It’s still amazing that the smartest football mind of this era could make such an obvious gross miscalculation.
Bill Belichick’s previously unassailable credentials took a hit last season after he made a decision that was doomed to fail. Now, in an attempt to rectify the Matt Patricia mistake, he has brought back Bill O’Brien to fix Mac Jones. It’s a union that has to work in order for the New England Patriots to avoid finishing last in the highly competitive AFC East.
It’s early. But so far, the news has been encouraging.
Mike Giardi, formerly of NFL Network, reported last week that teammates and coaches said that Jones looks “energized” and “confident.”
In April, Jones said, “I’m excited to work with [O’Brien], and I know we all are, and it’s gonna be a great year. We’ve just gotta put the work in.”
Jones has every reason to feel more assured. He has access to an established offensive coordinator as opposed to one receiving on-the-job training. Belichick’s move to install an unproven offensive coordinator (Patricia) last year was the most baffling of his career. It was almost universally panned before the season, so the results were not surprising.
Jones, who finished second in the 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year voting, struggled and was benched in favor of unheralded newcomer Bailey Zappe. And while he regained his starting job later in the season, Jones finished No. 26 in passer rating. He was behind guys like Taylor Heinicke, Jacoby Brissett, and Marcus Mariota.
Patricia took the blame for Jones’ regression and left the organization for a senior defensive assistant position with the Philadelphia Eagles. His background is on that side of the ball, so he’ll likely fare well at his new job.
But what about the person who put both Patricia and Jones in a position to fail? Belichick made the call, and it damaged Patricia’s reputation and set back the development of Jones. Belichick’s six Super Bowl rings could not prevent him from receiving well-deserved criticism. Jones excelled when he had Josh McDaniels running the offense. Say what you will about McDaniels as a head coach, but he understands how to execute an offense. Patricia had no such pedigree.
Belichick is hoping that O’Brien, who like McDaniels has worked him before, can get the most out of Jones. Jones’ conflicts with Patricia were obvious. Having a knowledgeable veteran voice to listen to can only help a young quarterback who is going on his third OC in as many years. O’Brien, like McDaniels, collaborated with Tom Brady for a long time. So his opinion carries weight. The Patriots don’t have great offensive weapons. In free agency, they added wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and tight end Mike Gesicki, but lost top receiver Jakobi Meyers. Last year, they were seventh-worst in total offense (314.6 per game) and only averaged 21.4 points.
O’Brien will need to get creative because New England doesn’t have top-end offensive players who command a double team. That will put more pressure on Jones to be accurate and execute at a high level. The best possible outcome is that Jones plays well enough to lead New England back to the playoffs. But that might be wishful thinking.
The Patriots have the fourth-worst odds among AFC East teams to win the Super Bowl. The division looks to be as tough as it’s ever been. The Buffalo Bills have one of the most talented rosters and the freakishly athletic Josh Allen at quarterback. The New York Jets might have the best overall skill position players and just added Aaron Rodgers. The Miami Dolphins have the top wide receiver tandem in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Plus, Tua Tagovailoa was the NFL’s highest-rated passer last season.
Of course, Jones isn’t the only option. While he’s the presumptive starter, he is expected to battle for his job with Zappe. However, a successful Jones-O’Brien union will prove that Belichick hasn’t lost his touch.