FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Leading up to the Patriots-Buccaneers "Sunday Night Football" matchup in Week 4, the talk of the NFL centered around Tom Brady and his return to New England to face his former team for the first time. While the Tampa Bay quarterback was able to leave his former stomping grounds victorious, it's Patriots first-round rookie Mac Jones, who stole some eyeballs away from the quarterback's homecoming at Gillette Stadium.
In the 19-17 loss, Jones turned in his best performance of his young career. The first-round rookie completed 31 of his 40 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. At one point, Jones completed 19 straight throws for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Not only was he playing at his best since putting on a Patriots uniform, he was outdueling the quarterback who is the greatest player to ever reside in Foxborough in Brady, who finished 22 of 43 passing for 269 yards and no touchdowns.
Not only was Jones efficient, but he spread the ball around, hitting nine different pass catches (seven with multiple receptions). Jones also was calculated with where he attacked in the passing game. For instance, he was 7 of 7 for 74 yards at one point in the game when targeting Bucs corner Richard Sherman, who had just signed with Tampa Bay this week and had only three practices under his belt. That type of awareness to test and exploit possible weaknesses is impressive for someone playing in just their fourth NFL game. Jones also did all that with effectively no running game to relieve him as New England rushed for -1 yard as a club in Week 4.
"I think we executed well," Jones said postgame. "Well obviously not good enough to win but Josh [McDaniels] did a great job and I think it was good for us to learn that we didn't put it all together but we got close to putting it all together and playing a full game together. When we can do that, I think positive things will happen. We didn't; we can be 90 percent or 85 percent and you lose. We don't really do moral victories. Those are always forgotten. But you just kind of have to take it for what it's worth and move on."
Despite the overall strong performance, there were some rookie lumps for Jones. He threw an interception on a first-quarter throw intended for Nelson Agholor that probably shouldn't have even gone his way. The Alabama product nearly had another pick following his run of 19-straight completions deep in Tampa Bay territory while trying to force a ball in a hole while rolling out right.
"You know, we made plays and played hard the whole game and I turned the ball over," he said. "That's one of the problems, you know, turnovers can kill you, and you know if you turn the ball over – If you don't turn the ball over, you have a 90-something percent chance to win, and it's just statistics but I have thought we moved the ball, passing 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."
Even in the loss, however, it's hard not walking away with the feeling that the Patriots have a legitimate long-term answer under center, which is fitting with Brady looming on the opposing sideline throughout the evening.