5 Things to Watch for in Tom Brady’s Return to Foxboro

If you don’t know that Tom Brady is returning to Gillette Stadium with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to face the Patriots this weekend then you must be living in a bunker somewhere. Since the moment the Patriots vs Saints game ended on Sunday (and frankly before), there have been flurries of articles and posts about one of, if not the most, anticipated regular season matchup in NFL history. Ticket prices are absolutely insane and there are as many opinions this homecoming as there are Dunkin Donuts in the greater Boston area. I’m taking simple approach and just looking at the top 5 things to watch for on Sunday night.

1. All-Time Passing Record

This is one of the biggest stories of the Tom Brady return to Foxboro. Brady is just 68 yards away from breaking Drew Brees‘ all-time passing yards record for a career with 80,258 and it will happen on Sunday night at the stadium where he threw the majority of those passes. Could you script a storyline any better than the reality? I don’t think so. The biggest question is how the Patriots and NFL will recognize this accomplishment that likely will never be broken again the way the game has evolved. When Peyton Manning broke the record in 2015 they game was halted to allow for players to congratulate him, there was a tribute played on the video board, and the ball was removed from play to head to the Hall of Fame in Canton. The biggest difference is that Manning was at home in Denver, but I’m still wondering what the moment will be like in front of fans who supported and loved Tom Brady for 2 decades.

Will everyone put aside the differences and give Brady the proper congratulations? Will the Pats allow for a video board tribute or some type of acknowledgment of the incredible accomplishment? If you are as interested as I am, it’s likely the record gets broken in the 1st half, probably the 1st quarter, so don’t grab a snack or take a bathroom break when the Bucs are on offense early in the game.

2. Defensive Struggles for Both Teams

For both teams, their defenses, and specifically their secondarys, have struggled at times early in the 2021 season. For the Bucs, they have allowed the 7th most 1st downs to opponents (71), the most passes completed to opponents by a lot (104), and the most yards (1,015). While part of that can be explained by their opponents, if they want to have a deep run in the postseason like last year and defend their title, the defense needs to improve. It was announced on Wednesday morning that CB Richard Sherman would sign with the Bucs which will help their weak secondary, but he won’t solve all of their problems. QB Mac Jones should be able to find some windows to throw into on Sunday and hopefully he can take advantage of the weaker secondary of the Bucs and show off in front of his predecessor.

The Pats on the other hand have to face the greatest QB of all-time in his homecoming on the night in which he will break the all-time passing yards record, which is a brutally difficult task for any defense. While the Pats stats on defense don’t look terrible on paper, that’s primarily because they have faced QBs Tua Tagovailoa, Zach Wilson, and Jameis Winston in their 3 match-ups thus far and sit at just 1-2 against them. Their opponents relied heavier on the run and the Pats weren’t always up for the task. Sunday night’s game will be an entirely different test for the secondary and there is a real risk of an absolute blowout with Brady throwing for 400+ yards. Can Bill Belichick disguise coverages and actually do anything to trick his former QB? He must in order to have a chance at winning this game.

3. Rob Gronkowski‘s Usage

One of the more interesting early-season NFL stories in 2021 is the return of Rob Gronkowski to an incredible form we haven’t seen in a long time. In just 3 games, he has 4 TDs, has caught 80% of passes thrown to him (16/20) and is averaging 9.2 yards per reception. He racked up a lot of those numbers in the first 2 games of the season (12/13) and is likely coming into Sunday night’s game looking to prove himself against his former employer. In 2020, his first year in Tampa, Gronk only caught 58.4% of balls thrown to him, which was a career low and while he played 16 games for the first time since 2011, his numbers were not particularly impressive. He clearly came into 2021 trying to prove he still has more to give the NFL.

When you pair Gronk’s early season success with a defense that occasionally has trouble covering TEs, especially when the WRs are as strong as the Bucs, and it could be tough to watch (unless you are a big Gronk fan). While Gronk is only 32, his track record makes me doubt he will be healthy for the entire season and will be able to sustain his blistering start, especially with a 17-game schedule, but you know he’s going to leave it all on the field this week and then probably take it easy through the middle of the schedule to be ready down the stretch and in the postseason. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 2 Gronk TD spikes this week at Gillette.

