FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Mac Jones knew there would be a time this season when he’d feel the growing pains of being a rookie quarterback in the NFL.
That day arrived Sunday, and he left the field feeling it as much physically as mentally.
After two weeks of playing mostly efficient football, mistakes piled up for Jones as the Patriots struggled in their 28-13 loss to the Saints on Sunday. The setback dropped the Patriots to 0-2 at home for the first time since Bill Belichick’s first season as coach in 2000.
“It definitely eats away at you when you lose, but you’ve got to learn and move on,” Jones said. “That’s what a lot of the older guys were telling me, just keep my head up. Obviously, no one likes to lose here, and the Patriots have done nothing but win for a long time. We’ve got to get back to that.”
It comes at the worst time, with former quarterback Tom Brady set to return to Foxborough next week for the first time since he left in free agency for Tampa Bay following the 2019 season — then won another Super Bowl.
The Saints attacked New England in all three phases, scoring in three of their four red zone opportunities and blocking a punt.
Jones caught the brunt of it, tossing three interceptions and taking a beating from a defense that sacked him three times and hit him 11. He finished 30 of 51 for 270 yards and a touchdown.
His 55.2 passer rating was the worst of his young career.
Belichick said solving their issues must begin with finding consistency.
“We’ve got to play with more good plays out there and not as many that aren’t good. That’s what we have to do,” Belichick said. “We had some chances, but in the end, we just couldn’t get it done. It’s disappointing. There’s no magic sauce here. Just have to go back to work and do better.”
Complicating matters will be the loss of team captain and running back James White, carted off the field early in the second quarter with a hip injury after landing awkwardly as he was tackled by Damario Davis.
In a 21-3 hole early in the third quarter, the Patriots found themselves playing catchup the rest of the way as the offense became one-dimensional, and forced to pass on almost every down. New England rushed for only 49 yards.
Receiver Jakobi Meyers said losing White for an extended period will be a blow for the offense.
“It is going to hurt, because he is a great guy on the field and off the field and a lot of guys look up to James White. I know I do,” he said. “So just seeing him laying down there and seeing him get put on the cart, it kind of makes your heart jump a little bit to your stomach. I mean we know we have to keep playing, but losing someone like James White definitely hurt a little bit.”
Though the season is still young, safety Devin McCourty said the team may have to consider altering its approach across the board.
“We talk about those things. We’ve got to do it,” McCourty said. “[Matthew Slater] kind of told the team that at the end of the game. It’s coming down to the point in the season, like you’ve got to do it. … We kind of live off of what the Patriots have done in the past with the fast starts and all of that. But for this team, we’ve got to go do those things.”
He said he expects to get the best from Brady and the Bucs.
“Those guys are coming here as defending champs, so all those things we talked about — you want to have a test and see if you can get it done,” he said. “We’ll definitely get that Sunday night.”
Kyle Hightower, The Associated Press