Simple question all New England Patriots fans are wrestling with these days: Is this all Mac Jones' fault?
The Pats are 2-8 and will likely be favored to win only two of their remaining seven games - Sunday at the New York Giants and in the Week 17 finale in Foxboro against the New York Jets. Long a fixture in the NFL postseason, they are nosediving toward their worst season in a quarter-century and are nosediving toward only for a lofty pick in next April's draft.
It's been a steep, sudden demise. For the team, and its quarterback.
It was just two years ago that Jones was considered the best quarterback of his rookie class. He threw for 3,800 yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2021, making the Pro Bowl and leading the Pats to a 10-7 record and the playoffs.
No doubt he's regressed. The last two seasons he's thrown almost as many interceptions (21) as touchdowns (24), and this year has been benched three separate times during games. In the loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Germany two weeks ago he threw a mind-boggling interception near the goal-line and was yanked in favor of backup Bailey Zappe for the game's final drive.
Now, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien says the quarterback that "earns" the playing time in practice will start on Sundays. Added coach Bill Belichick Tuesday morning:
"I've told all the players the same thing: Be ready to go. Hopefully, they will be."
Asked if Jones was still the team's starting quarterback, Belichick grumbled, "We'll let you know on Sunday."
Hard to believe it was just a few months ago that Belichick was effusively praising Jones entering training camp, saying he'd made "tremendous strides" and "dramatic improvement."
Now there is no ringing endorsement. But does Jones deserve one?
The last two seasons he's been awful. Making bad decisions. Executing woeful throws. Even yelling at coaches and getting fined for dirty hits on opponents. He also, however, played last year under inexperienced, inept play-caller Matt Patricia and this season has been under constant siege behind the NFL's worst offensive line and forced to throw to receivers, tight ends and running backs with little playmaking ability.
ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky says the circumstances make it unfair to fault Mac, calling New England one of the worst quarterback situations over the last decade. Tweeted Orlovsky:
"By numbers Patriots pass protection: worst of any team in last 4 seasons Patriots target separation: worst of any team in last 3 seasons Not hyperbole—ONE OF THE WORST QB SITUATIONS OVER THE LAST DECADE Player development is impossible in this situation."
NextGen stats support Orlovsky's point. But none of it applies to Jones abandoning proper footwork and skittishly throwing an off-balance pass a good 10 yards short of an open receiver in the end zone to clinch the loss in Frankfurt.
In this nightmare of a season, there is enough blame for all the Patriots. But how many fingers get pointed at Mac Jones?