4. Post-Game Handshake

In no other area of the country does the post-game handshake get this much attention, but Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are both infamous for ignoring the typical handshake protocol post-game. Depending on how this game unfolds could determine what the post-game interaction looks like between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, if there is any. If Tom Brady absolutely smokes the Pats, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Belichick go straight to the locker room and the same might be true if Brady were to somehow lose. Belichick has been clear in his press conferences this week (as clear as BB ever is) about his desire to keep Brady with the Patriots before his departure, but according to his words “we weren’t as good an option as Tampa”.

With all the chirping from Tom Brady Sr. this week and the competitiveness of both player and coach, you just never know how they really feel about each other and if either will take the high-road and have a nice post-game interaction regardless of the game’s outcome. Despite it being a late Sunday night game, I’ll be glued to my TV for post-game.

5. Danger of a 1-3 Start

The Patriots come into Sunday’s match-up with a tough 1-2 record. Beyond all the Brady headlines and talk of the reunion, a 1-3 start for the Pats could put serious doubts in their ability to make the postseason. Since 1990, just 14.2% of teams beginning the season with a 1-3 record have made the postseason and the average finishing record for those teams is 6-10 with just 1 of the 218 teams winning the super bowl: the 2001 New England Patriots. This year will be a little different with the addition of a 17th game which could have an impact on those numbers, but it’s still not the place you want to be if you have aspirations of playing into mid-to-late January and early February.

A win would obviously be a tremendous accomplishment for this young QB, but I expect 1-3 is in their future. I don’t think this team is a super bowl contender regardless of a 1-3 or 2-2 start, but in the best of circumstances, a run into the postseason is always on the table in New England and the deeper the hole the team digs early on, the harder that will become.

Mac Jones With a Statement in Week 1

All eyes were on the 1st round QB on Sunday afternoon in New England. In his debut with the New England Patriots as QB1, the pressure of the entire northeast was on his shoulders and he put on a show. Although the Patriots lost 17-16, Mac Jones showed everyone that not only does he belong as a NFL starter, he has all the intangibles to stick around for a while. Perhaps the Patriots aren’t as far from being contenders as some believe.

Any time a QB goes 29/39 (74.4%) for 281 yards and a TD, its noteworthy. In New England the last nearly 2 decades it became commonplace and expected for the QB to have top performances week in and week out. Now for a rookie to put up those numbers in his debut in New England week 1 against a really tough Miami Dolphins team is beyond impressive.

The Pats were faced with a tight contest from start to finish and in order to have a chance at winning on Sunday, they needed to convert 3rd downs and keep the ball moving down the field. Mac did just that, completing 9 of 12 3rd down passes for 89 yards. He made smart, quick, confident decisions throughout the game with only one or two exceptions. When the team needed him the most in the 4th quarter down 1pt, Mac took the team down the field 41 yards on 9 plays to the 11-yard line before Damien Harris fumbled.

The 4th quarter drive will be remembered for the unfortunate Harris fumble, but my takeaway was the composure of Mac. He knew the situation and executed it perfectly. The Pats got the ball with 8:07 to play and after picking up a first down at the Miami 39 following a short run and 2 short passes to Jakobi Meyers, Jones went into clock-wasting mode without becoming stagnant. The Pats obviously still needed to score, but knowing that a field goal could potentially win the game, it was important to leave Miami with as little time left as possible. Over the next 6 plays, Jones took 3 minutes off the clock and still moved the team well inside the red zone.

I hate the comparison of young QBs to successful veterans in general, but that drive screamed classic Tom Brady. It never felt like Mac wasn’t in control or completely understanding and on top of the situation at hand. He calmly and confidently brought the Pats down the field and put them in a position to take the lead. It’s incredibly unfortunate, both for Harris and for the Pats, that we couldn’t see Mac finish that drive off in the end zone.


While you never want to lose, especially in such an anticipated divisional game week 1 at home, most of us, myself included, are feeling a lot more confident about the future of this team and franchise. It’s obviously SUPER early, but it says a lot about the character and composure of a player when you see them perform in their first ever professional game like Mac did on Sunday. The good news? The Patriots have an immediate opportunity for redemption when they play the Jets next week.

