Mac Jones went 13 for 19 for 87 yards in his first action with the Patriots on Thursday night against Washington. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The way Bill Belichick went about this offseason, it’s as if his guiding thought was a recycled line once uttered by offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.

“That’s enough of this losing stuff.”

The Patriots signed one of the two best tight ends on the market. Then they signed the other one. They beefed up at linebacker, bolstered their ranks at receiver, defensive line and defensive back, and got linebacker Dont’a Hightower back in the mix after sitting out last season.

With Belichick pulling the triggers, the goal was to create a more formidable roster with a lot more talent on it after last year’s bland and forgettable 7-9 showing, one that generated more shrugs than cheers from formerly fevered fans.

It worked. The buzz is back at Gillette. The Patriots are a hot topic. Fans are excited to see how this team is going to do.

For good reason. The Patriots should be better than they were.


As for whether they’ll be good? Really good? “Watch out for these guys” good? Unfortunately, that’s a harder sell. And that’s because it comes down to the position they didn’t tend to with 2021 in mind.

It’s more true than ever in the NFL. If you want to gauge how good a team will be, the first thing you do is look at its quarterback. To be a team that makes a deep playoff run and entrenches itself in the mix for a Super Bowl spot, you need to get good play behind center. The days of leaving it up to a Trent Dilfer or Rex Grossman are long gone. It can’t be a question mark.

And with Cam Newton and Mac Jones, that’s what New England has at the most important position on the roster.

It’s easy to get so excited by the Patriots’ acquisitions that you feel like everything that needs to fall into place, will fall into place. It’s easy to envision Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry and Damien Harris and James White running around and think “with those players around him, Cam’s bound to be better than he was last year.”

But that’s the thing. Newton isn’t the Superman in blue, black and silver he was when he was winning MVPs and going to Super Bowls. The Cam Newton in red, white and blue last year looked overwhelmed and tentative, unable to throw with conviction, run with purpose or inspire much life in the offense.

Before the games, he’d have the same self-assured swagger he always has. By the time the game started, it was gone. He was like the student who studies for hours, walks confidently into the classroom, then blanks and freezes during the test.


Yes, his COVID absence hurt. True, he didn’t have anyone to throw to last year, and now does. But with how he looked throwing the ball and reading the defense pre-snap, that’s a whole lot that will need to suddenly get better for Newton to be the player a team hoping for a return to AFC contention would need him to be.

And then there’s Jones. It was relieving to see the Patriots take their long-term health at quarterback seriously by investing a first-round pick, and Jones feels like a player perfectly suited for the Josh McDaniels offense and the Belichick school. His arm is tuned more for accuracy than strength, and he is inclined more to read what a defense is doing than run around it or sling the ball over it. Sounds like the template for a guy who used to play here.

Jones has drawn praise in practice, and his preseason debut was encouraging. He threw quickly and decisively, led a productive no-huddle drive to start the second half, and showed touch on some passes that stretched the field. It wasn’t dazzling, but it was promising.

So this must be a call for Jones to get the Week 1 start, right?

Well, no. Just like I’m not sold on Newton being any better than he was last year, I’m not sold on Jones being ready to make the jump from college, where with Alabama’s loaded offense he had more margin for error than perhaps any quarterback we’ve seen, all the way up to the NFL without some time to learn. Some quarterbacks can handle it, many can’t. And many who can’t get ruined when they try. The Patriots can’t afford for Jones, the 15th overall pick in April, to be ruined.

In a perfect world, Jones is indeed the quarterback the Patriots need, and even better, he’s that player already. But in all likelihood, that’s not the case. In all likelihood, New England’s choices at quarterback are a former star who spent all of last season showing us his good days are far behind him, or a rookie who’s too raw to handle the challenges he would face.

And if those are the choices, it’s hard to see how the Patriots could challenge Buffalo for the division, or emerge as a wild card threat, or do anything the fans have been dreaming of since Belichick’s spending spree occurred.

They’ll be better, provided injuries don’t mount. They’ll be more competitive. Those games that were over by halftime, against San Francisco and Buffalo and the Los Angeles Rams? We probably won’t see those again.

But in order for the Patriots to rise again as a team to fear in the AFC, they’ll need even more than what they’ve done so far.

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