Through two games of the 2021 NFL season, Mac Jones is the only starting rookie quarterback without a turnover. Not-so-coincidentally, Jones is also the only starting rookie quarterback with a win under his belt. The latter piece of information is not terribly surprising, given Jones got drafted by a team with a playoff-caliber roster in New England while his compatriots in Jacksonville and New York do not enjoy the same benefits.
The former piece of information is impressive regardless of what you expected of Jones coming out of Alabama. He's played mistake-free football, more or less; the young QB has started off his career with a weird habit of spiking the ball into the ground when he's under pressure, which led to a fumble and 13-yard loss in Week 1 and an intentional grounding penalty in Week 2. Otherwise, though, he's done exactly what the Patriots have asked of him-- which, to this point, is not very much.
Through two games, Jones has attempted 69 passes and completed 51 for a sterling 73.9 completion percentage. But he has gained only 467 yards on those completions for an average of 6.8 yards per attempt, which would have ranked 25th in the NFL last year, behind Mitchell Trubisky and ahead of Joe Burrow. The rookie has done his job, as is the infamous mantra in Foxborough, but offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels seems dead-set on making his quarterback do as little as possible while still making defenses respect the threat of a pass.
Here is Jones' passing chart from the team's Week 2 win over the Jets. He attempted exactly two passes further than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage and completed only four attempts past 10 yards. Sixteen of his 22 completions on the day came within five yards of the line of scrimmage. You can see the other rookie QB's charts for comparison.
This, of course, does not mean that Jones is and forever will be the king of dink and dunk. But what the eye test and stats tell us does not exactly mesh with what McDaniels told reporters on Tuesday-- that he trusts Jones completely, implying his playcalling hasn't been conservative because he doesn't believe Jones can make longer throws.
As noted above, the Patriots have struggled to protect Jones for more than a few seconds after every snap because the right side of the offensive line is feeling the absence of Trent Brown immensely. Giving up consistent pressure to Brian Flores' defense isn't anything to be ashamed of, but the Jets do not exactly have a fearsome pass rush and yet were in Jones' face for much of the day. Bill Belichick did spend a lot of money on receiving options this offseason but none are particularly potent at gaining separation on deep routes other than Nelson Agholor, who is inconsistent most days.
It still doesn't feel like the Patriots are even calling most of these kind of plays, though, which belies a lack of confidence they'd be successful. Which is a bit of a problem. New England's ground game is good but not great. Damien Harris is not Derrick Henry, an offensive machine in of himself. They will not be able to win most weeks if they can't rip off chunk yardage via the passing game, and relying on pass-catchers to make a defender miss and gain yards after the catch is not a recipe for long-term success.
This is neither a referendum on Jones' potential nor a condemnation of the Patriots' season. It's merely an observation that, despite what the staff will tell you, it seems clear they don't want to ask Jones to throw the ball deep at this juncture. If he's to be the quarterback the team and fans want him to be, he'll need to start doing just that.