Top 5 Headlines for the New England Patriots as the Season Begins

It has definitely been an interesting offseason for the New England Patriots. Between a QB competition unlike anything we have seen in decades in Foxboro to the #1 defensive player in an odd holdout/injury situation, there has been plenty of storylines surrounding the New England Patriots. For those who aren’t following the daily comings and goings of the franchise like I do, let’s take a look at the major headlines and their potential impact in 2021 as the season kicks off this week.

1. Rookie QB Mac Jones Takes the Reins

Arguably the most talked about story this training camp and preseason was the QB competition. Incumbent Cam Newton appeared to have the edge right up until the 53-man roster was selected and he was released from the team. By all accounts, Mac Jones outperformed Cam both on and off the field this offseason, proving he was ready to lead the team despite being drafted just over 130 days ago in the 1st round of the 2021 draft. The University of Alabama QB has looked poised, calm, and confident in the limited preseason playing time we’ve seen from him and appears to have the support of the Patriots offense, which is incredibly important.

While Cam Newton provided the Pats with more offense on the ground, Mac Jones seems to have the stronger and more accurate arm. The largest difference between Mac and Cam based on my observation is decision-making. Mac has shown he can make a quick decision and get rid of the ball, unlike Cam who tends to hold on to it longer than maybe needed, leading to more scrambles and broken plays. Mac is just a rookie who will be starting his first game on Sunday, so expectations may be high, but should be tempered. He will make mistakes, but hopefully will continue to learn from them and should have a pretty high ceiling in this Pats system.

2. The Stephon Gilmore Saga

The Patriots top secondary talent, and maybe top overall defensive talent, Stephon Gilmore has had an eventful offseason off the field, but a silent one on the field. Here’s the high-level summary of the situation: Gilmore is unhappy with his $7 million per year contract because he is one of the best DBs in football, but isn’t being paid like it. He’s in the last year of his contract and started training camp in July by holding out, essentially just deciding not to show up until a deal was done. No deal was agreed to, so he appeared in Foxboro, but was immediately added to the PUP (physically unable to participate) list. A quad injury and surgery ended his 2020 season, but it’s unclear whether he is really still injured or just using it to continue to hold out.

Then, after not appearing with the team in any practices or games, Gilmore was placed on the PUP list to start the regular season, which means he will be out until at least week 7. Meanwhile, Gilmore is posting pictures on social media on vacation while the rest of the team is busting their butts in practice. The whole situation is a complete mess and was botched by the Patriots. Gilmore is an elite talent and I would guess the entire holdout situation could have been avoided with a small pay raise and perhaps a year or two extension, something that is definitely within the ability of the Patriots to complete.

The impact on the defense will be significant, because the absence of Gilmore pushes every other DB up on the depth chart and that chart gets thin rather quickly without him. This weird game of chicken could seriously hurt the Patriots this season. At this point, there is a real possibility that Gilmore will never wear the Patriots uniform in-game again, which would be a huge shame and massively disappointing.

3. The Four-Headed Running Back Depth

One of the few position groups that had a surprisingly huge spring and summer was the running back group. The 3rd year back out of, you guessed it, the University of Alabama Damien Harris came into camp as the clear #1 who should get the majority of the snaps. Entering training camp, there was a group of guys, Sony Michel, J.J. Taylor, James White, and rookie Rhamondre Stevenson all fighting for the other running back spots on the roster. After being the lead back in 2018 and 2019, Michel appeared to be on the outs with the coaching staff and in fact was traded to the Los Angeles Rams toward the end of the preseason to make room for the other guys.

While Harris maintained his grip on RB1, Taylor and Stevenson shined in the preseason and both showed the tremendous value they can bring to this team as both change-of-pace backs, but also as subs in case of injury. Taylor is tiny, by football standards, listed at 5’6″ and 185lbs. His small size makes him difficult to find behind the massive offensive linemen and his quickness is a huge asset as well as his special teams ability. He’ll probably see significant time in the return game throughout the season. Stevenson is in stark contrast to Taylor listed at 6′ and 227lbs, he has breakaway speed, but is also a tough, physical back. He did dislocate his thumb in practice this week, but could still play in week 1. They will likely not play Stevenson as much, giving him some opportunities, but barring injuries, I think they’ll take it easier with him to start the season.

