The New England Patriots looked dead in the water for the first 40 minutes of their Saturday night loss to the Indianapolis Colts this weekend. They woke up for the final 20 minutes of the contest to make things interesting but ultimately fell short. Coming out of the gates that flat is a big disappointment for a team coming off a bye and something Bill Belichick undoubtedly addressed bluntly in meetings the next day.
Mac Jones, who helped lead the ill-fated comeback effort, raised some eyebrows after the loss when he briefly emerged from his Patriots media shell. He told reporters that his team didn't have a great week of practice, a response far off the beaten path of cookie-cutter answers New England usually deals in. Here's what he said:
“I just don’t think it was our best effort," he said. "It starts with me, just throughout the week we didn’t have a great practice every day. It is what it is. You just have to move on, keep your head high and keep working because no one is going to feel sorry for [us].”
“Starting with me, just the energy was kind of low," Jones said. "Maybe feeling a little sorry for ourselves because we came off the bye and stuff, but not to get into details, but we just didn’t practice well. That just reflects how we played. I didn’t practice good and I know a lot of guys on our team felt the same way. We have to come to work every day and just be positive.”
That is a lot more detail than any Patriot ever offers about a week of practice voluntarily. And Jones has quickly assimilated to the culture in Foxborough about not saying anything substantive to the media ever, so it was unexpected. There are, however, fairly simple explanations for why he did that, if they're even necessary. He was undoubtedly frustrated after a lackluster loss and maybe let his emotions get the better of him. Maybe he was just trying to be more of a leader in the locker room, calling out everybody's effort publicly. We've seen that before many times.
Unfortunately for Jones, he works in the greater Boston area, which means simple explanations are given no thought because they aren't very interesting. Former Patriot linebacker Ted Johnson made an appearance on a local news station and pitched his theory that Belichick is actually using Jones as a mouthpiece to publicly critique his team. He also said Jones needs to shut his mouth because he's a rookie quarterback. Per Henry McKenna of PatriotsWire:
“And him saying they had a bad week of practice and that their energy level was low — you’re a rookie, keep your mouth shut. That’s not going to play well in the locker room. My feeling is Bill Belichick probably had him say it. I think Bill Belichick wanted the message to go through Mac Jones, call out his players. It would be atypical of Bill this year to come down really hard on this team. So, to me, that was some orders from Bill because I can’t imagine Mac Jones going off script like he did, criticizing the team’s energy and their preparation going into this week. When you’re a rookie quarterback, you’re not supposed to say stuff like that.”
Johnson has some credence here because he was in Belichick's meetings and locker rooms. It could be that he's right.
But do any of us really think Belichick would hesitate to hammer his team publicly if he wanted to? I certainly do not. The man has not made a habit of doing that very often over the last two decades but it's pretty obvious when he's displeased with the effort and energy of his squad. It seems dubious that he pulled Jones aside before the postgame press conference and gave him these instructions. Not only would it would undermine Jones in the future (which is a big problem given he's now the long-term quarterback in Foxborough), but it also wouldn't be effective if Jones' opinion is as useless as Johnson implies here because he's a rookie.
Belichick is a football mastermind and it's fun to laugh about all his spymaster mind games he plays with opponents, but let's not go too far here. Whatever Jones' motivation was for speaking out during his press conference, Belichick was not involved.