By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) -- Not to be lost in Tom Brady's grand return to New England is that Mac Jones played an extremely strong game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. New England lost 19-17 to drop to 1-3, but the Patriots have to be thrilled with the growth that their young quarterback has shown just a quarter into his rookie season.
Jones went toe-to-toe with the greatest quarterback to ever play the game on Sunday and, in many ways, outperformed Brady on national television. He was under a heavy assault from the Tampa defense all night, as has been the case in each of his first four NFL games, but still stepped up and delivered some clutch passes. Jones was sacked four times and took a dozen hits from the Bucs, but he threw just nine incompletions in the face of all that pressure. At one point, he completed a Brady-like 19 straight passes. Jones finished his evening with 275 yards, a pair of touchdowns and a pick, which bounced off the hands of Nelson Agholor and right to Antoine Winfield.
Jones spread the love a lot like that other guy used to do in New England, hitting nine different receivers on Sunday night. Had the Patriots had any semblance of a running game -- overall, New England lost a yard on eight rush attempts -- they probably would have stolen a victory.
Instead, the Pats have to settle for a moral victory, though Jones threw that notion out the window after the game.
"We don't really do moral victories," Jones told reporters. "Those are always forgotten. But you just kind of have to take it for what it's worth and move on."
Taking it for what it's worth, the Patriots offense looks like a unit moving in the right direction. Or at least the air attack does; they still have a lot of work to do with the ground game. But Jones' performance continues to inspire confidence in the 23-year-old, and he too is feeling good with four games under his belt.
"I think we moved in the right direction. We made plays and played hard the whole game," he said. "I turned the ball over. That's one of the problems -- turnovers can kill you. If you don't turn the ball over, you have a 90-something percent chance to win. It's just statistics but I thought we moved the ball, passed well and the run game needs to improve and we'll come up with ways to do that. I thought everyone fought really hard.
"It sucks we lost but yeah, look at it, like you said, that we're making some progress," Jones added.
Jones' Patriots teammates were certainly impressed with his performance on Sunday night, with veteran Devin McCourty even telling folks to stop calling the kid a rookie. Maybe we should stop calling him a "kid" as well. Jones showed the poise of a veteran in the face of a lot of adversity; from the hype leading up to the game to all of those hands and arms and helmets and shoulder pads being throw at him when it finally kicked off.
After beating his former team, Brady said that Jones looked "great" on Sunday. The veteran even offered Jones some words of encouragement in their brief meeting after the game.
"He just told me to keep my head up and keep working," said Jones.
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