Bill Belichick: Patriots QB Mac Jones to start against Raiders

ByMike Reiss ESPN logo
Wednesday, October 11, 2023

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Mac Jones remains the New England Patriots' starting quarterback.

"Yeah, we're not making any changes," coach Bill Belichick confirmed Wednesday morning.

The Patriots (1-4) visit the Las Vegas Raiders (2-3) on Sunday and by sticking with Jones -- who is in the midst of a two-game slump in which he was pulled from both games in the second half -- Belichick is essentially declaring to his players that he still believes the 2021 first-round pick gives the team the best chance to win.

"I appreciate that," Jones said Wednesday, before acknowledging his recent struggles. "There are a lot of things I really need to improve as a quarterback, so that's what I think of: What can I do better? ... You want it to be really good on game days, and that's where I've been disappointed with myself. Why hasn't it? That's something I've focused on."

Belichick had said Monday that personnel changes across the entire roster were under consideration, which he would explore later that day.

The Patriots' top backup is Bailey Zappe, who the team had waived Aug. 29 before bringing him back on the practice squad and later promoting him to the 53-man roster. Five-year veteran Will Grier is the No. 3 option and was signed off the Cincinnati Bengals' practice squad on Sept. 23.

Belichick has repeated multiple times in recent days that every player and coach has to perform better, making it clear it isn't solely on Jones. But the quarterback's decision-making and mistakes have been at the forefront of the Patriots' primary issue: Their 10 turnovers are tied for the third most in the NFL.

New England has been outscored 72-3 in losses to the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints -- the worst two defeats of Belichick's head-coaching career -- and Jones has had three turnovers returned for touchdowns. He also had two other interceptions and a poor pitch on a running play that led to a lost fumble.

"Right now, it's not looking too good," Jones acknowledged, while noting that he can improve his communication with teammates and staying true to himself. "But we have to flip the switch and start over and figure out ways to go out there and have fun and sling the ball around -- guys go make plays and then celebrate with each other, too.

"One of the best things I do is my ability to communicate. Somebody told me that in the locker room and I took it to heart; I need to do a better job of that. I haven't done that here the past couple years."

Veteran tight end Hunter Henry, an offensive captain alongside Jones and veteran center David Andrews, backed Belichick's decision to stick with Jones.

"I think the proof is in the work, and that guy goes to work every single day, no matter the circumstances, no matter what is going on around him," he said. "We've put a lot of work in together and we have to rely on a lot of that work that dates back to the spring, to the times when no one was around. ...

"He's a great dude in our locker room, I have a lot of respect for him. It's a hard position to play -- no matter who it is, you get the praise, and you get the lows of the lows. But I'm going to continue to ride with him and excited for this weekend to go compete with him again."

On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien said he expected Jones to start against the Raiders, acknowledging Jones' recent dip but also "glimpses" of what the offense could be.

"He'd be the first to tell you that there's things he has to do better, whether it's obviously take care of the ball, maybe read the route better or get us into a better play. But it's a collective effort," O'Brien said.

How bad have things been for the Patriots' offense?

They rank last in points per game, and their 0.85 points per drive would be the worst of any team since the 2006 Raiders (0.77), according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

They've gone 34 straight drives without an offensive touchdown and 24 consecutive drives without a point scored, the latter of which is the longest single-season streak by any team since the 2008 Browns (31 straight).

It has been a sudden turnaround for Jones, who after three games seemed to be turning a corner while working under O'Brien, who had been hired in the offseason. At that point, Jones was 81-of-125 for 748 yards, with five touchdowns and two interceptions.

Inconsistent play along the offensive line hasn't helped Jones, nor has a wide receiving corps that ranks near the bottom of the NFL in terms of creating separation, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, which Belichick acknowledged in part Wednesday when he said: "We all need to focus on what each of us needs to do. ... We all need to do a better job -- the coaching staff, the head coach, the players, all of us."

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