New England Patriots

Aug 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones 10) calls a play against the Washington Football Team during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Mac Jones continues to show availability for Bill Belichick, and on Tuesday, he continued to flash some ability, too.

The Patriots’ rookie first-round pick improved upon an up-and-down Monday during his second practice as the team’s No. 1 quarterback on Tuesday, as Cam Newton’s absence continued. Overall, Jones wasn’t perfect, going 30-of-37 in 11-on-11 drills with two “touchdowns” and two interceptions. But more important than the overall numbers was that Jones showed solid command of the Patriots offense in situational work.

  • Strong Start

    Much of Tuesday’s 11-on-11 drills were as competitive as one can expect in a non-padded practice. Jones completed six of his first seven passes in the first 11-on-11 period.

    He made completions to five different receivers as the Pats rotated pass catchers in and out. The receivers, in order: Gunner Olszewski, Sony Michel, Kristian Wilkerson, Michel again, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Jakobi Meyers.

    FOXBOROUGH, MA - JULY 28, 2021: Gunner Olszewski #80 of the New England Patriots during training camp at Gillette Stadium on July 28, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MA – JULY 28, 2021: Gunner Olszewski #80 of the New England Patriots during training camp at Gillette Stadium on July 28, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

    The Olszewski catch in this period was slipped through a seam between linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Ja’Whaun Bentley. Olszewski seems to have benefitted greatly from the absence of N’Keal Harry in recent practices.

  • Starters vs. Starters

    The first team drills began a streak in which Jones completed 18-of-19 passes over three 11-on-11 periods. In the second session, he led a simulated two-minute offense with the starters against the starting defense. This is where Jones shined.

    Jones was 10-of-11 in this two-minute drill, and his lone incompletion appeared to be a throwaway to stop the clock, as he sailed one out of bounds with no one open. Meyers made four catches in this period, including the highlight of the day, a dime from Jones over his shoulder that he reeled in as he dove forward. The play could’ve been ruled a touchdown, but the coaches kept the offense on the field in order to keep working on the situation.

    It was during this period that Jones showed notable command of the offense, in terms of making multiple pre-snap calls, identifying the “Mike” linebacker, and making sure receivers lined up properly. He and tight end Jonnu Smith connected three times in this period, including an impressive seam throw-and-catch against tight coverage by safety Adrian Phillips. Jones and Smith capped the drill with a toe-tapping touchdown in the back of the end zone.

    Aug 12, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith (81) runs the ball after a catch against the Washington Football Team during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

    Jones later ran a two-minute drill with the starting offense against the scout team defense. This is where he finally made a real incompletion, slightly overthrowing Meyers despite him being open by about 20 yards off a busted coverage.

  • Red Zone

    With the music cranking, Jones finally made a turnover. As the Patriots blasted M.O.P.’s “Ante Up (Robbin Hoodz Theory)” in an effort to affect communication, Jones threw a pass slightly behind Olszewski. The receiver bobbled the ball and it landed in the hands of safety Devin McCourty, who ran it back all the way.

    The offense was moved back closer to the middle of the field after this, and Jones responded well, completing his next six passes in a row and continuing his theme of bouncing back after mistakes.

    Unfortunately, this series ended with Jones’ second interception, as J.C. Jackson picked off a slant intended for Olszewski. This was itself a bounce-back for Jackson, who gave up a practice-ending touchdown on the same play on Monday.

    Jackson’s interception forced the offense to do push-ups for “losing” this red zone period. But Jones once again bounced back after this, completing his final two attempts to Wilkerson and Nelson Agholor. This resulted in push-ups for the defense on two straight plays.

  • Window Open?

    Head coach Bill Belichick acknowledged that “it is” a big opportunity for Jones to potentially seize the starting quarterback job sooner than expected, as he practices without Newton ahead of him. According to Mike Giardi of the NFL Network, the Patriots have “a level of frustration internally” over Newton’s inability to practice due to what the team termed a “misunderstanding” of the league’s COVID-19 protocols.

    Jones seemed to show improvement over Monday’s practice, in which he completed 17-of-31 passes, despite throwing two interceptions. The key for him will be to correct the mistakes he made in red zone work, with the New York Giants coming to town for joint practices starting Wednesday.

    The first joint practice will be Jones’ biggest opportunity yet to separate himself. But on Thursday, which is when Belichick expects Newton to be back, the quarterback reps will tell the real story in terms of Jones’ progress toward the starting job.