What changed for Mac Jones in Patriots’ first game-winning drive in over two years

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FOXBORO — Mac Jones’ message to his Patriots teammates during the defining moment of his season was a simple one.

“Take a deep breath, and let’s go do it,” the quarterback said as his offense huddled down by three points with 1:58 left in Sunday’s game against the Bills.

Jones has been in these situations and came up short too many times in his NFL career. His last fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive was over two years ago on Oct. 10, 2021, against the Texans.

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But on Sunday, he delivered in the 29-25 win over the Bills, defying odds and orchestrating a seven-play, 74-yard drive before delivering a 1-yard touchdown pass to his “guy,” tight end Mike Gesicki with 12 seconds remaining in the game. They celebrated with the “world’s fastest and most embarrassing griddy,” according to Gesicki.

The game-winning griddy @mikegesicki | #ForeverNE pic.twitter.com/ixVzUQhl6s

— New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 22, 2023

Simply leading a game-tying drive culminating with a field goal would have been enough to raise Jones’ standing in the region. A win was obviously even sweeter for the 25-year-old Alabama product.

So, what was different this time than Week 1, when he couldn’t finish a comeback against the Eagles, or Week 2 against the Dolphins or Week 6 against the Raiders or even last season against the Vikings?

“I think when you look at all of them, and I look at all of them a lot, there’s a lot of things that go on around, and I continue to focus on my job and continuing to read the plays that I’m supposed to and just lower my pulse and go out there and execute,” Jones said.

“Half of it’s just belief,” he continued. “And the other half is execution. Gotta continue to grow on that, and I think when you look at the other ones, you look back, it’s hard, right? Because you wish you had more, right? I’m going to look at the positive and grow on this and do it every time I get it.”

Jones went 25-of-30 for 272 with two touchdowns in Sunday’s win. It’s not an exaggeration to call this the best win of the third-year pro’s NFL career. The Patriots — entering the game with a 1-5 record as 7.5-point underdogs to the Bills — had won just two games in which they were not favored with Jones at quarterback during his NFL career. Sunday’s victory was just the second game-winning drive and fourth-quarter comeback of his career.

And all hope looked lost when the Bills took a three-point lead with less than two minutes left in the game.

“Mac made a good check on the blitz, got it to the weak side to (wide receiver DeVante) Parker, hit Pop (wide receiver Demario Douglas) down there, and had a good throw for a touchdown,” head coach Bill Belichick said of the two-minute drive after the game. “A lot of good football.”

Jones had been benched after the score got out of hand in consecutive losses in Weeks 4 and 5 to the Cowboys and Saints. He took a delay of game penalty followed by a safety in the final minutes of a Week 6 loss to the Raiders when he couldn’t outduel former Patriots backup Brian Hoyer in the second half.

It’s certainly too early to make any sweeping generalizations about what this means for Jones this season or even for the future of his career, but it was certainly a step in the right direction and what was needed for a quarterback who had played like one of the NFL’s worst starters through six weeks.

“I thought Mac did a great job today,” center David Andrews said. “Making the right decisions all day. And then obviously the big drive at the end, playing his best football when it mattered.”

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