The numbers won't tell the story. One preseason game won't either. But Mac Jones looked like he belonged in his preseason pro debut. Cam Newton didn't look much different than he did the last time he took an NFL field.
A few months removed from being the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Jones was the main event in Thursday's tilt with the Washington Football Team. His five drives made for a good watch in the Patriots' 22-13 win.
The rookie out of Alabama was smart and decisive in relief of Newton, and at different points safe and aggressive. Jones made arguably the finest throw of the evening moments after he entered the game, dropping a 34-yard dime down the left sideline that bounced off the fingertips of Kristian Wilkerson. That came shortly after he squeezed a pass between a linebacker and safety to Kendrick Bourne for a first down.
"It was a great ball from Mac," Wilkerson said afterward, per NFL Network's Mike Giardi. "I gotta do a better job of adjusting to it."
After his first drive produced a field goal, Jones learned just how different the speed of the game is at this level. He had room to scramble on a third-and-2, but was tripped up from behind just short of the marker. Jones opened the third quarter by completing a series of short passes to lead another long drive, only to see it stall outside Washington's red zone and result in another field goal. The sequence was impressive nonetheless as the Pats went no-huddle in an effort to simulate a two-minute situation.
On Jones' final series, he demonstrated the savvy that had some evaluators believing he was worthy of being drafted even earlier. Facing third-and-24, Jones spotted Gunner Olszewski separating downfield beyond the sticks but fired just past his outstretched hands. That made him 13 of 19 for 87 yards. He also took one sack and saw his first pass incorrectly ruled an incompletion. Consider it an eventful introduction to the league.
Jones definitely earned the respect of his chief competitor for playing time.
"For him to come out there, I know he came to me and talked to me and we talked it out about just his expectation," Newton said of Jones afterward. "Every young quarterback goes through it, the excitement, the anticipation. He wants to be so perfect, and I see his preparation is always pristine. That's what I admire about him, being at such a young age, he knows how to prepare and knows when Josh (McDaniels) asks quick questions or when a person asks quick questions, he knows how to kind of have answers for it.
"Everybody is different. Everybody learns different. But for him and today's performance, he's just going to keep getting better, and we're going to be here for each other along this whole process."
Pats coach Bill Belichick naturally took a more measured approach regarding Jones' debut.
"We'll look at it on film and see," he told reporters. "Some good things, plenty of things we can improve on. Same with everybody."
That certainly includes Newton. The former MVP initially appeared to fumble on New England's opening possession, but his arm was ruled to be coming forward as he was crushed by an unencumbered Chase Young for an incomplete pass. Newton rallied from the three-and-out series by completing four short passes on the next drive and letting his receivers do the rest. The possession ended in a field goal, and Newton finished 4 of 7 for 49 yards.
The discussion as to which QB should start the Pats' season opener next month might just be getting started.