NFL News & Analysis

New England Patriots rookie QB Mac Jones aces important test in joint practice vs. Giants

Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones 10) throws the ball during a game against the Washington Football Team at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones saved his best practice for the most opportune time Wednesday in a joint session with the New York Giants.

With Cam Newton out due to COVID protocol, Jones took every first-team rep and nearly every competitive dropback in Wednesday’s practice, going 48-of-55 combined in 1-on-1s, 7-on-7s and full-team 11-on-11 drills, in the midst of a quarterback competition. The Alabama product rarely faltered, taking one sack, being charged with one delay of game penalty and throwing one near-interception that was dropped by Giants safety Xavier McKinney in 11-on-11s. Otherwise, Jones didn’t throw more than two incompletions in any series, and one of his best throws came late on a deep touchdown to wide receiver Jakobi Meyers down the left sideline.

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Door open for Jones to start Week 1?

The Patriots have maintained that Newton currently is the team’s starting quarterback but have not named a Week 1 starter. Head coach Bill Belichick acknowledged Tuesday that this was a big week for Jones with Newton out until Thursday, when New England and New York will hold their second and final joint practice.

A source told PFF that a window for Jones would open to start Week 1 if he practices well this week. Jones responded in a big way Wednesday but will need to maintain his high level of play Thursday when Newton returns and in Sunday’s final preseason game against New York. Jones has impressed the Patriots so far this summer and is second among qualified quarterbacks with a 92.4 overall PFF grade this preseason. He was considerably better than his Giants’ counterpart, quarterback Daniel Jones, in Wednesday’s practice. Daniel Jones was intercepted by Patriots safety Kyle Dugger in 11-on-11 work.

Mac Jones vs. Cam Newton: PFF Stats through preseason Week 2
PFF Stat Mac Jones Cam Newton
Attempts 38 16
Average depth of target 8.2 4.7
Adjusted completion % 80.6% 80.0%
PFF Grade 92.4 83.4

Click here to see side-by-side passing statistics from the New England Patriots preseason QB competition…

Mac Jones’ favorite target Wednesday was wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who had five catches on six targets. Running back James White also had five catches. 

Prospective starting wide receiver Nelson Agholor was one of many Patriots and Giants players to leave practice early on a sweltering and muggy day at Gillette Stadium. When Agholor left the field, 2020 undrafted free agent Kristian Wilkerson took his spot in the starting offense.

Starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn also left the field early. He was replaced by 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste, who has missed his first two NFL seasons with injuries. 

Patriots running backs reshuffle after Sony Michel trade

New England’s running back stable was reshuffled Wednesday after the team traded 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams. Damien Harris maintained his role as the Patriots’ top ball-carrier, while White continued to be the team’s top pass-catching running back. 

Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson, who is ninth among qualified running backs with a 79.9 overall PFF grade during the preseason, received the first carry with New England’s second-team offense. J.J. Taylor, a 2020 undrafted free agent who is sixth among qualified running backs with an 82.2 PFF run grade, also received his first handoff with the second team and shined during 1-on-1 pass-catching drills against Giants linebackers, who had trouble keeping up with the running back’s quickness and change of direction in his routes. His best catch came on a deep wheel route down the right sideline.

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Harris, White, Stevenson and Taylor all took reps with Jones. Veteran Brandon Bolden wore a red non-contact jersey as he returns from an injury. Harris and White have clear-cut roles in New England’s offense, while Stevenson and Taylor appear to still be battling it out for a potential spot on the gameday roster this season.

Other practice notes

Patriots tight end Kahale Warring made a diving catch in the end zone during 1-on-1 drills in his first practice since being claimed off waivers from the Houston Texans. Tight end Jonnu Smith also made highlight grabs while Hunter Henry mostly rehabbed a shoulder injury during full-team work.

Giants safety Jabrill Peppers, wide receiver Darius Slayton and running back Corey Clement left practice early. New York cornerback Adoree Jackson sprained his ankle during practice, according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport. Jackson was carted back into the facility after practice wrapped up.

A fight broke out between Patriots offensive linemen and Giants defensive linemen during a 1-on-1 rep between New England guard Michael Onwenu and New York defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence early in the practice session. Patriots center David Andrews quipped after practice that the two were talking about “baseball.”

The Patriots and Giants will go at it again Thursday with Newton expected to be back in practice.

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