Patriots: Sloppy mistakes ruin Mac’s stellar debut

It’s tough to figure out how Patriots fans should feel after the 17-16 opening day loss to Miami on Sunday afternoon.

One on hand, rookie quarterback Mac Jones put on one hell of a show with fans filling every seat in Gillette Stadium for the first time in two years, proving he’s more than ready for the challenge of being the next guy in New England. We’ve also learned in years past that September games are an extension of the preseason in Bill Belichick’s mind and with such a young team, a one-point Week 1 loss to Miami probably isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things.

On the other hand, there was a ton of sloppy play on both sides of the ball (four fumbles on offense, eight penalties for 84 yards and an inability to get a stop when needed late in the game) and it appears we may be in for a season full of nail-biting games.

The first game in the Mac Jones era deserved a better ending and to make matters worse, the Patriots will wake up Monday morning in the same boat as the Jets and Bills, looking up at Miami.

“It was obviously a disappointing game. We just didn’t do enough,” said head coach Bill Belichick. “Just didn’t do enough to win. We had our chances, had our opportunities. But really all the way across the board, we’ve just got to do a better job. Really that’s about the story of it.”

Jones (29-39, 281, 1 TD) said all the right things following the loss. On the field, he looked like a 10-year vet at times with his composure, command at the line of scrimmage and ability to make important third-down throws with guys in his face.

He sounded a bit like another quarterback that used to play here and I’m not talking about Cam Newton.

“I think we can get better,” he said. “That’s just how we have to look at it. Definitely wasn’t good enough, starting with me. So we’ve got to watch the film. We lost, so it’s not good enough.”

A Nick Folk field goal with 10:39 left in the game – his third – made it 17-16 Miami capping a 14-play drive. A ridiculous tip drill, toe-tapping interception by Jonathan Jones along the sideline gave New England the ball back at midfield with 8:07 left, setting Jones up for his first career comeback drive. It should also be noted that Matthew Judon nearly broke Tua Tagovailoa in half with a ferocious hit, causing the bad throw.

Jones methodically moved the Patriots offense down to the Dolphins 11-yard line in eight plays, setting up a 1st-&-10 with 3:35 to go. Damien Harris took a hand off on the ninth play of the drive and gained two yards, earning his fourth career 100-yard rushing game. Unfortunately, he also fumbled the football and Xavien Howard recovered.

The Dolphins ran out the remainder of the game to spoil what would have been a Disney movie kind of day for Mac.

“It’s a tough play,” Harris said of the fumble. “Obviously I have to do a better job of holding onto the ball, especially in a critical situation like that, but it’s a long season. Not going to let this mistake define me, so I’m just ready to move forward.”

Jones – as you’d expect – had his former Alabama teammate’s back after the mistake as well.

“Damien’s obviously very disappointed, but it doesn’t go all on Damien,” said Jones. “There’s a lot of things I could have done to be better, to not even be in that situation, take some bigger chunk plays. He played his heart out. It is what it is. He’s going to be better from it. He’s a great dude, and he’s going to work hard, and that’s what he does, and that’s what we’re all going to do.”

Jones, the offense and defense all took some time to get settled in on Sunday. Five plays in the rookie had his first “oh crap” moment while under duress, fumbling the ball with a backwards pass, but luckily the Patriots were able to recover. The Dolphins immediately marched downfield on their first possession and Tua capped the drive with an easy 3-yard TD run for a 7-0 lead.

Just a few plays after the TD Rhamondre Stevenson fumbled and Miami recovered at the Patriots 48 but the defense held strong and forced a punt. Nick Folk eventually made it a 7-3 game with a little over 10 minutes left in the half. Jones ended up throwing his first touchdown to Nelson Agholor with 2:35 to play from 7-yards out, giving the Pats their first lead of the year at 10-7.

The defense – as they did far too many times on Sunday – gave up a couple chunk plays that eventually led to a late Dolphins field goal, giving Miami the momentum back heading into halftime with the score tied at 10-10.

Miami marched back downfield in nine plays to open the third quarter, taking a 17-10 lead on a 3-yard TD pass to Jaylen Waddle. Mac led another lengthy 14-play drive that ended in a 42-yard Folk field goal with 2:54 to go, cutting it to 17-13 and setting up the frantic fourth quarter.