In NFL history, no franchise has been to a Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback leading the way. The Patriots might just be the first to do it.
New England went 7-9 last year, their first losing season in nearly two decades. Less than a year later, they are one of the top teams in the league. With many NFL teams struggling to rebuild, what’s the main reason the Patriots have been able get back to their winning ways so fast?
The key to the rebound has been 22-year-old rookie QB Michael McCorkle Jones.
How did this happen so quickly? Are the Patriots just the luckiest organization in team sports? How could they find a quarterback, the toughest and most important position in sports to fill, just two years after the greatest QB of all time departs?
Tom Brady was drafted as the 199th pick in the 6th round of the 2000 NFL Draft. If you think that Bill Belichick and the Patriots knew that Brady would turn out to be a superstar, you’d be fooling yourself. Of course it was luck. Did they have an inkling that Brady might have some of the intangibles that would make a serviceable NFL quarterback? Sure. But did they see six Super Bowl rings, three League MVP’s, 14 Pro Bowls, the most career passing yards and touchdowns, and the most career wins coming from a 6th round draft pick? No chance.
The new guy on the other hand, might just be a different story. Mac Jones was the 15th overall pick in the 2021 draft. Expectations are different, and certainly higher. First round talent in the NFL is coveted, far more so than any 6th rounder would ever be. They are considered the foundations for NFL franchises and the cornerstones of the future in some respects. The Patriots clearly were not happy with their quarterback situation in 2020 featuring Cam Newton. Newton was a former MVP who looked and acted like his best years were far behind him. He wasn’t the future. So the Patriots knew they had to get someone new at that position. You simply can’t win in the NFL without a top quarterback. But before they could even submit their draft pick, off went Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Zach Wilson. Belichick didn’t panic. Falling into his lap at No. 15, was the kid from Alabama.
The similarities between Brady and Jones at the early stages of their careers have been eerily similar. Yes, Brady was drafted five rounds later, and yes they played for different collegiate programs. But both have atypical professional athlete bodies. Both are awkwardly slow. Neither one is known as unusually gifted, or for having cannons for arms. But what they seem to share, which is perhaps the most important intangible of all, is That Thing.
What’s “That Thing?” It’s multi-faceted. It starts with composure under pressure. It’s the ability to read the defense like Matt Damon read a chalkboard in Good Will Hunting. To be able to make the throw at that time you need it the most, when many quarterbacks in the NFL look like a deer in headlights. It’s the toughness to rise to your feet, the moment after getting hit. And loving it. That thing is the will, the determination, and the drive to be the best that has ever lived. Jones just feels like a winner. And this early into his career, Jones is showing he has “That Thing”.
There are other reasons the Patriots find themselves in this position. They spent $160 million in guaranteed money (an NFL record) on free agents before the start of the season. That talent addition was clearly needed. The running game has been a dangerous weapon. The defense has been stellar. There is also the Bill Belichick factor. It’s undeniable that his brilliance has helped lead to this resurrection.
But the Patriots are 8-4, have won six in a row, and are sitting in first place in the AFC East. The next three games are critical for positioning when it comes to playoff seeding. Facing the Colts and Bills (twice) will give us even more answers on exactly who this team is. But as it stands, they have to be considered one of the favorites to make it back to yet another Super Bowl. Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, the New England area could be in store for a stretch of winning similar to the two decades of glory led by Brady. Free agency spending in the right places and masterful coaching certainly are reasons the Patriots find themselves within reach of another championship. But the biggest reason is the new quarterback who looks and acts a lot like Tom Brady. We all know how that turned out.