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Former Patriots RB says Mac Jones’ demise in New England wasn’t Jones’ fault: ‘I will die on this hill’

The path that led former New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones to his current role as Trevor Lawrence’s backup with the Jacksonville Jaguars was a strange one. 

Jones was selected in the same draft as Lawrence, but 14 picks later. Lawrence went No. 1 overall to Jacksonville, while Jones came off the board to New England at No. 15. In his first professional season, Jones played quite well: He completed 67.6% of his passes at an average of 7.3 yards per attempt. He tossed 22 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. The Pats went 10-7 and made the playoffs, while Jones was named a Pro Bowl alternate and finished second in NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year voting.

And then things quickly went awry. In Year 2, Jones took a step backward, dropping to a 65.22% completion rate and 6.8 yards per attempt, along with just 14 touchdowns and 11 picks in 14 games, as he was at one point benched in favor of Bailey Zappe. In 2023, things got even worse: 64.9%, 6.1 yards per attempt, 10 touchdowns against 12 picks in 11 games during which New England went just 2-9.

To hear former teammate Damien Harris tell it, this wasn’t really Jones’ fault.

“I will die on this hill, and people might be upset with me, people might be happy with me, people might be somewhere in-between. What happened to Mac Jones in New England was not because of Mac Jones,” Harris said, during an appearance on “The Athletic Football Show.” “What happened in New England to Mac Jones was because of the fact you took away an offensive coordinator who coached him to be a Pro Bowler and almost coached us to winning our division with a rookie quarterback in his first year.

“And then you take — whenever Josh McDaniels left — Matt Patricia, who has coached defenses his entire life, and Joe Judge, who has been a special teams coach, coached receivers at some point. And then you just throw them in there and be like, ‘Hey, coach this kid up. He’s a first-round pick, but as long as you teach him what I say, everything will be fine.’ And shit wasn’t fine.”

Harris, of course, is referring to the Patriots’ infamous plan to replace McDaniels (who took the head-coaching job with the Raiders, from which he has since been fired) as offensive coordinator with the combination of Patricia and Judge, which resulted in disaster. The Patriots tried to salvage things last season by bringing in Bill O’Brien, but the damage was seemingly done. And Harris is clear about where he thinks the responsibility should lie.

“It’s like the breath of Mac Jones in New England, it came and went and it shouldn’t have [gone] the way that it went,” Harris said. “And the only reason that it did is because Bill Belichick, being stuck in his ways, was very much so like, ‘As long as I am here, as long as I am — along with Robert Kraft — the top dog at this organization, no matter who, no matter where, what position, where they coach, whatever, we will have success.'”

Instead, the decision “was a debacle,” according to Harris, who said that players could tell right away that the arrangement wasn’t going to work. He did, though, understand why Belichick thought things would work out.

“He needs full-on control. That’s just the kind of guy Bill Belichick is,” he said. “But at the same time, can you blame him? Because in the 20 years where he had full control, he had a lot of success. So you can’t blame him.”

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Author: Jared Dubin
June 8, 2024 | 2:40 pm

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