White is an interesting back who has been around for awhile. He’s essentially more of a WR coming out of the back field, so will probably get some 3rd down touches and see more action in the passing game. Some weeks he’ll play like an RB2 and other weeks more like RB4 depending on the game plan for the week. They also have a Bill Belichick favorite in Brandon Bolden on the roster. He’s another guy who will likely have an impact on special teams, which is a huge plus in Belichick’s book. I imagine he will see the rare running back reps, but frankly hope they are limited given the other 4 talented players in that position.

4. The Pass-Rush Improvement

For anyone who has been an ardent supporter of the Patriots, there was a clear lack of pass-rush on last year’s team. There are several reasons, one of the biggest being the opt-out of Dont’a Hightower last season due to COVID, but also because the team lacked the overall personnel on the front 7 to get pressure on the QB. The Patriots addressed this issue in a big way this offseason, drafting DT Christian Barmore in the 2nd round this year out of, your guessed it, the University of Alabama. He has come in and looked really strong stuffing the run and getting pressure on the opposing QB. Alongside Barmore, Belichick signed 6’3″, 311lbs DT Davon Godchaux to stuff the middle and get pressure. As good as Barmore is, he’s likely 3rd best DT behind Lawrence Guy and Godchaux, which is a great place to be as a Pats fan.

On the outside, maybe the most important free agent signing this offseason was LB Matt Judon. The former Raven is a pass-rushing LB who can single-handedly disrupt the opponents offense. He’s big, athletic, and has already shown his ability get to the QB with regularity this preseason. Add back in Dont’a Hightower and the return of former Pats LB Kyle Van Noy, and that’s a pretty impressive rotation. On the end, the team returns LE Deatrich Wise Jr. and new addition RE Henry Anderson to complete the powerful front line. Opponents should have some trouble running against this front line and the opposing QB should taste some dirt, which is important given the secondary question marks.

5. Improved Receiving Options

One of the most glaring issues in 2020 was the lack of receiving options. WR N’Keal Harry didn’t step up the way the team had hoped and they were left with basically WR Jakobi Meyers as the main option for Cam Newton. The TE group was even more suspect, with no one being able to stay on the field or produce when healthy. This offseason, the Patriots clearly made that a priority and signed the 2 best TEs on the market, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. Both are legit #1 options if healthy, but both have has some injury issues in the past and in training camp/preseason. Smith has been on the field more regularly, but if they both can be healthy and play at the same time, it’s trouble for opposing defenses.

In the WR core, the Pats added Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, who are nice depth pieces. They are looking at Agholor to play a bigger role that perhaps I would, but if the TEs are healthy, there are solid options across the field. Add in the pass-catching ability of James White and hopefully Damien Harris and it leads to a ton of 5-10 yard passes for Mac Jones in his rookie season. N’Keal Harry went down with an injury late in the preseason that landed him on IR, which means he won’t be able to return until at least week 4, but he could be a contributor once he returns. Overall, this group has definitely improved, although many fans will argue Belichick didn’t do enough in this area this offseason.

The Mac Jones Era Begins in New England

There are usually some surprises on cut-down day when every NFL team needs to trim their rosters significantly down to a 53-man roster. Rarely are the significant surprises coming out of the New England Patriots camp, but today was a clear exception. After an entire preseason with QB Cam Newton being positioned as the starter and starting all 3 preseason games, Bill threw us all a curveball. Around 10am this morning the news came down that Cam Newton had been released by the New England Patriots, clearly paving the way for the Mac Jones era to begin. There is no better way for Bill Belichick to make a statement about his confidence in Mac Jones as QB1 than to cut his competition.

Its incredibly uncommon for Bill to trust a rookie at a major position, especially QB. On top of the fact that QB is one of the most pivotal positions on the field, it was also a shortened preseason this year with one less game to evaluate players. All the reports out of Patriots camp were that teammates liked Mac and were impressed by him on and off the field, but there is always a lot of fluff talk before the season starts and it’s hard to know what to really believe. As it turns out, Bill really did feel that way and was clearly impressed by the young QB in order to hand the reigns to him before his first NFL game.

