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Oct 3, 2021; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) celebrates during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Had the game ended just a whisker differently, well, we might be calling it a changing of the guard. But the outcome aside, let there be no doubt about the biggest, lasting takeaway on Oct. 3, 2021 at Gillette Stadium.

From a ceremonial standpoint, the Mac Jones Era has begun.

On a night when Tom Brady was routinely flummoxed by both his former coach and a Patriots defense that finally played much closer to its potential, let there be no doubt: Jones was the big winner. And while the rookie quarterback ultimately failed to emerge victorious in a 19-17 Patriots defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – and that is ultimately what it’s all about – he was arguably the best player on the field on a night when 20 years of New England coaching and quarterbacking greatness collided.

“I thought our team played competitively, and Mac is certainly a part of that,” Belichick said of his young quarterback after the game. “You know, we can all play better and all learn from, you know, some of the things we could have done better but Mac fought hard and made a lot of plays for us.”

Indeed he did.

Oct 3, 2021; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots offensive guard Mike Onwenu (71) and quarterback Mac Jones (10) and tight end Hunter Henry (85) celebrate a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Let the record show that, indisputably, the moment was hardly too big for the current quarterback of your Patriots.

In blustery conditions during which the Patriots attempted a mere eight rushes for the grand total of minus-1 yard, Jones went 31-of-40 for 275 yards, two touchdowns, one ugly (but ultimately harmless) interception and a passer rating of 101.6. At one stage, he completed 19 straight passes. The Patriots effectively put the game in Jones’ hands, and he came within a missed field goal of completely upstaging what NBC hyped like a historical drama.

Was it perfect? No.

But years from now, we may not think of last night as The Return.”

Instead, we might consider it “The Arrival.”