The New England Patriots suffered a monumental letdown on Sunday, being defeated 33-21 by their arch-nemesis Buffalo Bills. The haunting loss saw the Bills leapfrog the Patriots for the division lead in the AFC East, and New England no longer controls their own destiny in that regard. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones was well below average, completing just 14-of-32 passing attempts for a measly 145 yards and two interceptions while failing to throw a touchdown. Jones has done his best work when his Patriots jump out to a lead, but he's yet to show the consistent ability to drag his Patriots back once they fall behind.
It went down as Jones' second consecutive concerning performance after the former Alabama signal-caller was well-beaten in New New England's 27-17 loss to the surging Indianapolis Colts in Week 15. In two straight defeats, Jones has completed just 40-of-77 passes (51.9%) for 444 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions. The Patriots' mid-season winning streak placed them atop the AFC before losing two straight, but they've now plummeted to the six-seed.
Critics are questioning if Jones has hitten the ever-concerning rookie wall, a late-season slump that's victimized plenty of rookie quarterbacks in years past. When pondering such a question, one must introduce context into the conversation.
Jones has undeniably been in poor form over the past two defeats while facing two of the better, more opportunistic defensive units in the league. The Bills defense that stifled Jones early and often is allowing a league-low 287.9 yards per contest and the third-lowest points per game (17.6) behind the Denver Broncos (17.3) and Patriots themselves (17.6). Indianapolis' numbers are a bit less impressive, as Frank Reich's team gives up the 11th-fewest points per game at 21.1. Indianapolis' defense is an ever-improving unit that has given up just 17 points per game while winning five of their last six, however, and those totals include a 38-31 loss to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Shrinking that sample size to Indianapolis’ last five victories, which include an impressive 41-15 beatdown of the Bills, and Matt Eberflus' defense is allowing a mere 13 points per game.
Jones hasn't hit some magical rookie wall. His shortcomings have simply been on display while competing against two incredible defenses that are currently playing their best brand of football. New England's path to victory throughout 2021 has always relied on stellar defensive performances and a strong rushing attack that incorporates a plethora of talented ball-carriers. Bill Belichick's Patriots are built to play from in front as opposed to from behind, but Buffalo and Indianapolis didn’t afford them that luxury.
Such chatter of Jones and a rookie wall is likely to disappear after Week 17. Jones and his band of Patriots will be faced with an ideal bounce-back opportunity when the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars travel to Foxboro for what should be a straightforward victory. The 2-13 Jaguars are allowing north of 26 points per contest and should offer little resistance as they continue to crawl toward clinching the No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. Jones is likely to showcase himself in a strong manner.
Recency bias has factored into the narrative as of late as an instant-gratification society brought out the pitchforks for Jones. A matchup with the Jaguars should quickly swing momentum and the national narrative back in the opposite direction.