NFL

Mac Jones 'learning the hard way' in the NFL

By Sports Desk October 18, 2021

Mac Jones conceded he is learning how the NFL works "the hard way" after the New England Patriots lost an overtime thriller to the Dallas Cowboys.

The Patriots were beaten 35-29 by the Cowboys as Dak Prescott connected with CeeDee Lamb for a game-clinching 35-yard touchdown pass.

It marked New England's fourth successive loss at home as they dropped to 2-4 on the season.

Rookie quarterback Jones has received widespread praise for his performances in his first year in the league having been picked 15th overall by New England.

And he completed over 70 per cent of his passes against the Cowboys, but lamented key errors that played a role in New England coming up short.

Jones fumbled on a sack by Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Trevon Diggs in the fourth quarter.

He responded to the latter error by connecting with Kendrick Bourne for a 75-yard touchdown that gave the Patriots a 29-26 lead on the next play from scrimmage, but New England's defense could not prevent Prescott and the Cowboys from forcing overtime.

"I left some plays on the field, but it is what it is," Jones said. "In the NFL it takes maybe three or four bad plays and you lose the game.

"The margin of error is very slim, and I guess when I have that feeling that something might be going bad, just throw it away, call a time-out or figure it out and just try not to make a bad play worse, so I could have done that tonight better.

"I think the people around me played really well and we fought really hard, and sometimes you fall short.

"When you look at the big picture, you never want to say you're close, and it's hard to do that, but the games that we've lost we've been two or three plays away, and I guess it's just how the NFL works, and I'm learning that the hard way."

Related items

  • Is Kirk Cousins holding the Vikings back? Is Kirk Cousins holding the Vikings back?

    When the Minnesota Vikings signed Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed contract back in 2018, they believed they were landing a quarterback who put them over the top and could help them deliver a first Super Bowl title.

    What they actually acquired, however, was perhaps the league's ultimate enigma at quarterback.

    Nobody could look at Cousins' raw numbers and deem him a bad quarterback. Yet throughout his career both with the Vikings and beforehand in Washington, he is a player who has continued to confound, most notably with an apparent inability to deliver in 'clutch' situations with the game on the line.

    Cousins' time as a pro was arguably encapsulated by his showing in Week 12. In the most important game of a season in which he has the best touchdown to interception ratio in the NFL, Cousins came up dismally small, a series of poor throws and a turnover dooming the Vikings to defeat against the San Francisco 49ers.

    The Vikings are not without their problems in other areas. However, with the weapons around Cousins, theirs is an infrastructure seemingly conducive to quarterback success.

    In terms of his statistics, Cousins has largely succeeded in 2021. Yet baffling performances like the one that dropped the Vikings to 5-6 last week only serve to give rise to the debate around Cousins and whether he is holding his team back.

    Cousins' San Francisco slump

    Already over 3,000 yards passing with six games still to play, with 23 touchdowns and a career-low three interceptions to his name, statistically the 2021 campaign ranks among Cousins' finest seasons.

    Delivering an accurate, well-thrown ball on 80.8 per cent of his pass attempts, above the league average of 78.4, and throwing a pickable pass on 10 out of his 385 attempts, Stats Perform's advanced metrics also reflect well on Cousins.

    But it is that apparent season-long consistency that makes displays like his showing against San Francisco all the more bemusing.

    Cousins has done an excellent job of taking care of the football this season, yet his third interception of the year came in the third quarter against the Niners as he somehow failed to spot linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair crowding his throwing lane on an attempted pass to Adam Thielen. As far as failures to correctly read the field go, that was as bad as it gets.

    That interception set the Niners up to take a 28-14 lead, a gap the Vikings were unable to bridge in large part because of inaccurate throws by Cousins.

    He led the Vikings on a touchdown drive on the next series only to then miss a wide-open Justin Jefferson on a two-point conversion try with a low throw.

    Jefferson was the target on a fourth-down throw in the fourth quarter that sailed well over his head, that play coming after Minnesota burned a timeout due to Cousins lining up behind the right guard instead of the center.

    Cousins is not the first quarterback to accidentally line up in the wrong spot in the heat of the moment, but such a gaffe gives the impression of a signal-caller ill-equipped to deliver when the pressure is at its highest.

    And, given the performance of the surrounding weapons, it is no wonder Jefferson was left throwing his arms up in disbelief at some of Cousins' misses.

    Stacked supporting cast

    Any thought of Jefferson taking a step back after a historic 2020 season that saw him break the rookie record for receiving yards has been put to bed.

    Jefferson is on pace to surpass his tally of 1,400 yards from last year and, among wide receivers with at least 25 targets, he ranks seventh in burn percentage, which measures the rate at which a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, while he is 11th with a big play rate of 39 per cent.

    Thielen, who had a pair of touchdowns against San Francisco, has also excelled at creating big plays, doing so on 34.6 per cent of his targets.

    With K.J. Osborn emerging as a legitimate third receiving option and Tyler Conklin enjoying a career year at tight end, Cousins possesses one of the best groups of pass-catchers in the NFL and is supported by a run game that has produced 37 runs of 10 yards or more, the 12th-most in the league.

    The potential absence of Dalvin Cook with a shoulder injury may reduce the assistance Cousins gets from the ground attack, but he is certainly in no position to complain about a stacked supporting cast, though he may be frustrated by a lack of help from other areas.

    The Vikings' fatal flaw

    Cousins' sack numbers have drastically improved this season. After taking 39 sacks last year, he has suffered only 15 across 11 games in 2021, pointing to an improvement on the offensive line.

    Yet a deeper assessment at the O-Line's performance suggests there may be a hint of fortune about the Vikings' success in preventing sacks.

