Mac Jones shines while Bill Belichick grins: A remarkable performance

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It’s about damn time.

For just the second time in his career and the first time in over two years, Mac Jones led the New England Patriots to a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, connecting with Mike Gesicki for a 1-yard touchdown with 15 seconds to play for a 29-25 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

It has been a long time since a Week 7 win felt necessary for New England, but given the Patriots’ 1-5 record entering Sunday, three-game losing streak, and terrible play of the offense generally and Jones specifically in recent weeks, there was palpable relief from players to be able to walk off the field at Gillette Stadium victorious. And against an AFC East foe to boot.

Even perpetually sunny WBZ sports reporter Dan Roche was almost mockingly excited when he opened the local postgame show with, “Where has this team been? I’m smiling! They looked like a football team today!”

Roche wasn’t wrong. Sunday was the first home win of the season for New England, the first time this season the Patriots scored a first-quarter touchdown, the first time this season they scored off a turnover, the first time this season they managed to score more than 20 points.

A lot of that was because for this week at least, Jones rose to the occasion. He had chances in three other games to notch a game-winning or game-tying drive and fell short each time, though it wasn’t all on him. Last week in Las Vegas, with the offense backed up deep in its own end, the Patriots were called for holding on second down and DeVante Parker let a pretty downfield pass go off his fingers. That was followed by a flag for delay of game and Jones was sacked in the end zone for a safety effectively ending the game.

Against Buffalo things were different. Jones was 6-for-7 for 73 yards on the final drive. A run-and-catch Rhamondre Stevenson took for 34 yards on first down got things off to a hopeful start. Later, on third-and-8 and the pocket collapsing, Jones completed a 14-yarder to Hunter Henry. The game-winner went to Gesicki, his first touchdown as a Patriot.

Mac Jones celebrates after the game-winning touchdown is scored against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) (Kathryn Riley via Getty Images)

“I thought Mac did a great job today, making the right decisions all day, playing his best football when it mattered and that’s what we need,” Patriots center David Andrews said.

New England had scored a field goal on its opening drive, then safety Jabrill Peppers picked off Josh Allen’s first pass attempt, giving the offense the ball at the Bills’ 45. In five of their first six games, the Patriots were behind after the first quarter.

Jones was benched late in back-to-back games, the losses to Dallas and New Orleans, and there has been a growing sentiment that maybe the 2021 first-round draft pick wasn’t the guy for New England long term, though there can’t be a fair assessment of Jones’ development given the disaster of last year’s decision by Bill Belichick to name Matt Patricia and Joe Judge as offensive coordinators.

“I don’t think a lot of the talk and stuff that happens about him is fair honestly,” Gesicki said of Jones. “I think he’s done an unbelievable job blocking that out and he’s done an unbelievable job internally leading us through all the adversity. Today we had a chance and he stood in there play after play. Really happy for him and excited for this to propel us forward.”

Against the Bills, Jones was 25-for-30 for 272 yards and two touchdowns. There are only two games this season in which he hasn’t had a turnover, and they were both in the Patriots’ wins.

“I always believe in myself,” Jones said. “I have a lot of confidence in myself. I’m not going to stand up here and say it every time but I do believe in myself and I do that through work.”

While players seemed happy and Belichick, who finally got his 300th career regular-season win, joining Don Shula and George Halas, walked into his postgame chat with media with a smile on his face, he still shed little light on what was different this week versus past weeks and what this win could mean for the team for the rest of this season.

Asked whether it could generate confidence he only mumbled, “I don’t know.”

For anyone still clinging to hope that the Patriots will turn the season around, in each of the past three seasons there was a 2-5 team that went on to the playoffs: Washington in 2020, Philadelphia in 2021 and Jacksonville in 2022.

Jones tried to offer some positivity where Belichick hadn’t.

“It’s just a crumb, right? That’s what I always say,” he said. “Keep picking up crumbs and eventually you have a loaf of bread.”

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