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Even when he had the greatest quarterback of all time leading his team, Bill Belichick didn’t exactly go to great lengths to dish out public praise for his most accomplished player. In fact, it would be completely fair to say the New England Patriots’ longtime head coach could have been far more complimentary about Tom Brady during his two-decade run of dominance in Foxborough.

Yet even though Belichick has only known Mac Jones for just over a year, it’s obvious he believes the 23-year-old signal-caller is capable of filling the void left behind by TB12. 

After all, his effusive praise for the 2021 first-round pick certainly seems out-of-character for someone who’s typically cold and calculated with his commentary. And that’s exactly why Belichick’s bold comments about Jones should make the rest of the AFC view the Patriots in a different light heading into the 2022 season.

Bill Belichick provides eyebrow-raising praise for Mac Jones

Bill Belichick met with the media on Tuesday and delivered some noteworthy comments about his promising second-year quarterback. Not only did he specifically note the “dramatic improvement” and “tremendous strides” Jones has made, but he took things a step further with his overall assessment of the Patriots’ most important player.

“He did a great job last year, but he’s starting from a much, much higher point this year from where he started last year,” Belichick said. “His offseason work has been significant, and I think everyone recognizes how well he prepares and how much further along he was than a year ago.” 

In addition, he highlighted Jones’ work ethic and improvement in “physical work and conditioning, mechanics, footwork, understanding of our offense and opponent defenses.” 

Talk about making a statement. 

Coming off a rock-solid rookie season that included 3,801 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions, Jones certainly inspires plenty of excitement about the future of football in Foxborough. But Belichick going this far to commend his quarterback’s development shouldn’t be overlooked.

In fact, other AFC teams with title aspirations better think twice about underestimating the six-time Super Bowl champions.

Belichick’s assessment of his second-year quarterback could spell trouble for the rest of the AFC

Was Mac Jones electric in 2021? 

That would be a stretch. 

However, compared to not only top-three picks Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson but also rookie quarterbacks across NFL history, he was undoubtedly one of the most successful first-year passers of all time. Jones beat out former league MVP Cam Newton, started all 17 games, completed nearly 68% of his attempts, and led the Patriots back to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.

Plus, he accomplished all that operating an offense that featured many new faces, including the highly paid tight end duo of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, freshly imported receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, and fellow rookie Rhamondre Stevenson.

And that’s what makes Belichick’s effusive praise a potential problem for the rest of the AFC. 

With a full offseason to work on his physique, conditioning, and mastery of New England’s demanding scheme, Jones has clearly utilized the last six months effectively. Despite looking noticeably slimmer, his arm appeared stronger during the spring–a development that bodes well for an offense that added the fastest receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft (second-round pick Tyquan Thornton) to the mix.

More importantly, if he showed such a strong command of the playbook and protection schemes in year one, a more confident and prepared version of Jones should be able to dissect defenses better, make a wider variety of throws, and give the coaching staff confidence to let him run the show. 

The Patriots definitely aren’t the most talented team in their conference, but if their starting quarterback has indeed taken “tremendous” and “dramatic” strides forward, how can they not be considered a tough out?

Let’s not forget that if Belichick had played his hand differently in critical moments against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys, New England might have gone 12-5 instead of 10-7. Now that he appears to have ultimate trust in his most important player, it would make sense for the legendary coach to get more aggressive and put the pressure on opposing defenses to stop Jones and Co.

Do the Patriots have the right pieces around Jones to contend for a Super Bowl title?

Bill Belichick and Mac Jones during a Patriots-Saints matchup in September 2021
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Mac Jones against the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium on September 26, 2021 | Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

New England Patriots: The 7 Most Important Players for Bill Belichick in 2022

With his quarterback seemingly ready to make a massive year-two jump, it begs the question: Has Belichick done enough to help him? 

On one hand, it’s fair to wonder whether Jones has the right pieces around him on the sidelines to reach his full potential. With Matt Patricia overseeing the offensive line and calling plays and Joe Judge working with the quarterbacks, Belichick hasn’t exactly surrounded him with elite coaches.

After all, Patricia parlayed his defensive coordinator experience into a head coaching job with the Detroit Lions, and Judge went from being in charge of special teams to taking over the New York Giants. So, let’s just say neither man inspires a ton of confidence. 

Luckily for Jones, he should have a useful collection of supporting pieces around him on the field. At running back, the Patriots boast one of the best two-headed tandems in the league, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Rhamondre Stevenson usurps Damien Harris as the team’s No. 1 option.

Meanwhile, DeVante Parker gives Jones a big-bodied target who can win one-on-one opportunities and do damage in the red zone. Adding him to a receiver room that also includes Bourne, Agholor, and the perennially underrated Jakobi Meyers makes New England more diverse at the position. 

Of course, it’ll be up to a reshuffled offensive line to protect the team’s most valuable asset. First-round pick Cole Strange must prove he can go from dominating small-school defenders to holding up against top-tier linemen. Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn must stay healthy and play up to their capabilities. And third-year pro Michael Onwenu must fill the void left behind by the Shaq Mason trade. 

Training camp will give us a better idea of what to expect from New England in 2022, but from an offensive perspective, the Patriots have the personnel to finish as a top-10 scoring unit. Only time will tell whether they can score enough points to make up for what might be a below-average defense.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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