BOSTON -- Do the Patriots have a solution at quarterback? Obviously, they do not.
Regardless, they simply can't trot Mac Jones out onto the field Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium as the starting quarterback against the Los Angeles Chargers. They just can't do it.
It's not that anyone -- from backup Bailey Zappe, to recently released Will Grier, to rookie Malik Cunningham, to the dispatched Trace McSorley/Ian Book/Matt Corral trio -- has proven capable or worthy of the starting job in New England. Quite the contrary, actually. But continuing to throw Jones onto the field when he's clearly in the midst of some major mental turbulence would not be in the best interest of the football team.
Jones started on Sunday against the Giants, seemingly by default. He had just been benched in Germany, with the coaching staff deeming him incapable of leading a game-winning drive against the Colts. But there he was, leading the offense onto the field against the Giants.
And it took him less than a quarter to prove the coaches had the right idea in Germany. Jones committed all of his cardinal sins: overreacting to slight pressure, throwing off his back foot, forcing a throw to a receiver who's not open, overthrowing a pass that floated long enough for a defender to pounce.
This is, obviously, football, and interceptions happen. But interceptions like this don't need to be happening. For whatever reason, Jones keeps repeating the same mistakes.
That interception, though, technically didn't hurt the Patriots. The defense forced a three-and-out, and the Giants punted the ball right back to New England 50 seconds later. They lost 26 yards of field position.
The next pick, though? The next pick was a problem.
This time, an unblocked pass rusher came screaming off the line from Jones' left. Considering he's not a mobile quarterback, there was one play for Jones on this play: hit the deck, protect the ball, preserve the field-goal opportunity. With the line of scrimmage at the Giants' 23-yard line, Jones could have taken the loss and given his team a chance to add points in a game when those were desperately needed.
Instead, he panicked. Plain and simple. He chucked the ball without realizing a linebacker was sitting there waiting for it.
With no need for overanalysis, it was an inexcusable mistake.
Had it happened in a vacuum as a sort of one-off error, then we could understand. Mistakes happen. The game happens fast.
But when it keeps happening, it's clear that Jones is simply unable at this moment in time to clear the mental hurdle that stands in his way when the ball reaches his palms in the backfield.
This one resulted in a 10-point swing, with the interception return setting the Giants up for their lone touchdown of the game. Instead of potentially taking a 3-0 lead, the Patriots trailed by seven.
(Jones also fumbled deep in his own territory when he failed to secure the ball while moving toward the line of scrimmage on a sack before halftime. Cole Strange recovered that loose ball, though, preventing the Giants from likely getting three or seven points.)
We can assume that head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator/QB coach Bill O'Brien have implored Mac Jones to stop throwing the football to the opposing team. But the message is clearly not landing.
Jones' 12 interceptions have him with the third-most picks in the league. The guys ahead of him, though, have offset their picks with touchdowns. Josh Allen and Sam Howell both have 13 picks apiece, but Allen has 24 touchdown passes and Howell has 18. Jones has just 10.
He's played a full game without throwing a pick just twice this year, and he's forced the coaching staff to yank him out of four of his 11 starts.
He's going through it. And he doesn't know the way out.
It's possible that in time, he finds his footing and salvages his NFL career. But that's not going to happen in the here and now. It's to the point where Jones shouldn't start on Sunday and probably shouldn't even dress. (Not having a third quarterback on the roster anymore would make it difficult for the Patriots to make Jones inactive, but the team could go with a Zappe-Cunningham duo if it really wanted.)
Giving the keys to Zappe and letting him run the whole show probably won't lead to a turnaround for the offense. But Jones is actively hurting the team on a weekly basis. He's lost the faith and trust of the Patriots' defense. He's repeating the same mistakes time and time again. He's getting worse, not better.
The Patriots have tried just about everything they can do with him on the field. It's time to keep him away for a stretch to see if he might able to go through a hard reset. Because with three nationally televised games coming up after next weekend, the situation could unravel even worse on a much larger stage if the team doesn't take a major shift in approach.
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