New England Patriots players rallying around QB Mac Jones

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Mac’s support system: Patriots players have quarterback Mac Jones’ back.

That was one of the resounding themes of the past week as the Patriots (1-1) prepared to host the Baltimore Ravens (1-1) at Gillette Stadium on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox).

Jones and the Patriots are coming off their first win of the season, although parts of the second-year quarterback’s performance – most notably an early interception and a would-be pick that was dropped in the second half -- sparked some media-based criticism.

Some players didn’t seem fond of it.

A telling moment unfolded on Wednesday as longtime captain Devin McCourty was answering questions from reporters in the media workroom, and Jones was waiting in the corner for his turn.

Perhaps sensing the opportunity to boost Jones as he listened, McCourty returned fire to a respected, longtime Patriots reporter. The reporter asked a question about the scrutiny on young quarterbacks and Jones’ progress in 2022, drawing a parallel to how McCourty had a productive rookie season before dipping in Year 2.

“I would say, first and foremost, there’s not many people who watch football who understand how to play quarterback. No matter what. Including you,” McCourty responded.

“He would be crazy if he built his career off what people write and say about him, because for one, there’s not many who have played the position at a high level and can do that consistently. You come out, you play as a rookie, you have success, it sucks to say but everyone is waiting to write bad things about you. That’s just how everything works.

“I think he knows, in this building, every guy in that locker room believes in him. Everybody in that locker room sees him as not just as our quarterback, but a captain of this team, a leader of this team.”

It was McCourty’s final answer, and as he stepped away from the microphone to head to the exit, Jones softly clapped his hands and the two exchanged a handshake and a smile.

More privately, other veteran players have noted that Jones is running a new offense in just his second NFL season, adjusting to a new coaching setup without former Patriots coordinator Josh McDaniels. Of course, they say, there is going to be an adaptation period.

In the team’s 1-1 start last season, Jones was 51-of-69 for 467 yards with 1 touchdown and no interceptions.

In this season's 1-1 start, he’s 42-of-65 for 465 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

Asked what he’s observed from Jones in terms of handling criticism, second-year running back Rhamondre Stevenson said: “He’s a very mature quarterback. He knows what we have to do to get through this long season, the steps we have to take. I have all my confidence in that man.”

Stevenson is far from alone. That much was clear throughout the locker room over the past week.

2. Meyers’ hope: By the time the Patriots had wrapped up their final practice of the week on Friday, leading receiver Jakobi Meyers (left knee) hadn’t given up hope of playing Sunday against the Ravens despite hardly practicing throughout the week. The 48 hours leading up to kickoff are key, as he is trending toward a game-time decision -- with the one caveat that coach Bill Belichick could play it safe regardless, taking the decision out of Meyers’ hands. The injury initially occurred in the preseason finale against the Raiders and Meyers has been dealing with varying levels of discomfort ever since.

3. Bourne’s message: Receiver Kendrick Bourne was eating lunch at his locker Friday when a reporter approached. The gist of his message was straightforward: Whatever we talk about, just don’t make it about me. “I’m happy here,” Bourne said. “Of course, I want to play. But I want to help any way I can.” Bourne’s playing time had been a hot topic after Week 1 when he played just two snaps. He played 23 in Week 2, as the Patriots are going five deep at receiver with Meyers, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Bourne and Lil’Jordan Humphrey. If Meyers can’t go Sunday, Bourne’s playing time could spike further.

4. Fitting the Bills: How decisive have the Bills been in their victories? Their past 20 regular-season wins have all been by at least 10 points, which is tied with the 1941-42 Bears for the longest such streak in NFL history, according to Elias. The last time they won by fewer than 10 points was in a 24-21 triumph over the Patriots on Nov. 1, 2020. That was the game where Cam Newton had the Patriots on the cusp of a game-tying or game-winning drive, before fumbling it away with 31 seconds remaining.

5. Judon’s journey: Patriots outside linebacker Matthew Judon faces his former team, the Ravens, on Sunday. He said it’s “just another game” to him. Judon also credits the Ravens for helping him acclimate to the Patriots. “The locker room and the guys that were in that locker room, it kind of translates to here. They're willing to accept you," Judon said, adding that both teams are built on a winning culture. "We've seen places where good players go to some teams and it doesn't seem like it fits. I believe I fit well because everyone in the locker room accepted me."

6. Praise for Humphrey: Big-bodied receiver Humphrey earned a quick promotion from the practice squad to the Patriots’ 53-man roster after the first week of the season, with Belichick saying, “He’s an interesting guy. Doesn’t really fit a mold for a certain position, but he’s a good football player. Glad we have him.” Humphrey’s blocking and clutch catch on the final drive last week were contributing factors to the team’s first win. Furthermore, the Patriots are carrying just two tight ends (Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith) and the 6-foot-4, 225-pound pass-catching Humphrey is somewhat of a No. 3 option there as well.

7. Touting Stout: Ravens rookie punter Jordan Stout was highly regarded by the Patriots in this year’s draft, according to a source, but the window to select him closed after New England tabbed South Dakota State running back Pierre Strong Jr. in the fourth round (127th). The Ravens selected Stout, out of Penn State, three picks later, and now the Patriots will face him Sunday. At the time, the Patriots were navigating a unique contract negotiation with incumbent punter Jake Bailey, whom they later signed to an extension.

8. Wilfork’s story: Patriots Hall of Fame inductee Vince Wilfork told the story last week of how he was reading Jack Tatum’s book “They Call Me Assassin” until about 2 a.m. the day before the Patriots faced the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 22, 2012. It was a game Wilfork said he was most proud of -- he made two plays in short-yardage situations to help seal a victory -- and he credited the book by Super Bowl champion safety Tatum, whose nickname was the "Assassin," for going into the game with the mentality to dominate.

9. Peppers’ number: Despite his best efforts, safety Jabrill Peppers couldn’t pry away No. 5-- which he wore at Michigan -- from veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer. “It wasn’t close,” Peppers said. “So I got the next best thing.” That’s how Peppers, who wanted a single digit after wearing 22 and 21 with the Browns and Giants, respectively, ended up with No. 3 in New England.

10. Did you know? The Patriots’ 24 points are their fewest through two games since 2001, when they scored 20. They haven’t been held to fewer than 40 points through three games since 1995 (when they had 23).