Howe: Why Mac Jones’ alleged ‘attitude problem’ is a mischaracterization of Patriots QB

Don’t misconstrue competitiveness with attitude.

A leaky narrative evolved last week around Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, one that didn’t jibe with anything the team had grown to appreciate about their 2021 first-round pick since they aligned a year and a half ago.

According to some reports, Jones now has an attitude problem and a big ego, and it supposedly clashed with the coaching staff.

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Prior to last week, none of these words had ever been used to describe Jones, according to numerous conversations with people from the organization and those close to the quarterback. And since this narrative took on a life of its own last week, all of these characterizations have since been shot down once again by some of those same people.

Now, let’s back it up several years and revisit history to raise a few points.

Jones’ former high school coach, the late Corky Rogers, was notoriously demanding on his quarterbacks, once even threatening to bench Jones after a touchdown pass because Rogers wanted him to throw it elsewhere. They often clashed but in a family way. The hard coaching wasn’t always welcomed, but it was respected.

Later, Jones passed up other scholarship opportunities to commit to Alabama even though some coaches and advisors couldn’t understand it. The Crimson Tide already had quarterback Jalen Hurts and a commitment from five-star recruit Tua Tagovailoa, so Jones’ chances of ever playing were never guaranteed.

As he was biding his time in Alabama, Jones treated his responsibilities with the scout team like his own versions of games. During one particular run-heavy period against the starting defense that was stacking the line to prepare for an upcoming opponent, Jones kept changing the play at the line, throwing deep and celebrating with his receivers after each big strike.

The defense complained to head coach Nick Saban, who hollered at Jones to knock it off and stick to the script. Jones fired back something to the effect of, “If you don’t like it, tell your defense to stop it!” Saban was fuming on the field, but the Alabama coaches laughed about it after practice.

That story highlighted Jones’ competitive spirit that ended him to both his Alabama coaches and, eventually, to those in New England, too.

But that’s the type of story that can easily be spun another way. For example: In an effort to boost his own ego — rather than help prepare the defense for their upcoming game — Jones went rogue during practice, calling his own plays and screaming at Saban that his defense should figure out how to stop him.

See how that can work?

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As Jones waited for a turn that was never promised, Alabama added uber-recruit Bryce Young to the QB room, but Jones didn’t transfer. He earned the backup job in 2019 and relieved an injured Tagovailoa midway through the season, then he beat out Young for the starting job in 2020. Jones was praised for his persistence throughout that entire process, and that proved to be a big draw for teams that evaluated him prior to the draft. They saw a player who had no ego and felt no entitlement.

This past offseason, Jones dove headfirst into a conditioning program to gain a leaner build. He was routinely one of the first players to arrive at Gillette Stadium, often getting there before coaches. That doesn’t sound like someone who was getting fat and happy after a Pro Bowl appearance in his rookie season.

And as the Patriots worked on a new offensive system — mixing up the playbook and simplifying the language in the post-Josh McDaniels era — Jones was lauded for his collaborative communication. He’d let them know — forcefully, at times — which plays or concepts he did and didn’t like based on their ability to execute them, but all parties involved had a voice in the process.

This was all reported during the offseason, and Jones was largely commended for it. Now, following rookie Bailey Zappe’s sterling debut, there’s suddenly a narrative forming that Jones wasn’t happy with the direction of the offense. Perhaps you could take the idea that he didn’t like certain plays and spin it into something else, but, according to those close to the quarterback, that’d be a disingenuous stretch.

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Finally, Jones suffered a high ankle sprain four weeks ago against the Ravens, and he’s missed the last three games. The quarterback sought out multiple opinions on his rehabilitation plan and ultimately decided against surgery. According to league officials with knowledge of the situation, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was not pushing him toward a procedure, contrary to another narrative that indicated the sides clashed about his recovery.

Jones will retain control of his starting job once he’s healthy enough to get through a full game, and that is expected to be Monday night against the Bears. Zappe’s performances over the past three weeks have been impressive and discouraging, but no one at Gillette Stadium seriously considered reordering the depth chart, according to league officials with knowledge of the situation.

It’s illogical how something can spiral out of control like this. If Jones was praised for each of these examples as they happened, let’s not rewrite history now in an attempt to sell a point that doesn’t exist.

(Photo of Mac Jones: Paul Rutherford / USA Today)

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