The Patriots’ Shocking Return to Form Has Mac Jones Ready to Go Where No Former Alabama QB Has Been Before

Article Highlights:

  • New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones is on pace to become the 23rd rookie signal-caller in NFL history to start a playoff game
  • The 15th overall pick in April’s draft has the Patriots at 7-4 after a Nov. 18 victory on Thursday Night Football
  • Jones would become the first former Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback to start an NFL playoff game as a rookie

New England Patriots fans hoped Mac Jones’ arrival would lead the six-time Super Bowl champions back to the postseason. They just may not have thought things would have accelerated so quickly.

In large part because of Jones’ game-management skills and constant adjustments to the NFL, the Patriots will enter Thanksgiving at 7-4 and as owners of a five-game winning streak. A season that began with a 1-3 start and questions about head coach Bill Belichick’s future now has the potential to feature New England’s 18th AFC East title in 21 years.

As Jones prepares to enter his first stretch run in the NFL, he also has the potential to go where no Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback has gone before — at least, not as a rookie.

Mac Jones is on track to become the first ex-Alabama quarterback to start an NFL playoff game as a rookie

When the Patriots chose Jones to hopefully become their franchise quarterback earlier this year, he became the 19th Alabama quarterback drafted in NFL history. The list dates back to Riley Smith in 1936, nearly 25 years before the Patriots played their first game, and includes the likes of Bart Starr (200th overall in 1956), Joe Namath (the AFL’s first overall pick in 1965), and Jalen Hurts (the No. 53 selection in 2020). 

None of the 18 who preceded Jones started an NFL playoff game as a rookie. If the Patriots maintain their current pace and Jones avoids any health problems, he will become the first to accomplish that feat.

However, Jones would not be the first Crimson Tide quarterback to play on a team that reached the postseason in his rookie year. Ken Stabler served as a reserve quarterback on the 1968 Oakland Raiders, which lost to Namath’s New York Jets in the AFL Championship Game.

If we don’t count the AFL, you’ll likely remember AJ McCarron, whose Cincinnati Bengals lost in the 2014 Wild-Card Round. Andy Dalton, who himself started a playoff game as a rookie in 2011, served as the starter that year.

Russell Wilson leads an exclusive group of quarterbacks who started playoff games as rookies

As of November 2021, the list of rookie quarterbacks who started a playoff game isn’t too extensive. The 22 who did so in the NFL’s first 101 seasons include Dalton, who lost to the Houston Texans in the 2011 Wild-Card Round.

Jones would join a group featuring some names you likely know by now. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, and Russell Wilson each led their respective teams to the playoffs in 2012; Wilson’s Seahawks defeated Griffin’s Washington Football Team in the Wild-Card Round.

Ben Roethlisberger nearly guided the Pittsburgh Steelers to a Super Bowl appearance in 2004, and Baltimore Ravens rookie Joe Flacco reached the AFC Championship Game four years later. Lamar Jackson, who succeeded Flacco in 2018, took over in midseason and won the AFC North before losing in the first round.

We think you’ll recognize the other full-time starting quarterbacks who started playoff games as rookies:

  • Miami’s Dan Marino (1983), Cleveland’s Bernie Kosar (1985), the Los Angeles Rams’ Jim Everett (1986), Chicago’s Kyle Orton (2005), Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (2008), and Dallas’ Dak Prescott (2016) each lost their playoff debuts
  • The Rams’ Dieter Brock, a longtime CFL quarterback who played most of his rookie season at 34 years old, went 1-1 in the 1985 NFL Playoffs. Yes, he counts.
  • New York Jets rookie Mark Sanchez reached the AFC Championship Game in 2009. He and Flacco are the only quarterbacks to win two playoff games as rookies.

But wait, we said 22, and we’ve only listed 15. So, where are the other seven? Well, the Rams’ Pat Haden (1976), Chicago’s Doug Flutie (1986), the Los Angeles Raiders’ Todd Marinovich (1991), Tampa Bay’s Shaun King (1999), New Orleans’ Aaron Brooks (2000), Houston’s T.J. Yates (2011), and the then-Oakland Raiders’ Connor Cook (2016) all started as injury replacements for the primary starter.

Haden, King, Brooks, and Yates were the only ones of the four who won their playoff debuts. Jones can only hope he joins Sanchez and Flacco rather than Marino and Kosar. Did you ever think you’d read that sentence?

Jones still has a long way to go before he can join Joe Namath in a much smaller club

If all goes to plan for the Patriots, Jones will make his playoff debut in January 2022. He’ll do something that Namath, Stabler, and Starr — all of whom also played at Alabama — never did as rookies.

However, Jones needs to catch them in another category. Not only did those three gunslingers reach the Super Bowl, but they all emerged victoriously. Starr won the first two Super Bowls, and Namath followed him in January 1969.

Nearly a decade later, Stabler defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 32-14, in Super Bowl 11. No Alabama quarterback has reached the Super Bowl as a starter since “Snake’s” 1977 victory.

We’ll see if and when Jones can join those three. Given the Patriots’ luck of late, we should expect to see such an event in February 2022.

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