Patriots

Unconventional review: On frustrating day for Patriots, Mac Jones proved ready for the moment

Mac Jones refused to accept the game ball after his first career touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor. Jim Davis/Globe Staff


Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to standouts, stats, and storylines from the Patriots’ most recent game . . .

Often, it’s a rookie quarterback that lets a team down. Sunday afternoon, the Patriots let down their rookie quarterback.

Mac Jones was superb in his NFL debut, but Damien Harris lost a fumble while the Patriots appeared to be driving for a go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter, the revamped defense couldn’t get the required stop, and Brian Flores improved to 3-2 against Bill Belichick in Miami’s 17-16 win.

The Patriots should be feeling good about the big picture. Their kid quarterback is ready for this. But in the moment, it’s an extremely frustrating loss to a division rival, and with the talented Bills losing to the Steelers, a muffed chance to get a jump on the AFC East race.

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Some further thoughts, upon immediate review . . .

THREE PLAYERS WHO WERE WORTH WATCHING

(Players suggested in Unconventional Preview: Damien Harris, Matthew Judon, Jaylen Waddle)

Jakobi Meyers:  Time to give him credit without caveats or qualifications or noting how the Patriots acquired him: He’s a very good receiver, and he’s on his way to being Jones’s main security blanket. Meyers converted a third and 1 on the Patriots’ second possession and a third and 2 on their third. Later, on a third and 6, Jones threw his way with confidence while under heavy pressure, resulting in a 22-yard reception. He did have a drop on third and 4 with 10 minutes, 39 seconds left in the game, but made another important third-down catch, gaining 7 yards on third and 6 to the Dolphins 39 with 6:51 left in the game. He finished with fairly modest stats (6 catches, 49 yards), but Jones leaned on him over and over again to keep drives alive. Related: Nelson Agholor was also very good (five catches, 72 yards, touchdown). The Patriots may be in better shape at receiver than the perception.

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Jaylen Waddle: It’s not that the Dolphins’ rookie receiver, chosen sixth overall out of Alabama, is going to be a problem. It’s that he already is a problem, and was from the Dolphins’ first play from scrimmage, when he picked up 17 yards on a nifty catch and run. There were even bigger plays to come — a 36-yard catch on the Dolphins’ drive for a tying field goal at the end of the first half, and the go-ahead touchdown (making it 17-10) on a 3-yard crossing route as Tua Tagovailoa marched them down the field on the first series of the second half. He did have an inexcusable drop in the second quarter when the nearest Patriots defensive back in coverage was probably Raymond Clayborn, but overall it was an exceptional debut. Jones probably wouldn’t mind if they were still on the same side, huh?

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Adrian Phillips: The veteran safety doesn’t get the acclaim of admired future Patriots Hall of Famer Devin McCourty or upstart Kyle Dugger. But diehards know the former Charger was arguably the Patriots’ best defensive player last season (team-high 109 tackles), and he was excellent again Sunday. He wasn’t out there piling up tackles like vintage Rodney Harrison on Sunday, finishing with 3, but two were for losses, including an exceptional stop of the Dolphins’ Myles Gaskin on a third-and-13 screen pass in the third quarter. He also flushed Tagovailoa out of the pocket and into heat-seeking missile Matthew Judon’s path on Jonathan Jones’s interception in the fourth quarter.

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GRIEVANCE OF THE GAME

Well, take your pick: What left you more frustrated and pondering more what-ifs when this one was over: The offense’s struggles in the red zone (in four trips inside the 20, they scored one touchdown, settled for a pair of field goals, and Harris fumbled)? The four fumbles, including two lost by running backs Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson? Or was it the eight penalties for 84 yards, which included undisciplined plays by Judon (unnecessary roughness on a Jets punt) and Shaq Mason (illegal blindside block) on back-to-back plays late in the third quarter? I’m going with the penalties. But they have to clean it up all around. I suspect they will be made well aware of this the next time Belichick turns on the film projector.

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KEY MATCHUP

Patriots quarterback Mac Jones versus Dolphins pass defense.

Well, of course it’s Jones. It has to be. The rookie quarterback and Cam Newton vanquisher’s debut was probably the most highly anticipated for a Patriots player since . . . I don’t know, Randy Moss’s in 2007? It’s always big news when a rookie quarterback debuts. It’s bigger news when he plays the way Jones did. He made a blatant rookie mistake on his first passing attempt, throwing a bounce pass behind tight end Jonnu Smith in the backfield. (The play, which reminded me of Drew Bledsoe’s ultimately harmless no-look backward heave in the 2002 AFC Championship game, was ruled a fumble, recovered by Smith.) He apparently got it out of his system, but he never really looked like a rookie the rest of the game. He throws with confidence and purpose, has a strong enough arm, and his accuracy is refreshing. His best throw was a 26-yard feather to James White on a wheel route on third and 11 in the third quarter, but it was far from his only impressive throw. I know, I know: It’s just one game. But I don’t know how you can come away from this game with an iota of concern about the Patriots quarterback situation, let alone a modicum.

THREE NOTES SCRIBBLED IN THE MARGINS

(Predicted score: Patriots 24, Dolphins 13)

(Final score: Dolphins 17, Patriots 16)

Harris gained 35 yards on his first carry, ran for an even 100 on the day, he ends up as the primary goat. Cruel sport, football . . . Old friend Jacoby Brissett is apparently a quarterback sneak specialist at this point in his career . . .White had six catches, a total he exceeded just twice last season. He’ll mesh with Jones more than he did with Newton last season.

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