As I’ve mentioned several times before, and as recently as yesterday, Mac Jones should be QB1. What no one expected was Bill making that decision. The most common word used this morning amongst those in the know in Foxboro was “shocked”. While some felt Bill would bench Cam and start Mac to start the season, most still believed, me included, that Bill would begin the season with Cam and depending on results move on to Mac later in the season. I don’t think there was a single person who could have predicted Cam Newton would be released this morning and not even make the 53-man roster.

Now that the shock is beginning to wear off, it’s time to focus our attention on the rookie QB and his debut September 12th. This is his team now and he should feel empowered to be smart and play his game. He doesn’t have to look over his shoulder and wonder if one mistake will see him on the bench. The coaching staff is not going to ask him to throw for 400 yards every week and score 6 TDs, but they need him to be a smart game manager, limit the mistakes, take advantage of opportunities for a big play, and play with confidence. The defense is weaker without CB Stephon Gilmore for the first 6 weeks, so they will likely need at least 3 scores each week to have a chance to win.

If he can complete short passes and move the chains through the air, it will open up the potent running game for the Pats and in turn, reduce the pressure on Mac. The offense is poised to be really solid as currently constituted without Mac throwing deep bombs and trying to force too many throws. If he continues his calm, cool confidence from the preseason, this could be a fun team to watch this season.

Mac Jones Should Be QB1

All of New England had curious eyes on this preseason. We were glued to practices and preseason games that don’t count more intently than any in recent memory. Everyone wanted to get a look at the potential QB of the future, Mac Jones. The hype was (is) significant with daily reports on practice reps and completion percentage and even detailed analysis on each incompletion and why it was, or was not, a good throw. For a fan base desperate for a QB who can return the franchise to championship caliber, this preseason was everything and Mac Jones delivered. He did everything he could, and should, to earn the QB1 roster spot.

I’m not shy with my criticism of QB Cam Newton and his clear flaws and issues. To me, he’s done nothing to earn the QB1 spot other than have some unexplainable loyalty from Bill Belichick. The talk all preseason was that it was Cam’s job to lose, and in my opinion, he lost the job. Mac Jones was clearly the better and more effective QB all preseason, and looked confident and effective with his decision making. On multiple occasions Mac drove the team down the field behind a backup offensive line and throwing to 4th, 5th, and 6th options at receiver and did so as if it were the first teamers. He made clear, quick, smart decisions, which was in dramatic contrast to Cam.

The thing that frustrates me the most about Cam and impressed me the most about Mac was the quick decision making. Last year, Cam ran the ball a lot. It was partially because his receiving core was weak and mostly because he took an eternity to make a decision on when and where to throw the ball. When you take a long time to make a decision, offensive lineman can’t hold their blocks and windows to hit receivers close. With Mac under center, the team looked quicker and more confident. Will that result in some mistakes and some quick throws in the ground? Absolutely, but it will also result in more 5-10 yard hits down the field and moving the chains more regularly.

My biggest argument for Mac as the starter week 1 is simple. Why not? If as an organization you believe he is the future and he’s shown you that he is more than capable to win games now, why hand the ball to Cam Newton who is on the back end of his career and has no long-term future in New England? What does it prove to have him sit on the bench behind Cam? To me it’s a no-brainer decision to hand him the reigns of the team and see what he is really capable of doing. It won’t be perfect and there will be mistakes, but do you really think he’ll make more mistakes than an aging Cam Newton?

Now is the time. Week 1 vs the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium should be Mac’s first career NFL start for the New England Patriots. Unfortunately, I think Bill Belichick has other ideas.

“Misunderstanding” Opens Door for Mac Jones

In one of the more bizarre stories of the preseason for the New England Patriots, QB Cam Newton is missing an entire week of practice due to a COVID protocol “misunderstanding”. Not just any week, but the final week of practice before the final preseason game. After a great performance on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, it appeared Cam was solidifying his role as the starter for the Pats, but Monday’s news puts all of that in jeopardy and opens the door for QB Mac Jones to take the spot from him.

