Mac Jones replaced Cam Newton as starting quarterback of the New England Patriots but he really replaced Tom Brady. Replicating the ageless wonder's success is an impossible task. Expectations were set at a reasonable level. We thought that the team could compete for a playoff spot on the strength of its schematic advantage and competent game-managing from the Alabama product. A 2-4 start lowered the bar. Five straight wins, however, have sent it exploding in an upward direction.
Bill Belichick stoically observed his team dismantling the Atlanta Falcons, 25-0. Nary a smile was cracked in accordance with his gameday tradition. He must be smiling on the inside, though, as the realization slowly washes over the doubters and skeptics that Jones could duplicate Brady's magical rookie run. That this team is capable of winning playoff games away from the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. That the similarities between 2001 and 2021 are being laid on a bit thick. That, if anything, the new quarterback is progressing more rapidly and efficiently than the one who would become the greatest of all time.
Against the Falcons, Jones completed 22 of his 26 throws. This came a week after connecting on 19 of 23. No rookie had ever posted back-to-back completion percentages above 80. Through 11 starts he's completing 70.2 percent while racking up 230 yards per contest and earning a rating of 94.7. In his 14 regular-season games back in 2001, Brady was six percentage points lower for 40 fewer yards per game while posting a rating of 86.5. All of this isn't to say Jones is the second coming of Brady, but he's every bit the quarterback Terrific Tom was en route to the first of his six Super Bowls.
If you were to lay that scenario out for a Patriots fan in the preseason, they would have gladly signed on the dotted line. They'd have jumped for joy if you laid out a future three game stretch in which the defense allowed 13 combined points. This torrid stretch has allowed New England to become the NFL's second-stingiest defense (16.1 points/game) — less than the 2001 edition of the team.
Four massive games loom out the frontview window. At home against Tennessee and a trip to Indianapolis plus a home-and-home with the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills. Win them all and take control of the division, and potentially flirt with the No. 1 seed with chaos elsewhere. All the goals are still on the table and no one in the league is playing better football.
Bill Belichick appears to be a greater genius with each passing win. He's jumped right back into the most important conversations after a brief detour. If he could somehow pull this off, it would be the apex of his coaching career. A masterclass. A masterpiece.
What seemed like a pipe dream not long ago confronts us in reality today.