From the outset, let me just make it clear that I use any references that include both Tom Brady and the quarterback who has been brought into my life to fill the GOAT-shaped hole in my heart the way I would a pistol. I know it could be loaded. I don't take for granted the safety is on. I don't point it at anything. And I pick it up with a pencil so I don't leave fingerprints that could incriminate me if something bad should happen.
Which is not to claim I never make comparisons between the two at all. In fact, I did the first time I ever even mentioned Jones in cyber print, the quarterbacks preview I did before the draft in March of 2021. Alabama Jones to me seemed like a solid analog of Michigan Brady. In terms of their builds, the way they were being disregarded in spite of their college success, their supposed lack of athleticism and lack of arm talent. But also the way scouts praised them for their abilities to process information and take care of the ball and so on. I stand by all of it, as well as the fact I called Jones the Perfect Patriot QB when predicting they'd draft him.
By no means am I even remotely suggesting the results on the field have been the same. But in Jones' defense, Tom Brady didn't become Tom Brady two games into his third season as a starter, either. And he didn't have his second year as a starter hijacked by a first time offensive coach with a pencil in his ear taking over the ship and proclaiming "I'm the captain now." He had the luxury of Charlie Weis until he didn't have Charlie Weis. We all recognize that by this stage of his career, Brady had more Super Bowl MVPs than Jones currently has playoff wins. We're in agreement on this.
But what else should be increasingly apparent to all is that Jones is taking on a very Brady-style leadership role. In all its forms. In terms of being accountable. Putting in the work. Sending messages to the rest of the players. Acting as the captain he was both literally elected to be, but also the one that every QB1 is, just by the nature of the job.
It's fitting that Brady would choose now to make these comments that Pat wrote about earlier:
Because at the same time, Jones was saying some things about his team digging its way out of an 0-2 hole that could've been straight out of Brady's script after the disastrous "We're onto Cincinnati" Monday nighter at Kansas City that had them at 2-2 in 2014.
This is after Scott Zolak reported he heard the Patriots were late to their postgame pressers because of a "Players Only Meeting." Which thankfully, Matthew Judon says never happened. At the 1:30 mark, Albert Breer talks about Jones' role in leading the team out of this hole:
Breer: "What Mac said after the game, I think people should be paying more attention to."
Zolak: "Get your ass in here! Get your work in!" …
Breer: "It corolates to something I heard on him two years ago. … A couple of years ago I heard -"
Marc Bertrand: "Oh, that he thought the Patriots would be more like Alabama and they're less like Alabama than he thought they'd be."
Followed by the audio from Jones' comments about everyone working hard:
“Yeah, I think about past experience and my rookie year when we didn’t really start off too hot and then went on a really good winning streak.
"For me, all I can do is look back on the experiences I've already had in my life and hopefully the guys on the team can respond. We've definitely got to play better and learn from it. Be here early and leave late. And do it together."
Emphasis on the "together" part:
“I think in the long run, it’s going to help us at some point during the season or, you know, when we all play together. So I think, obviously, it sucks. But, really, when you’re close, you just have to do more, I think. Weight room, film, practice. Like, everyone just has to do more.”
This is exactly what you look for in someone you want to develop into your franchise player. This guy uses the word "together" more than all the public service ads on basic cable in the first six months of Covid combined.
Talent and athleticism aren't enough. If they were, the Combine results would result in future success every, single time, instead of being pro football's great scratch ticket.
Jones wants to work. He wants to work as hard for Bill Belichick as he did for Nick Saban. Which sounds eerily familiar for those of us who remember a young Brady with everything to prove winning the coveted parking space next to the door as a rookie for doing the most in the offseason program. And then refusing to be outworked by anyone. Even notorious workout warrior Rodney Harrison got frustrated because he couldn't get in early enough to beat Brady into the gym. And long after TB12 had nothing to prove, he still maintained it that schedule. For years upon years. Until the obligations of marriage and kids slowly ate away at his time.
Now we've got Brady's replacement (technically his replacement's replacement) walking in the mighty footsteps of that trail he blazed. And is also not asking more out of his teammates than he asks of himself. Whether it's time put in at the weight bench, the film room, the practice field, or what happens on game day.
Getting back to the discussion about him, I like the conversation about when in a career is the right time to take control of that leadership role. It's a tricky thing. You've got to have the credibility. Just saying the words without backing it up will just turn you into a laughingstock. All of which is harder when you haven't won yet, the whole world is doubting if you ever will, and you're 25 but look like you still get carded at R-rated movies. There's a delicate balance to doing it right. As Churchill put it, "Humans are easy to lead, and hard to drive."
How it will work out, we'll have to wait and see. We're definitely at an inflection point. Not only for this season, but for this next era of Patriots football. All I can say for sure is that 2023 Mac Jones conducts himself like early 2000s Tom Brady. And I pray his team follows him like those earlier ones did their young QB.