FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Mac under pressure: Quarterback Mac Jones’ performance when facing pressure projects as a key storyline Monday against the host Arizona Cardinals (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
It is a tenuous spot to be with the Patriots managing a run of injuries at offensive tackle and with go-to receiver Jakobi Meyers still in concussion protocol. Jones could be running for his life against a Cardinals defense that blitzes about 50% of the time.
“They bring a lot of different guys from a lot of different places — show you one thing and bring something else. [They] keep you guessing and put you on your heels,” Jones said.
Jones has become accustomed to feeling the heat this season. The shaky results in those situations have contributed to why the Patriots (6-6) haven’t had the offensive success coach Bill Belichick envisioned after streamlining the offensive playbook and assigning Matt Patricia and Joe Judge as leading offensive coaches despite their primary backgrounds in the NFL coming on defensive and special teams, respectively.
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According to ESPN Stats & Information, Jones has completed just 37% of his passes when pressured this season, ranking him 31st out of 35 qualified quarterbacks in the NFL.
He is averaging just 2.9 yards per pass attempt when pressured — 34th in the NFL.
And his five interceptions when pressured — which was an early-season issue that has subsided in recent weeks — are tied for the most in the NFL.
Injuries at offensive tackle have contributed to Jones being under so much duress. Starting right tackle Isaiah Wynn (foot) will miss his third straight game Monday — and, frankly, he hasn’t been consistently effective when healthy — while veteran backup Marcus Cannon (concussion) remains on injured reserve.
Furthermore, starting left tackle Trent Brown has been battling an illness that clearly affected his play in a Week 13 loss to the Bills and then limited his practice time this past week. And backup offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste is managing back and calf injuries that sidelined him for the Bills game and limited his practice time this past week as well.
It’s no wonder Jones faced pressure on 39.5% of his dropbacks last week.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who seems to sense blood in the water, made headlines on Thursday when he described the Patriots’ offense as conservative and reflective of “how a defensive guy would call offensive plays.” He said he’s seen a lot of “run, quick game and screens” before adding: “Hopefully they don’t change that much Monday for us.”
Some might say it sounded like a challenge.
How Jones and the Patriots answer it will determine how much hope remains in their season.
2. Mac’s air yards: Jones has had 14% of his pass attempts travel 20-plus air yards this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That is the fifth-highest total in the NFL, contradicting the perception that the Patriots’ passing game is all “quick game and screens.” As running back Rhamondre Stevenson essentially said, it depends on which game one chooses to watch.
3. Loose locker room: Given the Patriots are on a two-game losing streak, and the stakes are as high as they’ve been for them this season, the looseness of players was notable in the time media members were around them this week. Matthew Judon kept things light by wearing a pair of McCourty’s bright red Rutgers shorts to his media availability, before returning to McCourty’s media availability in hopes that he would wear a Grand Valley State shirt. Meanwhile, Jones said: “I feel like we have a good energy. That’s important. Everybody is all-in and that’s all you can ask for.”
Matthew Judon, keeping it light, returns during Devin McCourty’s news conference with a Grand Valley State shirt. pic.twitter.com/l92iRfo4gB
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) December 8, 2022
4. Arizona trip: The Patriots will practice at the University of Arizona next week instead of returning home before their Week 15 road game against the Raiders. Judon compared it to a basketball team making a West Coast trip.
Added longtime captain Devin McCourty: “It will just be us. All the distractions and everything else you have to handle as a husband, a father, a son, a brother, you kind of get a break from that. You kind of go back, almost like college — meetings, practice, back to the dorm with the guys.”
The Patriots are hanging on to slim playoff hopes, and players have acknowledged the worst-case scenario that things could go dry in the desert.
“It’s going to be tough, but if you win, it’s all worth it. If you lose, it’s like, ‘dang, this sucks,’” veteran safety Adrian Phillips said. “You just want to make sure that when we come back on the plane Sunday night from Vegas, you’re talking to the guys saying, ‘That trip was worth it. We did what we needed to do.’”
5. Wildcat alums: Kicker Nick Folk and practice-squad running back J.J. Taylor attended the University of Arizona, so they’ll know their way around the Tucson campus well. Folk, who earned All-Pac-10 honors as a senior in 2006, has stayed well-connected to the school — visiting in 2020 with his family, and then attending the spring game in Jedd Fisch’s first year as head coach in 2021. “It will be fun,” said the 37-year-old Folk, who emphatically answered when asked if he will feel like a student again: “Oh no. That was a long time ago!”
6. Uche’s assist: Third-year pass-rusher Josh Uche has put together the most successful season of his three-year career (19 tackles, 7 sacks, 25.5% playing time), and Belichick cited his availability as a primary factor. Uche has missed just two games due to injury and credits Judon with an assist. “He’s helped me out a ton; the different things he does to get ready for a game, I’ve kind of implemented into my game as well. It’s allowed me to sustain my time out on the field.”
7. Kingsbury memories: When fourth-year Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury stopped for a brief chat at March’s NFL annual meeting, he reminisced about his time with the Patriots in 2003 as a sixth-round draft choice out of Texas Tech. The Patriots released him following the 2004 training camp, in part because of his hand size. You’re a die-hard Patriots fan if you remember that Kingsbury was roommates with undrafted Brown University receiver Chas Gessner.
8. Rhamondre’s workload: Stevenson played 53 of 54 offensive snaps last week, sparking a question of whether the Patriots were putting too much on his plate. Belichick didn’t seem concerned, noting the lower-than-usual total of plays. Stevenson acknowledged he was tired on the team’s 17-play drive in the fourth quarter but said it becomes a “mental thing.” The 53 snaps were his third-highest total of the season; he played 60 of 70 against the Browns and 54 of 60 against the Lions.
9. Did You Know, Part I: Stevenson has made four one-handed catches this season, which leads the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That’s one ahead of Raiders receiver Davante Adams.
10. Did You Know, Part II: In Belichick’s tenure as head coach (2000 to present), the Patriots have never lost twice on “Monday Night Football” in the same season — a streak that will be on the line Monday against the Cardinals — since they lost to the Chicago Bears 33-14 on MNF in Week 7.