Monday night, we saw a familiar outcome in the NFL: the New England Patriots beating the Buffalo Bills. Despite horrid weather conditions and having to play on the road, the Patriots continued their dominant play as of late, thus lengthening their lead in the AFC East and doing so while having their rookie quarterback, Mac Jones, throw the ball just three times.
Seeing Jones, one of the most highly touted rookies in the 2021 season, be used so infrequently during a team victory had all the Patriots haters come out of the woods to say that head coach Bill Belichick doesn’t trust his quarterback.
If Twitter is to be believed, then anybody who watched the game last night falls into two categories:
- “The Patriots don’t trust Mac Jones enough to carry the team when conditions aren’t perfect,” or
- “Just because the Patriots didn’t throw the ball in terrible conditions doesn’t mean they don’t trust Jones. They didn’t need to risk throwing the ball, so they didn’t.”
While I respect everyone’s opinion no matter what, I’d like to take this moment to explain why people who believe option No. 1 are dead wrong.
Sure, this was the fewest number of passes in a game for a Patriots’ quarterback ever and the fewest passes thrown by any quarterback since 1974, but the Patriots didn’t have to throw the ball in order to secure the victory. New England ran for 226 yards yesterday — the second-most yards the Bills have allowed all season (264 against Indianapolis Week 11) and almost 40 more yards than the Patriots had in a game prior. They ran the ball 46 times! That’s the most they’ve run the ball since 2018. Ironically, that game was also against the Bills. It’s tied for the third-most rushing attempts the Patriots have had in a single game since 2010.
With conditions the way they were last night with gusts of 55 miles per hour making PATs a near impossibility when kicking into the wind, it made sense for Belichick to take as few risks as possible. He was even skeptical of running pitch plays to the halfbacks, especially after Harris nearly fumbled the ball on the first possession of the game. The Patriots weren’t even running screen passes, short hitches, or drags yesterday. Those are the most basic “any quarterback can run these plays”-type plays, and the Patriots weren’t even running those. Don’t you think that a little more indicative of a coach’s game plan decisions rather than a lack of trust in his quarterback?
Not to mention, the Patriots were dominant on the ground last night. Even if we took away Harris’ 64-yard TD run in the first quarter, the Patriots still averaged over 3.5 yards per carry against a Bills defense that was stacking the box on every single down.
It’s not that Belichick didn’t trust Jones to push the ball downfield in last night’s game. He didn’t. It’s that Belichick didn’t trust anybody going into the wind last night. I’m not sure if you saw this stat from the game last night, but with 13 minutes to go in a one-point game, Patriots’ kicker Nick Folk came onto the field to try to put the Pats up four. A graphic appeared at the bottom of the screen detailing that Nick Folk had made 51 straight field goals from inside 50 yards — the longest active streak in the NFL. The longest such streak all-time is 56 consecutive field goals. Folk, with the wind at his back, drilled the 34-yarder, his 52nd straight from inside 50. This is the same guy who was hitting from 55 in pregame warmups.
Belichick didn’t trust Folk to hit a PAT after the Patriots’ first score of the game. Instead, he trotted out the offense and ran a toss play to Brandon Bolden. That’s how little Belichick trusted anyone other than his offensive line and his halfbacks.
To say that Belichick didn’t trust Jones last night is somewhat accurate, but that was just part of Belichick’s game plan. We’re forgetting that Belichick literally handed this team over to Jones prior to his first career start over a former MVP in Cam Newton, a longtime journeyman QB who’s familiar with the Patriots’ system in Brian Hoyer, and a third-year quarterback who Belichick had expressed confidence in just one year prior in Jarrett Stidham. Belichick trusted Jones to take over the franchise before he ever took a snap, and people think that Belichick lost all trust in Jones because he only threw the ball three times?
The Patriots are in first place in the AFC. First place! They’ve won seven straight games! They were a joke with Cam Newton at quarterback last season. Everyone was writing Belichick off as a hack coach who coasted off Tom Brady’s talent, and now, less than a year later, people are backing up and calling him the undisputed GOAT of NFL coaches. Jones made that difference. Not Belichick’s game plan, Jones.
Furthermore, prior to last night’s game, Jones had more passing attempts per game than Joe Burrow, who Cincinnati and every NFL fan alive has the utmost faith in. The Patriots are a more run-heavy offense than Cincinnati, yet Jones had thrown more passes per game, and the Patriots have a better record meaning they’ve likely been ahead in games more often. So, do the Bengals not trust Burrow? Just seeing if you will all stay consistent.
These people are looking for reasons to hate on the Patriots. Jones is still, as he should be, the Rookie of the Year frontrunner, because of how he has been able to turn the Patriots around. One game in outlandish conditions doesn’t change any of that.