At this point in the preseason, players should be clear on COVID protocols and be extra careful about following them to the T. Bill Belichick expects nothing less than perfection when it comes to the rules and now his loyalty to Cam will be tested. The Pats will be without the services of Cam in practice (other than virtual appearances) until Thursday, which is essentially the entire final week in an already shortened preseason. In the past, if a player doesn’t practice much in a week, especially with a rules violation, they don’t tend to play in the game. Will Bill actually sit Cam on Sunday against the New York Giants? If he does and Mac Jones puts on a show, would he actually make the decision to bench Cam for week 1?

If I had to put money on it today, I still think Cam is the week 1 starter, but what was a seemingly sure thing at the end of last week now feels like more of a toss-up. For the good things Cam can occasionally do, his self-destructive behavior is hard to look past and in New England, this stuff usually doesn’t fly. Players have been benched or cut for seemingly less despite great performances and talent (i.e. RB Jonas Gray).

This situation also makes it clear that Cam is one of the players on the roster who has not been vaccinated, because if he were, he would not have to follow the 5-day rule before returning to practice. Given the current COVID situation and the push for 100% vaccinations amongst players and coaches, it doesn’t reflect well on him or the Pats. Is this the QB you want leading your team?

It’s never boring off-the-field with Cam Newton, but on-the-field is often a different story…

The Best Thing to Happen to Cam Newton is Mac Jones

After watching QB Cam Newton look the best he has in a New England Patriots uniform on Thursday night, its clear what Cam needed to kick into high gear: competition. Going into last season there were a lot of weird circumstances thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, including limited playing time prior to the season, but the #1 thing Cam didn’t have was a legitimate threat to take his starting job. There was talk about QB Jared Stidham and a desire from most fans to give him a shot, but the Patriots coaching staff apparently vehemently disagreed and had already given up on him. This year, with all the attention on 1st round pick QB Mac Jones, Cam came into camp motivated to earn his spot as the starter and prove everyone wrong.

After the first preseason game, all the talk and attention was on Mac and his impressive debut performance despite Cam having a solid few series as the starter. There were tons of articles (including this one) that were pushing for, or suggesting that, Mac had taken the lead in the QB competition. By all accounts, Mac is working his butt off and is impressing people in training camp and it seems as if Cam took Mac’s strong performance last week as a challenge. I think it’s highly unlikely, barring injury, that Mac would start week one regardless of Cam’s preseason numbers, but that doesn’t mean Cam doesn’t have something to prove to himself, coaches, and fans. In two series, Cam went 8/9 for 103 yards and a TD, but most surprisingly to anyone who watched him last year, he completed passes for 28, 23, and 18 yards.

Mac also had a great night, stringing together two great performances to start his NFL career. He took the team literally from end zone to end zone, completed several clutch 3rd down throws and continued to look calm, cool, and collected. He finished 13/19 for 146 yards and threw some really strong balls, including one that was a perfect deep pass dropped into the hands of WR N’Keal Harry that he somehow failed to catch.

The biggest diffence between week 1 and 2 of the preseason? This week the story is about Cam’s great performance. All things are looking up for Patriots QBs right now.

Mac Jones Shines in Patriots Debut

Since April, New England Patriots fans have been waiting for one moment: the first snap for Mac Jones. When the Pats were led onto the field for their third series of their first preseason game by #10 QB Mac Jones, the crowd erupted. There was hope in the air and a belief by many that this could be the beginning of a beautiful partnership that may someday return the Pats to the top of the NFL mountain. The very early results were incredibly promising.

The overall impression Mac left was very positive. He didn’t make any deep throws or show off in any extra-special way, but his actions screamed loud and clear that he fits this system and can win games in the league. Putting aside his numbers for a minute, his confidence and command of the offense was impressive and surprising. Frankly, I expected him to look like a rookie QB, indecisive and nervous at moments. Instead, he looked loose and calm. The best part? He made quick decisions and got rid of the football.

