New England Patriots fans seem excited about the franchise's future with Mac Jones at quarterback.
The former University of Alabama standout was welcomed with massive cheers when he entered his first preseason NFL game on Thursday (August 12) night against the Washington Football Team.
Jones substituted starter Cam Newton with 55 seconds remaining in the first quarter and took over on New England's third offensive drive.
The 22-year-old had a solid performance in Thursday's game, throwing for 87 yards on 13 of 19 passing, which would have included a would-be touchdown pass to Kristian Wilkerson in the second quarter.
Newton started Thursday's game and threw for 49 yards on 4 of 7 passing.
Head coach Bill Belichick has acknowledged that the starting job is Newton's to lose, despite the Patriots selecting Jones in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
“Yeah, as I said, every one of us has to go out and establish our level of performance in whatever our role or capacity is,” Belichick told reporters via Pro Football Talk during training camp. “So it’s a new season. We’ve done some things in the spring, but this is really the start of football season in terms of the team-building part in training camp. So we all have a lot of work to do, that includes all of us. So, until we go out and do anything, it's pretty much a clean state."
When asked if that clean state included the Patriots quarterbacks, Belichick responded, "including the coaches and all the players."
In June, Belichick credited Newton as being "way ahead of where he was last year" during the team's minicamp session this week.
“Yeah, well, Cam is way ahead of where he was last year at this time, there’s no question about that, as you would expect,” Bill Belichick said on Tuesday morning ahead of the Patriots' second minicamp practice via CBS Boston. “He has a good year of experience under his belt, and we’ll start the process at the beginning, and not being in catch-up mode like he was last year.”
Newton didn't sign with New England until June 28, 2020, but teams didn't hold OTAs or minicamps due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so the former NFL MVP didn't miss any practice time.
However, a short window to learn the Patriots' playbook, as well as injuries to himself and key offensive teammates, led to struggles from the veteran quarterback as he looked to have a career resurgence in New England.
“I mean he was really just starting at this point last season, but he’s well ahead of that, just from the year of experience and from the success of building blocks that he’s been able to stack up,” Belichick said. “Like all the players that have been here since the start of the OTA and the offseason program back in April, they’ve been able to stack those days and those learning experiences together, ask questions on things that they need clarification on, and build to the next level when they’re ready to put another put another brick on the pile.”
In March, the Patriots re-signed Newton, despite a disappointing first season with the franchise. The former NFL MVP threw for 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns, and 10 interceptions while going 7-8 as a starter in 15 games.
Newton and the Patriots agreed to a one-year contract "worth up to $13.6 million," sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The Patriots finished the 2020 season with a 7-9 overall record, having previously won the AFC East during 11 consecutive seasons.
Jones led Alabama to a College Football National Championship and was third in the Heisman voting behind teammate DeVonta Smith and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence during his lone season as Alabama's full-time starting quarterback.
Jones threw for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns, and four interceptions on 311 of 402 passing -- while also recording one rushing touchdown -- while leading the Crimson Tide to a 13-0 record in 2020.
Jones also made four starts in the absence of Tua Tagovailoa following a season-ending injury in 2019.