Washington vs. Patriots Recap: Mac Jones is closing in on Cam Newton for QB1

The Washington Football Team and New England Patriots battled in Week 1 of the NFL preseason. Mac Jones shined while Cam Newton faltered.

Do you hear that sound, Cam Newton? Those are footsteps — Mac Jones’ footsteps. While Newton began the evening as the New England Patriots’ QB1, he shouldn’t get too comfortable. In his NFL debut Thursday night [August 12] against the Washington Football Team, Jones looked every bit the part. The 2021 NFL Draft’s 15th overall pick made a strong argument for doing more than hold the clipboard as a rookie.

Mac Jones challenging Cam Newton for QB1 job?

Jones completed 13 of 19 passes for 87 yards, but that stat line did his performance no justice. He had a clear completion to Jakobi Meyers ruled incomplete. Additionally, Jones threw a perfect deep ball to Kristian Wilkerson that should have been a touchdown, but Wilkerson could not complete the catch.

Jones also led the Patriots on two scoring drives — both field goals — in his first three possessions, not including a kneeldown to end the first half. He was poised in the pocket, went through his progressions, and was unafraid throwing to the second level. Bill Belichick went with the hurry-up offense on the first drive of the second half to give his rookie the experience, and Jones thrived in that setting.

Newton, meanwhile, looked a lot like he did in 2020. He barely stretched the field, and 33 of his 49 passing yards came on long catch-and-runs by Jonnu Smith and James White.

From what we hear, Jones, who did his work against Washington’s backups and was not made available to reporters after the game, has been excellent in practice. If he continues performing at this level in preseason games, the Patriots might have to move their timeline up for his regular-season debut.

Taylor Heinicke QB2 for the Washington Football Team

The last time we saw Taylor Heinicke on a football field, he gave the eventual Super Bowl champions all they could handle. He proved against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that he deserves a place in the NFL. And he reminded everyone that on Thursday night.

Heinicke was in command of the offense. He completed 9 of 15 passes for 86 yards and directed a 12-play, 64-yard touchdown drive late in the first half. What was the crucial play on that possession? Heinicke hooked up with Jaret Patterson for 11 yards on third-and-10 — one of three third-down conversions by Washington on that drive.

Heinicke probably didn’t do enough to leapfrog Ryan Fitzpatrick, who went 5-of-8 for 58 yards, but he also did more than enough to hold onto the No. 2 job. A quick postgame note: Heinicke told reporters he put on 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason.

Money well spent for the New England Patriots?

The Patriots doled out nearly $160 million guaranteed dollars this offseason, and Thursday was our first chance to evaluate that investment. Yet, not all the big names played. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor and tight end Hunter Henry did not dress for the contest. Still, several free-agent signees flashed in their first game as a Patriot.

Smith broke two tackles on one play to turn a shallow cross into a 16-yard gain. Defensive back Jalen Mills and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux started for a first-string defense that didn’t allow a point.

Furthermore, Matthew Judon was active before a scary moment. Logan Thomas blocked low directly on Judon’s left knee, and Judon needed attention after the play. But he checked out medically and even returned to the game for a handful of snaps.

Washington Football Team’s late-game decision backfires

Talk about an epic backfire, Ron Rivera. Everybody was ready to go home with less than two minutes to go after the officials overturned a game-tying two-point conversion by Washington.

Rivera even seemed to wave the white flag, kicking deep instead of onsides. But he still had two timeouts left, and after New England lined up in victory formation, Rivera started using them.

So, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels dialed up a toss right to Burly Burner Rhamondre Stevenson, who got the edge and ran away from the WFT defense for a 91-yard touchdown. That gave Stevenson, a rookie selected in the fourth round, 127 yards and 2 touchdowns on 10 carries for the night.

Postgame reactions

Wilkerson said that his should-have-been touchdown was “a great ball from Mac. I gotta do a better job of adjusting to it.” He also added, “He [Jones] is confident. I love him as a leader.”

When asked about Taylor Heinicke, Rivera stated, “I thought Taylor picked right where he left off…I like who he is as a football player right now.”

On his puzzling late-game strategy, Rivera continued, “We would have loved to see [Steven] Montez see the opportunity to do that again. Surprised me they were going to run it. Then they did run it…When you don’t do your job, that’s what happens.”

Newton had jokes about a clean shot Chase Young got on him in the game’s opening possession. “He’s smaller than I thought,” Newton said. “That was a joke…He’s gonna be good, he’s gonna be real good.”

About that play, Young explained, “It was like slow motion, going around it and him being right there. It feels good.”

Adam Beasley is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Adam’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter @AdamHBeasley.

Adam Beasley is the National NFL Analyst and Insider for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Adam’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter @AdamHBeasley.