excitement of making the playoffs in year one.

"Yeah, I think any sport you play, you want to get a chance to play for a championship and for a playoff spot," Jones said. "We have a big game next week, and that's what we're going to focus on, and finishing strong and all that. We'll focus on that and be where our feet are, and then when the next thing comes we'll have a new plan and attack it."

While Jones would generally opt to be critical of himself rather than sing his own praises, his head coach and teammates were effusive after Sunday's win.

"Mac is super consistent," Bill Belichick said. "Every day is really the same day for Mac. He's always well prepared. He's in early. He's ready to go. He knows what we're going to be doing, and he's already got a head start on it. He maximizes the information that the coaches give him, maximizes the walk-throughs, the practice reps, and learns from whatever happens in those situations. He's smart. He's a good learner, but he's got good instincts and good mechanics. He's just worked hard to get better every day. A lot of consistency and great work ethic and really pays attention to details and has just improved in every area throughout the course of the year. Continues to improve on a daily basis."

Belichick added: "He's just a really great person to coach because he's so responsive to trying to do everything the way that you want to do it. Josh [McDaniels] has done a fantastic job with him, and Mac has really, I think, embraced the wisdom that Josh has transmitted to him."

Running back Damien Harris knows Jones from their Alabama days, and he was asked to explain how Jones has navigated his rookie season with such success.

"I'll leave the majority of that question to Coach Belichick or Coach Josh. But one thing I'll say about Mac that obviously shows in the way he plays is that he shows up every day ready to work, ready to do his job," said Harris, who's now tied with Curtis Martin for having the second-most rushing touchdowns in a single season in Patriots history. "He's a part of all the rest of us that just come in here and we just want to win. We've all got the same goal, we're all playing for the same reason -- we're playing to win and we're playing for each other. So Mac comes in here every single day ready to put his head down and just grind and work, just like all the rest of us. So when you got a lot of guys that do that, you have something special."

Damien Harris, Mac Jones
Damien Harris celebrates his touchdown with Mac Jones (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

Jakobi Meyers finally had his first touchdown connection with Jones on Sunday (his other touchdown was thrown by Brian Hoyer), and he was asked when he knew that Jones was capable of leading this team to the playoffs.

"Day one, honestly," Meyers replied. "We all kind of came in here with goals and aspirations to make it to the postseason. So it wasn't really a doubt of ourselves or, 'Hopefully we'll see if we can make it later.' But even when we were losing, we had a feeling that we were a good team and we had goals to reach."

Kristian Wilkerson, who had the biggest day of his young NFL career on Sunday, shared what it's like playing with Jones.

"I love playing with Mac and playing for Mac. He's a leader," Wilkerson said. "And he takes command."

While the words of praise for Jones were easy to find on Sunday, it wasn't all love from his Patriots teammates. Matt Judon, who was as usual showing off some stylish clothing and jewelry, was asked when Jones might be able to display a similar fashion sense during his own postgame press conferences.

"Uh, it's a lost cause, you feel me?" Judon said after cracking up laughing. "I'm gonna keep it a hundred. Like, Mac's a football player and that's about it. He's a great guy and football player, but drip is not him, man. Let him do what he do, man. Don't change the guy. Let him do what he do, man."

While Judon did leave plenty of room for Jones to improve in that department, the veteran pass rusher is impressed with what he's seen from the rookie where it matters most.

"I'm just happy he's our quarterback," Judon said. "He's out there balling, having a hell of a season, and I'm just happy he's out there playing with us."

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