My #1 issue with Cam Newton as QB1 is his indecision. Last year, he routinely held on to the ball for 5 or 6+ seconds while trying to figure out who to throw to or whether to take off and run. When a QB takes that long, the offensive line breaks down and the defense has a chance to adjust in the secondary. What has made the Pats consistent contenders over the years is their ability to take the 5-step drop (or shotgun snap) and get rid of the ball quickly. Yes, they were led by Tom Brady, but the approach is what’s important. The quicker a decision is made and the ball is out, the less likely the defense is set and ready for the pass. It keeps the defense off-balance and unsettled and leads to more completions.

Mac Jones did just that on Thursday night in his debut. He confidently took the snap, dropped back 5 steps, and released the ball. No hesitation, no delay, no uncertainty. Most all of his throws were short, mostly accurate and clean. You got the sense watching him that he fits the system perfectly if he can continue on the path laid out. He finished the night 13 of 19 for 87 yards (no TDs or INTs) which is just what the doctor ordered. Most of those snaps were with an entirely 2nd or 3rd string roster, including the offensive line, on the field that was legitimately the least talented group he’s played with since high school. The receiving core was significantly worse than he had last year at Alabama, yet he was still able to make some throws and prove he can move the ball in any situation. The most important drive was a calling card for Josh McDaniels, the hurry-up, 2-min drill drive in the 3rd quarter which saw Mac take control and go 8 for 9.

All in all, that’s about the best you could hope for as a Patriots fan from the QB position after one preseason game.

Reason for Positivity on Offense: The New England Patriots

As we sit less than a week from the first 2021 pre-season game for the New England Patriots, there is reason to be hopeful of what this season, and the future, will bring. In the landscape of the four major Boston professional sports, there is a lot of negative energy at the moment: Red Sox are 1-6 in their last 7 and hope is dwindling, the Celtics haven’t gotten much better in the offseason while others have improved, and the Bruins lost some key players and at best are a tick worse than last year. The Pats bring optimism and hope to the landscape after a rocky season last year. One main reason: the offense.

Whether you believe QB Cam Newton, QB Mac Jones, or a combo will be the starter this season, they both have a significantly improved receiving core to target. Both TE Hunter Henry and TE Jonnu Smith would have come into New England as the #1 option, but with the addition of both, it creates a ton of flexibility in play-calling for Josh McDaniels. He loves multiple tight-end sets and is best calling plays in those situations. Both Henry and Smith can hold their own blocking and obviously have made names for themselves catching the football. Maybe most importantly, two talented pass-catching TEs can create massive match-up issues for opponents (i.e. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez).

The WR depth is better than last season, although it didn’t take much to make that happen. The additions of WR Kendrick Bourne and WR Nelson Agholor add depth to the rotation with WR N’Keal Harry and WR Jakobi Meyers. All four have flaws and frankly, don’t always instill confidence, but they can all catch a football on occasion and when not the #1 target, will likely have success as a group. Both Bourne and Agholor are good size targets with ok speed (Bourne is 6’1″ around 200lbs and Agholor is 6’0″ around 200lbs) and can hopefully create separation from a #3 or #4 corner. They should thrive when not getting attention from top corners and their combined 11 years in the league will help the younger Harry and Meyers (combined 4 years) continue to develop.

The running game of the Pats looks similar to last year, but with RB Damien Harris potentially moving up the depth chart. He had some strong moments towards the end of 2020 and is looking to carry that into this season, potentially becoming the focus back over RB Sony Michel. If they are both healthy, the competition should help drive better performance from both. The Pats still have depth at the position with RB Brandon Bolden and receiving back James White. The only real changes are the exit of RB Rex Burkhead and the addition big rookie RB Rhamondre Stevenson from Alabama, but I don’t expect him to see much of the field this year unless the injury bug hits hard or he seriously overperforms. Of course, if Cam Newton is the QB, there will be a lot of designed option plays to use his legs as an advantage as well.

The offensive line for the Pats will look pretty similar to 2020, but with one large addition: OL Trent Brown. My biggest concern with the OL is injuries. Only last year’s rookie OL Mike Onwenu played all 16 games in 2020, so there is some reason for concern. OL Isaiah Wynn has shown some potential when healthy, but has only appeared in 18 games in his 2 seasons in the league and OL Justin Herron who may be the starter at LG appeared in 12 games (6 starts) in his first year in the league in 2020. Veterans C David Andrews and OL Trent Brown bring the experience with a combined 11 seasons in the league, but again, have had trouble playing a full season recently. The other likely starter is OL Shaq Mason who is also solid when on the field. The OL is a solid group as long as they can stay healthy, which is a big concern.

