Mac Jones suffered a severe high ankle sprain in the Patriots 37-26 loss to the Ravens on Sunday and he and the team are still discussing a path forward. Some reports have indicated Jones is seeking a second opinion and that surgery could be an option. The injury is likely to sideline him for at least four weeks and perhaps as much as eight.
Jones has had a difficult start to the season, showing flashes of great play but also throwing costly interceptions, including three in the second half against Baltimore. The injury to Jones is damaging for obvious reasons; he is the team’s best quarterback and gives them the best chance to win, but also because any time missed will hinder his development.
Player development is not linear and although Jones has not made the big second year jump many were hoping for, that does not mean it could not have happened as the season progressed.
Not only is it Mac’s second year, but it is his first year with a new offensive coordinator and adjusted system, first year with a new quarterbacks coach and the players on offense around him are mostly younger or in-their-prime players. Missing time with all of them on the field will slow the progression of Jones’ development.
The sooner Jones can get back on the field, the better for the team in the short and long term, with the obvious caveat that he can’t return still injured. Jones can still make a jump later this season, but the injury makes it less likely.
Brian Hoyer will be the likely starter with Jones out. Patriots fans may remember his last start in 2020 against the Chiefs, which was a disaster. With Hoyer in, the Patriots offense will be more limited and need to rely heavier on the running game than they already have. Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry will also have to be bigger factors in the passing game, especially Henry, who has had a quiet start to the season.
The defense, which got torched by the Ravens, will need to return to it’s first two week form.
In the next four weeks, the Patriots play the Packers in Green Bay, the Lions at home, the Browns in Cleveland and the Bears at home. Sitting at 1-2, New England needs to come out of this stretch with at least a 3-4 record to have any chance to make the playoffs in a loaded AFC. That would mean 2-2 in the next four games with Hoyer and hopefully a Jones return after that.
While that is entirely possible, it will be difficult. The Packers have not had a good start to the season offensively, but they are still 2-1 and their defense has been terrific the past two weeks. Detroit looks like they are beginning a new era of respectability and even contests vs the Browns and Bears are not layups.
The Mac Jones injury is bad news for the Patriots in the short and long term. In the short term, they are asking a quarterback who has lot his last 11 starts to go at least .500. In the long term, it will slow Jones’ development and potentially prevent New England from making the playoffs.