FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — All summer long we’ve seen Cam Newton and Mac Jones go head-to-head in training camp. The New England Patriots’ quarterback competition has been a tight contest with both the veteran and rookie putting forth up-and-down performances. The close competition has Newton in the lead, but it’s clear Jones has talent and isn’t far behind.
By the time the Patriots’ first preseason game ended on Thursday night in a 22-13 New England win, that notion remained the same. Following four quarters against the Washington Football Team, we saw Newton play two series with the Patriots starters, putting together one scoring drive. Jones played in five series, one with the starters, leading the Pats to two scoring drives in the preseason opener.
Newton completed 57% of his throws on this night. He finished the game 4-of-7 for 49 yards with a 78.9 passer rating. Jones completed 68% of his passes, finishing 13-for-19 for 87 yards and a 78.2 quarterback rating. There were solid moments for both quarterbacks, but the night came and went with this Patriots quarterback competition looking close between the veteran and newcomer.
“We’ll look at it on film,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said when asked about Jones’ performance. “There’s some good things, plenty of things we can improve on. It’s true for everybody.”
Newton’s night didn’t start off great. He was under pressure on his first two passes, which both fell incomplete. His second pass attempt, on third down, initially looked like a strip sack by Chase Young, but it was ruled an incompletion. Of course, that wasn’t his fault since left tackle Isaiah Wynn was torched off the line of scrimmage.
The veteran certainly looked more comfortable on his second and final drive. He began the series with an 11-yard pass to Jakobi Meyers. Newton then picked up two first downs by hitting Jonnu Smith (16 yards) and James White (17 yards). The Pats offense had some momentum, but a holding call on Smith stymied the drive. Newton’s final pass attempt, on third down, was an off-the-mark throw to White in the flat.
“On the first drive, out of 11 guys, one or two guys here making a mistake, me included. We’ve just got to be sharper,” Newton said. “And coach always says, you just have to connect fast. You have to start fast. We kind of picked it up the second drive… We know what the standard is, we know what we have to do and that’s what we’ve got to keep striving to do.”
Newton’s performance wasn’t spectacular, but it wasn’t a disaster as rookie kicker Quinn Nordin finished that last drive off with a 35-yard field goal.
It’s easy to tell whom Patriots fans want to see under center come Week 1, though. All you had to do was listen to the thousands of fans giving Jones a standing ovation when he first jogged onto the field with 55 seconds left in the first quarter.
The first-round pick looked better than his numbers indicated, but Jones had more success with shorter throws on Thursday night. It also appeared that officials missed one catch and receivers dropped two others from the rookie quarterback.
Jones’ first pass of the night was ruled incomplete even though it looked like Meyers hauled it in. Belichick didn’t throw the challenge flag and it didn’t matter. Jones’ next throw, on third-and-5, hit Kristian Wilkerson for a 7-yard gain. Jones then hit Kendrick Bourne for 13 yards, which was his longest completion on Thursday.
Jones’ next pass looked like a potential highlight with a beautiful 34-yard deep pass into the end zone. Although Wilkerson got his hands on it, the young receiver couldn’t hang on. Jones’ last pass of the drive was inaccurate to Bourne. Jones finished 2-of-5 for 20 yards on his first NFL preseason drive.
“That was a great ball by Mac,” Wilkerson said of the missed deep ball. “I’ve just got to adjust better to it. I’ve got to do my part. I have to watch the tape and see what I can do better.”
Nordin finished this drive with a 50-yard field goal at 12:34 of the second quarter.
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Jones started his second drive with an 11-yard pass to J.J. Taylor, but the offense fell into a first-and-15 hole due to an ineligible downfield penalty on Alex Redmond. Jones completed passes to Wilkerson (eight yards) and Jakob Johnson (five yards) on the next two plays. On third-and-2, the quarterback tried to rush for the first down, but was brought down a yard shy of the marker.
Jones started the second half for the Patriots and put together his most impressive drive of the night. Operating the no-huddle, Jones threw short, concise passes to quickly get his offense downfield. The rookie never completed a pass for more than eight yards, but he got the Patriots into scoring position during this 13-play, 53-yard drive.
Jones’ best pass came on a third-and-3 when he threw a bullet to Wilkerson for a gain of eight. This drive saw Jones go 8-of-9 for 43 yards and his only incompletion came when he was hit on third down. That incomplete pass came after Jones hit 11 straight completions.
“He’s confident. I love him as a leader,” Wilkerson said of Jones. “I’m glad to be his teammate and a receiver playing with him.”
Nordin finished this drive with a 40-yard field goal at 9:48 of the third quarter.
Jones’ final two drives were uneventful. His fourth drive saw three running plays totaling nine yards before a Jake Bailey punt. Jones’ fifth drive was more eventful, but not efficient. It started with a false start on Marcus Martin. Jones then threw an incomplete pass to Wilkerson, was sacked by Bunmi Rotimi and then threw an incomplete deep pass to Gunner Olszewski.
That was it for Jones, who was replaced by Brian Hoyer with 13:40 left in the fourth quarter. With 1:26 remaining, fans broke out a, “We want Mac!” chant. They wouldn’t get their wish at the end of this preseason game.
Will that come in Week 1? Only time will tell.