ARLINGTON, Texas — In the midst of the worst loss of his head-coaching career, Patriots coach Bill Belichick pulled starting quarterback Mac Jones with 3:41 remaining in the third quarter, saying it wasn’t a benching and that Jones remains the team’s No. 1 option.
The Patriots (1-3) host the Saints (2-2) on Sunday and Belichick said the plan is for Jones to start despite a disastrous performance against the Cowboys that included an interception returned for a touchdown, another interception thrown while backpedaling and one lost fumble returned for a touchdown.
Jones, the 2021 first-round pick out of Alabama, finished 12-of-21 for 150 yards, with the three turnovers.
“Definitely disappointed in myself. I feel like I can play a lot better,” Jones said. “I put a lot into it and I feel really bad. I let my team down, let the coaches down, the whole organization, everybody — the fans. I have to put a better product out there to beat good teams.”
The Patriots have scored 55 points this season, their fewest through four games since the 2000 season — Belichick’s first season as coach — when they had 51. While there had been pockets of offensive promise through their first three games, and even in the first quarter Sunday, things imploded for Jones over a 17-minute stretch from the early part of the second quarter into the team’s first drive of the second half.
“I feel like I made progress this year so far. Just not today. Definitely took a bunch of steps back,” Jones said.
The slide began when Jones didn’t convert a sneak on fourth-and-1. On the next drive, he held the ball loosely as he scrambled away from pressure before getting hit from behind and losing the ball, which was returned by linebacker Leighton Vander Esch for an 11-yard touchdown. After a three-and-out, the next drive ended when Jones threw a dangerous pass across the field and cornerback DaRon Bland returned it 54 yards for a score. And on the first drive of the second half, Jones was moving backward as he floated up a pass that Bland easily picked off.
“For me, just not good enough. It wasn’t my day. You can’t turn the ball over like that and beat good teams,” Jones said. “I think it will be a good test for me to try to stay focused on what I can control, and that’s playing better. Hopefully there’s better days ahead. Just bury it, try to learn from it, and move on — don’t make it turn into another loss.”
Teammates were rallying behind Jones, who is 93-of-146 for 898 yards, with five touchdowns and four interceptions, on the season.
“That’s my guy. I’m going to support him. I think everybody will,” veteran tight end Hunter Henry said. “None of us are happy. We all have to be better.”
Added center David Andrews: “I think we all have some confidence issues after a performance like that. It’s a team game. It’s all of us that have to look in the mirror. It’s not just his fault.”
As Jones left the interview room Sunday night, he shared an embrace with defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr.
“I’m very confident in Mac,” Wise said. “Mac is a worker, he’s a competitor, he tries to make plays. Sometimes when you try to make plays, it doesn’t always go your way. He’s been here three years and he’s made some great plays in his career.
“This game is one of those games that just happens, but we’re still behind him. We’ll still be behind him tomorrow, and the day after that. I believe in him 100%.”