Why Patriots' new 'normal' has not only Mac Jones encouraged, but Tom Brady too

In nearly every other circumstance, the response might sound as bland as the New England Patriots aim to be.

But after the circumstances Mac Jones found himself in 2022, his description of his new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien was telling.

“It’s been normal,” Jones said last week at an OTA practice.

Already, that could signal improvement. Because last year was anything but.

Six-time Super Bowl champion head coach Bill Belichick eschewed a traditional offensive coordinator replacement in 2022 when Josh McDaniel left his post of the last 10 years (and 13 of the last 16 years) to become Las Vegas Raiders coach.

Suddenly, Jones found himself facing a play-calling collective of defensive-minded Matt Patricia and special-teams-coach-by-training Joe Judge. While both had prior stints as NFL head coaches, neither grew up on an offensive tree.

And the results showed.

Jones' passer rating dropped from 15th-best in his Pro Bowl rookie year to 26th under Judge and Patricia. His completion percentage dropped from eighth to 16th, while his passing yardage per game dipped from 17th to 20th. Frustration boiled over, Jones' in-game expletives visible on his lips and audible on broadcasts.

Jones insists he’s confident that he will rebound in Year 3.

Longtime Patriots star Tom Brady, speaking with Yahoo Sports last week, has one reason why he should be.

Tom Brady weighs in on Patriots OC Bill O’Brien

Sure, like Judge and Patricia, O'Brien's coaching experience includes being at the helm. O'Brien served as Houston Texans head coach from 2014-20 after two seasons as Penn State's head coach. But Brady, who overlapped five seasons in New England with O'Brien (including one memorable sideline exchange), saw the play-calling that's carried him across NFL and college opportunities.

“It’s hard to find good coaches in the NFL (and) Billy’s certainly one of them,” Brady told Yahoo Sports over Zoom. “He’s very talented, very smart.

“Was a great addition to our team when he came in ‘07.”

Brady said he and O’Brien “worked together very closely” in 2009-11, when O’Brien was his quarterbacks coach for two years and then offensive coordinator.

“I loved my time with Billy,” Brady said.

Jones hopes he will, too.

Already the duo brings shared experience from Alabama, where O’Brien spent the last two seasons as offensive coordinator immediately following Jones’ four years in Tuscaloosa. Jones declined to share specific ways their knowledge dovetails but “when we talk about lingo, there are things we both say and it makes sense,” Jones said. “I think everything he’s done so far has been really good. I think the communication is the most important part — and trust.”

Jones is expected to start for the Patriots again this year after 2022 fourth-round selection Bailey Zappe played the bulk of four games last year, guiding two wins and a narrow loss in a third. Jones' resumé is much deeper, and yet he can expect to be under a microscope this year. The grace period of his rookie season is gone, the excuse of an iffy offensive coordinator situation also evaporating. Expectations in New England are high and Jones himself is well aware he's "always been on really good, winning teams."

How will Jones, O’Brien, Belichick and the Patriots respond?

“A lot of what’s going to happen in the NFL is going to be determined by what these guys do under pressure when it matters most and how they can continue to evolve and grow from this point on,” Brady told Yahoo Sports. “Everything evolves and changes so you’ve got to be adept with the circumstances that come with the NFL season.

“A lot of teams think they’re better than they are right now. Some think they’re worse than they are right now.”

How Mac Jones views path to offensive rebound

Jones said he tried to follow a “college-like offseason program” this spring with ample time on task and “a lot less vacations.” He said he wants to earn the respect of his teammates anew, already connecting off the field with veteran receiver acquisition Juju Smith-Schuster whom Jones described as “just a football nerd, kind of like me.”

The Patriots lost their top 2022 receiver in free agency, when McDaniels and the Las Vegas Raiders signed Jakobi Meyers. Meyers finished with 804 receiving yards and six touchdowns last season, and no pass catcher beyond that even reached 540 yards or four touchdowns.

Running back Rhamondre Stevenson (1,040 yards, five scores rushing) should again power New England’s offense while tight end Mike Gesicki bolsters a corps that already featured Hunter Henry.

Jones hopes he and his teammates can learn from a season in which 25 teams were more productive on offense, but mostly that they can turn the page.

“I’m starting fresh just like everybody else is,” Jones said. “I’m going to run my own race and look up at the end and see where I’m at. I think everyone else should do that, too.”

Brady sees a path to success. It runs through “a very talented young player” in Jones, a smart coordinator in O’Brien and, of course, the much-renowned head coach

“Bill Belichick’s one of the greatest coaches in the world of sports,” Brady said. “I have tremendous faith in coach Belichick.”