Let's establish some ground rules right off the bat. Because with the argument I'm about to lay out, I intend to choose my words as carefully as I ever have. I promise not to put too fine a point on any of it. And to agree that one big clutch performance in crunch time against a good team does not a career make. I've seen too many lesser teams over-celebrate upset wins over my own team over two-plus decades to lose my mind over this one. If anyone needs a reminder of the time the 2010 Browns gave Eric Mangini a Gatorade shower and 184 yards by Peyton Hillis earned him a Madden cover on their way to 5-11, I have a file of receipts.
I'll also add, because this is very germane to the discussion here, that I'm not one to give someone credit for a win they didn't pull off. I didn't do it for Tom Brady when he threw for 505 yards in a Super Bowl loss where his defense couldn't force a punt, I'm not going to do it for Mac Jones. Quarterbacking is a pass/fail exam. It's binary. Win or lose. Success is success and failure is failure, and never the twain shall meet.
And in exchange, all I ask is that you don't accuse me of trying to build a shrine to honor and glorify Mac Jones just because he pulled out a last minute game winning drive against the Bills. Even as I point out that he made some of the best throws of his career under extreme duress:
With those rules of engagement established, I just want to re-examine some of his performances in clutch, high leverage situations with games on the line and make a case that this Bills game was by no means the first time he came through for his team. It was just one of the few times that some careless mistake, bad break, poor decision, or just cruel fate didn't happen at the worst possible time and turn a great win into a great cosmic nut-punch of a loss.
Credit where it's due to Nick Cattles for compiling a comprehensive list of close games over Jones' previous two seasons, the ones he managed to pull off and the ones where one critical blunder cost them:
That next to last one (there's a typo, and it was actually 2022) was of course the one that ended on the worst play in NFL history, which prevented a tie game with 0:00 left to go to overtime. But the first and last ones are especially galling. Red zone mistakes by Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson that quite literally fumbled away wins over playoff teams.
And one of the things that made Sunday so satisfying is that there was another such whoopsie, this one by Kendrick Bourne at the New England 20 with 5:02 to go, a five point lead and a chance to ice the game with a few 1st downs. At that point, it felt for all the world like repeat of those past gag jobs. But this time the Pats overcame it, thanks mainly to their quarterback.
Which brings us to this season. And how many times with a game on the line, Jones made exactly the throw he needed to make, precisely when he needed to make it, only to have it go for nothing. This drop by Bourne on a 3rd & 12 with 2 1/2 minutes to go on Philly's side of the field as Jones was getting drilled into the Earth's mantle:
Then a 6th rounder playing in his first NFL game failed to get his feet in bounds twice, the second time costing the Pats a 1st & goal from the 8 with half a minute left:
Worst of all, the presumptive WR1 going full Robin Williams in Best of Times on a pass that traveled 50 air yards that would've put the Patriots within about 10 yards of a game-winning field goal in Las Vegas:
But that's just what the lowlight reel shows. What do the numbers say about Mac Jones in clutch situations? According to the splits from CBS Sports, Jones:
--Has a 4th quarter passer rating of 109.8, by far his highest of any quarter
--Is completing 72.1% of this passes in the 4th, his highest in any quarter
--Has four 4th quarter TD passes, his most of any quarter
--In the 4th quarter and the game within 7 points, he's:
21-for-34, 61.8 comp %, 214 yards, 10.2 YPC, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 99.4 passer rating, with two completions of 20+ yards
I'd add that it's amazing what a quarterback can accomplish when he has time to throw, except Sunday was the first game where the pass protection was even remotely figured out. And that a lot of that success was on the entire offense managing to play at a higher tempo and Jones getting the ball out quick to targets who were open and ready for it:
Anyway, if after all this, you want to still tell me Jones sucks, he's not capable of carrying a team, he's not at his best when the game is on the line and that I'm nothing but a shameless homer? At least you'll be right about the last part.