Belichick endorses Jones after benching QB in Patriots’ loss to Cowboys

New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones sits on the bench late in the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (Michael Ainsworth/AP)

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — With his facemask buried in the turf, New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones didn’t see the touchdown that resulted from his fumble deep in his own territory.

He might not have seen the defensive tackle pursuing him then, or the cornerback that picked him off just before halftime.

Jones was pulled late in the third quarter of the Patriots’ 38-3 loss against the Cowboys on Sunday, when he had three turnovers. Two of them led directly to touchdowns for Dallas in what was New England’s worst loss in its 24 seasons under Bill Belichick.

“I didn’t think there was any point in leaving him in the game,” Belichick said, repeating a variant of that answer several times when asked about Jones’ performance and status of the third-year quarterback moving forward.

“I don’t think any of us coached or played well enough today,” he said.

The Patriots are 1-3 for the third consecutive season, all of them since Jones became their starting quarterback as a rookie.

Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch returned a fumble 11 yards early in the second quarter after Jones was tackled from behind by Dante Fowler, who had come from around the end and knocked the ball loose while bringing the quarterback down. Jones was face down under Fowler when the touchdown was scored.

Then just before halftime, when Jones was trying for a long completion to Kendrick Bourne, cornerback DaRon Bland stepped in front of the receiver and returned the pick 54 yards for a touchdown and a 28-3 halftime lead.

“Definitely a lot to learn from,” Jones said. “Definitely disappointed in myself.”

The 25-point halftime deficit was the largest ever for Belichick, who entered the game looking to become only the third NFL head coach ever to reach 300 regular-season wins. The 300-game winners are Don Shula with 328 and George Halas with 318.

New England trailed 31-3 with 3:41 left in the third quarter when second-year quarterback Bailey Zappe took over for Jones. It was the first snaps this season for Zappe, who was 4-of-9 passing for 57 yards.

The Patriots finished with 253 total yards and are averaging only 13 1/2 points a game. Their only win was 15-10 last week at the New York Jets.

Jones was 12-of-21 passing for 150 yards with two interceptions against Dallas, and now has a 17-18 record as the Patriots starter. The first-round pick out of Alabama in 2021 has thrown for 898 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions this season.

“I think for me, just bury it, try to learn from it and move on, and just don’t make it turn into another loss,” Jones said. “My rookie year didn’t start off great and we just kept working and I just tried to play better, and that’s what I have to do here. And it’s got to be a lot better by me.”

New England went 10-7 his rookie season — after a 1-3 start and a 1-3 finish to the regular season. They lost his only playoff start.

“I’m going to keep grinding and hopefully, you know, the guys will come with me,” Jones said.

Like Belichick, his teammates said the blame doesn’t fall solely on the young quarterback.

“I think we all have some confidence issues after a performance like that. It’s a team game. … It’s not just his fault,” center David Andrews said.

“I’m very confident in Mac. Listen, Mac is a worker, he’s a competitor,” defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. said. “He’s been here in three years. He’s made some great plays in his career. This game is one of those games that just happened. But we’re still behind him. … I believe in him 100%.”

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