Overall, the offense got significantly better over 2020. They have their QB of the future at least practicing and learning the playbook, if not starting at some point, and they have a significantly stronger receiving core. The TE group will have the biggest impact on the entire offense if healthy, opening up more holes for the run game and making defenses cover more receivers leaving others more open. While last year was almost entirely a running play or a pass to Meyers, this year the offense should be more varied and more interesting to watch and difficult to cover. A real reason for optimism.

Will Bill Belichick actually start Mac Jones early in 2021?

Photo from the New England Patriots

As Patriots training camp opens, there are a number of positional battles and storylines to watch, but the one that will likely receive the most attention is the QB position. For more than a decade it was the least contested position on the field in New England, but now that the Pats have spent high draft capital on their guy Mac Jones and re-signed Cam Newton, the path for 2021 is less clear. When will we see the young 1st round pick under center? Does Bill Belichick have it in him to start Mac Jones week 1 if he significantly outperforms Cam Newton in training camp?

It’s always hard to judge exactly how good players truly look in training camp. Each day there will be lots of reports talking about how player X is looking stronger and quicker and player Y has been lifting in the offseason. My favorite are when a reporter picks a seemingly random player and hypes him up on the off chance he has a breakout year, then the player doesn’t make the roster or get any reps. To be fair, it can be hard to predict some of the decisions that Belichick and his staff make, which is why we’re left wondering about the real plan for Mac Jones.

I think we’ll see pretty quickly, if we haven’t already, that Mac Jones has a stronger and more accurate arm than Cam. The bar is set fairly low with Cam’s arm strength looking pretty awful at times last season, but it’s worth noting. I know the receiving core didn’t do Cam any favors in 2020, but a 7.2 yds/pass average put him near the bottom of the league. However, Cam did have a higher completion rate than Tom Brady in 2020 (by 0.001%) albeit with 159 fewer completions on 242 fewer attempts. Another gap between the two QBs is around playbook and awareness.

When it comes to the Pats playbook, an extra season under your belt vs being new in town can be a cavernous divide, whether real or just in Belichick’s head. I’m not saying Cam had an amazing grasp of the offense and knew exactly what to do on every play last year, but his legs made up for the moments when he was lost and he studied and practiced each week. Mac Jones isn’t slow, but he certainly isn’t a running back either, and having just a few months to learn and digest the system is tough. Until Belichick feels Mac has a really strong grasp on the playbook and a bit more awareness of situations on the field, he’s going to be very hesitant to start him, like we’ve seen with some other young QBs in the recent past (i.e. Jared Stidham).

Besides a grasp of the playbook, there is also the sense of loyalty that for some reason Belichick has with Cam. Bill seems to love Cam like a son and has been willing to give him a pretty long leash up until this point. I’m not sure if that’s partially a product of his distrust in Stidham or his true love for Cam. This year will certainly test that theory, because there is now a legitimate contender on the bench behind Cam who can probably step in and win some games even before he’s really “ready”. If Mac outduels Cam in training camp, it’ll push Belichick to make a tough decision (or at least it should).

Another factor in the decision revolves around the schedule. Overall, it’s not the hardest schedule the Pats have had, which is helpful, but there aren’t any stretches of several games playing bad teams to easy Mac in. It seems to be a tougher game followed by an easier game for the majority of the season making it difficult to see an obvious run of games to hand Mac the reigns if not on week 1.

My ideal scenario is that Mac crushes in training camp and Belichick has no choice but to hand him the ball week 1. If they believe he is the future, start the path now knowing that there will be bumps and bruises along the way. He’s not going to take this team deep in the playoffs for a year or two, but neither is Cam, at least Mac’s playing time would be building toward the future. Give him a decent leash knowing that the veteran Cam is there to guide him through and step if things really go off the rails. I think realistically, Belichick will wait to start Mac until 1. Cam is completely incompetent and he has no choice; 2. Cam gets injured; or 3. They are out of the playoff hunt post the week-14 bye.