Primary Menu

New England Patriots

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 29: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots looks to pass the ball against against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on August 29, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The offseason was never about the quarterback.

Despite the competition between rookie Mac Jones and Cam Newton dominating the headlines over the summer, and understandably so, Bill Belichick’s unprecedented 2021 overhaul was more about rebuilding a Patriots roster that had eroded at several other key spots, and doing it overnight. Now absent a quarterback to cover up all their flaws, the Patriots aimed to field as strong a squad as possible around the man under center.

It just didn’t seem like it would be Jones so soon. But after doing what Newton termed as “disguising” his true intentions, and naming Jones the starter after giving Newton first team reps throughout camp, Belichick put the finishing touch on an offseason designed to support a situation that, historically, is not conducive to playoff success.

Seattle’s Russell Wilson is the only quarterback in the past decade to win a playoff game as a rookie, and he did it in 2012. So a deep run for the Patriots, based on history, is a long shot. If the Pats are to make it back to January football and notch even one win, they’ll have to do it on the strength of Belichick’s coaching, a revamped defensive front-seven, massive upgrades at tight end, and dominant special teams.

For Jones, his rookie season will be largely about protecting the football. For his teammates, it’s about protecting him.

That starts with the obvious: a mountain of protectors up front. And one should expect the Patriots’ retooled offensive line to return to something closer to the dominating unit of the Super Bowl-winning 2018 team. Right tackle Trent Brown, who played left tackle in New England three years ago, would be (literally) a huge part of that resurgence. Brown admitted in a press conference on Wednesday that “pass blocking and keeping the quarterback upright and clean may take a little edge over the run game.”

Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the paramount importance of keeping Dolphins pass-rushers at bay, the easiest way to protect and preserve your quarterback is to hand it off. Despite Jones showing impressive command of the offense over the summer, and the promise of making plays in the passing game when the situation calls for it, the Patriots are likely to lean on their deep stable of running backs in 2021. Bleed the clock. Minimize the need to drop your prized rookie back in the pocket in the first place.

The practical X’s and O’s are easier to prepare than the mental cauldron of a rookie in his NFL debut. That’s why it’s more of an art than a science to preserve a 23-year-old quarterback starting from day 1. It’s important for Jones’ teammates to support him in a way that he never leaves the huddle feeling like he’s carrying the weight of the game. Especially in those first huddles.

“There’s a lot of pressure on his shoulders. Hopefully I can sit there and be somebody who he can rely on to help take some of those nerves off and ease his role,” said wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. “Being steady hands for him, a calm voice, whatever he needs so we can all pull together and get him through this [first game].”

Jones will have a deep group of veterans, many of which have won at a high level, to help alleviate those inevitable rookie jitters. But it’s also important to keep Jones confident in himself. Because if the Patriots are going to surge back to relevance, they’ll need their quarterback to have as much command of what he’s doing as anyone else on the field.

“I tell him he’s not a rookie,” Brown said. “This is his offense, and lead it as such. We go as he goes.”

  • Veterans key to Uche's rise

    The Patriots’ linebacker room is arguably the one with the biggest offseason upgrades. Many of them came from outside the organization, but second-year pro Josh Uche is one that came from within.

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - AUGUST 29: Daniel Jones #8 of the New York Giants is pursued by Josh Uche #55 of the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium on August 29, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – AUGUST 29: Daniel Jones #8 of the New York Giants is pursued by Josh Uche #55 of the New England Patriots at MetLife Stadium on August 29, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

    Uche had a much different summer than his rookie year, working with the kind of veteran support he lacked in 2020. Dont’a Hightower is back after opting out of 2020, Kyle Van Noy returned after a year in Miami, and Matt Judon arrived as a high-priced free agent from the Ravens. Uche credited their experience with helping him refine and improve himself as a player.

    “KV and Hightower are great, man,” Uche said Friday. “The amount of knowledge and wisdom they bring to the game, especially certain techniques and certain nuances that you don’t really see too much from elite players around the league. They bring that to our room. Other guys like Godchaux, Deatrich Wise – guys that have already been here, too – so that’s been great to kind of pick up things from everybody, see how they do things and see what it’s like to be a pro and kind of follow their footsteps.”

    Uche’s own work, and the support of his accomplished teammates, seem to be converging, and priming him for a big leap in year 2.

  • Gunner's mentality

    Third-year wide receiver Gunner Olsewski remarked Friday that “I think I’m better than I am last year and the year before” as a pass-catcher. The Patriots’ All-Pro punt returner was a roster lock all along for his special teams excellence, but he could be in for an increased role in the offense in 2021, as well.

    One of the keys to Olszewski’s continued improvement is his mentality, which emphasizes a short memory and reacting quickly in lieu of overthinking things. Receivers coach Mick Lombardi described Olszewski as a guy who goes in with something to prove every day, and that should continue in his third year.

    “Yeah, I think that’s something I’ve always tried to bring to the field. I go out there, play fast, and good things happen,” Olszewski said. “That’s always what I’ve been told, and that’s what I try to do, work hard and hustle.”

  • Dolphins get starting left tackle back

    Dolphins left tackle Austin Jackson has removed from the injury report altogether, giving him a good chance to play against the Patriots. This comes after Jackson was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list earlier in the week, leaving his status for the game in question.

    Now that Jackson has cleared the COVID protocol, it’s likely he goes right in. Miami is going to need all hands on deck against a vastly improved Patriots pass rush. With two inexperienced quarterbacks under center on Sunday, the game could come down to which team can generate more pressure.