Bill Belichick has spent years making rookie QBs look bad. Now he has to help Mac Jones look great

·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·4 min read

There are a lot of statistics from Bill Belichick's tenure as New England Patriots head coach, now in its 22nd season, that underscore why many NFL observers believe he's the greatest coach the league has ever had.

For example, he has as many Super Bowl rings with the Patriots as he does losses against rookie quarterbacks: six.

It speaks to one of the things Belichick does well as an opposing coach: He figures out his opponent's weaknesses and then commissions his assistants to create a game plan that exploits them. 

It sounds simple, but if you've watched enough NFL, you know not every head coach does the same.

After years of working to make other teams' rookie QBs look silly, Belichick finds himself in an unfamiliar position: helping his own rookie quarterback shine. 

Mac Jones was the starter on Sunday in the Patriots' season opener. They welcomed the Miami Dolphins, whose quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, last year became just the sixth rookie to get a win against. New England in the Belichick era. Numerous reporters believed Jones won the job over veteran Cam Newton, whose ill-advised out-of-Massachusetts doctor visit triggered a costly five-day COVID reentry period, but the decision to go with Jones thrust even a veteran coaching duo like Belichick and longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in new territory.

Funny enough, Belichick and McDaniels had to get Jones ready for his first career start against a swarming, smart defense (a Belichick hallmark) against a branch of Belichick's own coaching tree: Miami head coach Brian Flores.

(In our opinion Flores is the best NFL branch of that coaching tree by far, but that's another column for another day.)

Only once before in the past 20-plus years had the Patriots started a rookie quarterback, and that was in an emergency situation. Jacoby Brissett started two games in 2016, after Jimmy Garoppolo went out of the second game of the season with an injury. And the only reason Garoppolo was the starter to open that season was Tom Brady's four-game suspension for L'Affaire Deflategate.

Jones, with his Alabama pedigree and years of studying with Nick Saban, another former Belichick assistant and one of his closest friends in football, was seemingly destined to end up with the Patriots. He was fortunate that as a mid first-round draft pick he landed in about as stable a situation as any player could find. No one in the NFL has better job security than Belichick, and despite McDaniels' annual "is this the year he leaves?" flirtations when head coaching openings pile up in December and January, he doesn't appear to be leaving Foxborough anytime soon.

In spite of Sunday's 17-16 loss to the Dolphins, Jones played well, recovering well from an early strip-sack on his first drop back that the Patriots recovered.

From there, Jones was solid. He completed 29 of 39 passes (74.4 percent) for 281 yards, with one touchdown and no picks. The Patriots converted 11-of-16 third-down chances, including several where they faced third-and-5 or longer.

The most glaring issue was in the red zone. New England got inside the 20 four times but scored just one touchdown. A Damien Harris red zone fumble in the fourth quarter ended the Patriots' chance of a comeback win.

Unsurprisingly, neither Belichick nor Jones said much about Jones' first outing, but Flores was complimentary of him after the game, as was Tagovailoa, his former Alabama teammate.

"He played well. He moved the ball. Made the throws he needed to make. Made good decisions," Flores said. "I thought he played well. I thought we could have done some things better defensively. We'll make those corrections. But he played well."

"I was happy for him," Tagovailoa said. "It being his first real game with a crowd like this, I thought he made some really good throws. And their execution on third down I think was really good. Mac looks like he fits perfectly into their offense and system. I was happy for him."

Pretty much everything written and said about Jones during his time with New England thus far has been positive, though of course you wouldn't expect anything different, certainly not publicly. Jones and the Patriots will face the New York Jets on the road for Week 2. Then we'll get a true idea of where the rookie stands with New England hosting the New Orleans Saints in Week 3 before welcoming franchise icon Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday Night Football in Week 4.

If their past is any indication, Belichick and McDaniels have figured out Jones strengths and will play to them. They'll get him as ready as they can for those matchups as Belichick, usually looking to give rookie quarterbacks nightmares, works to give his own rookie QB a dream season. 

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