    Indeed, Cousins has attempted 136 passes under pressure, second only to Matt Ryan (145), while the Vikings rank a lowly 28th in pass protection win rate.

    More often than not, the Vikings are losing the battle in the trenches, and that is the case on the defensive side of the ball, too.

    Continually bullied off the ball by the 49ers' superb rushing attack, the Vikings gave up 208 yards on the ground at an average of 5.3 yards per attempt.

    Though San Francisco's run game has dominated several teams this season, the Vikings' inability to stop them was in keeping with a theme of their season.

    They rank 26th in opponent yards per play allowed with 5.87 and are giving up 4.83 yards per rush, the most in the NFL. In Stats Perform's rush yards under expected allowed, the Vikings are also 26th.

    Minnesota's severe underperformance in containing opposing run games has a two-pronged effect. It has contributed to a defensive effort that has the Vikings giving up 25.1 points per game - with only eight teams conceding more - and allowed opponents to control the clock as the 49ers did last Sunday.

    Cousins' inability to make the key throws and that dismal interception undoubtedly played a critical role in Minnesota coming up short in Week 12, but the massive disadvantage in time of possession that resulted from San Francisco's run game dominance, along with a fumble from Cook as he suffered his injury, limited opportunities for the passing game to turn things around.

    That a quarterback of Cousins' experience and undoubted talents continues to throw in these sporadic head-scratching showings is a legitimate problem for the Vikings. However, they are too infrequent for him to be considered as holding Minnesota back.

    The reality is that, between the amount of points they are giving up and Minnesota's ineffectiveness against the run, the Vikings - for all their strengths on offense - aren't in a position to survive Cousins' off days.

  • Chargers must free Herbert from their own shackles in battle with Burrow & Bengals Chargers must free Herbert from their own shackles in battle with Burrow & Bengals

    The Los Angeles Chargers approached the 2021 season viewed by most as much more likely to make the leap and become contenders in the AFC than the Cincinnati Bengals.

    But as the Chargers and the Bengals prepare to do battle in a matchup that will be critical to deciding the final AFC playoff picture, Cincinnati are the team in a better position to mount a deep postseason run.

    The Bengals sent a message in Week 12 with a 41-10 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers that moved Cincinnati to 7-4, giving them their first sweep of that AFC North rival since 2009 and ensuring they ended the weekend only a game behind the AFC's current number one seed the Baltimore Ravens.

    Los Angeles go into Week 13 only a game out of their division lead, but with a 6-5 record and coming off a disheartening road loss to the Denver Broncos.

    Last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert threw the ball 44 times against Denver, his second-highest mark of the season having attempted 47 passes versus the Washington Football Team in Week 1.

    Yet the depth of those passes should encourage a Bengals defense that has greatly improved in 2021.

    Herbert averaged only 7.11 air yards per attempt last week, per Stats Perform data, below the league average for Week 12 of 7.93.

    External frustration is mounting at the apparent shackling of Herbert by his own offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, the explosive plays that defined his superb rookie season significantly reduced this term.

    Herbert was tied seventh in the NFL last season with 32 pass plays or 25 yards or more in 15 games. Through 11 games this season, he has just 16.

    While the Bengals are in the top half in the NFL by yards per game allowed, ranking 13th with 348.2, they have proven susceptible to the big play.

    The Bengals have given up 47 passing plays of 20 yards or more, the seventh-most in the league, and it would surely be a great relief to their defense to see the Chargers stick with a conservative passing game and miss a chance to take advantage of a weakness for Cincinnati.

    After Joe Mixon gashed the Steelers for a career-high 165 rushing yards and two touchdowns, the Bengals likely won't hesitate to use the ground game to capitalise on a clear defensive deficiency for the Chargers.

    The Chargers have given up the most rush yards (1,598) in the NFL in 2021 while their rush average allowed of 4.69 yards per carry is the league's fourth-worst.

    Should the Bengals enjoy similar success on Sunday, that will take a great amount of pressure off 2020 first overall pick Joe Burrow as he bids to pick apart a defense that is not living up to Chargers head coach Brandon Staley's reputation.

    Herbert looked to have surpassed Burrow as the premier quarterback from the 2020 draft class and most would argue he is still the cream of that particular crop.

    Yet if the Chargers cannot minimise their struggles on run defense and find a way to open up the passing game against a Bengals defense evidently vulnerable to explosive plays, Burrow could take a significant step towards starting his playoff career before Herbert. 

  • Cowboys head coach McCarthy hopes to return sooner rather than later Cowboys head coach McCarthy hopes to return sooner rather than later

    Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy is hopeful of returning to the sideline sooner rather than later after testing positive for COVID-19.

    McCarthy watched Thursday's 27-17 win over the New Orleans Saints while isolating in a hotel room in Frisco following his positive test.

    Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn filled in to lead the side to victory over the Saints but McCarthy admitted he found it hard to watch and was eager to return.

    "I’m hopeful to be in there sooner than later," McCarthy told the team website.

    He added: "It was brutal just not to be a part of it. I just hope there’s no one next door, that’s for sure. That’d probably be a good story.

    "But I think the emotion of it is like any true fan, I would assume. You’re rooting for your team. You’re rooting for your guys."

    The Cowboys are not in action against until Sunday December 12 against the Washington Football Team, with McCarthy needing to test negative twice at least 24 hours apart to be permitted to return.

    McCarthy praised Quinn and the coaching staff who filled in in his absence.

    “I thought the staff did an incredible job under the leadership of Dan Quinn and [assistant head coach] Rob Davis," McCarthy said. “It’s all about the communication and the urgency of keeping your pace of operation intact.

    "That’s the way we train, and that’s the way you want to ultimately play when you get to the game. I thought the dots definitely connected. Just very impressed and very thankful for the job the staff did."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.