During Tom Brady’s first season as an NFL starter, the Patriots were able to win the Super Bowl. Will they be able to repeat that feat with Mac Jones?
That won’t prove easy. No rookie starting quarterback has ever won the Super Bowl, and the No. 6 seed Patriots face a daunting path to reach the big game. It starts in Buffalo against the No. 3 seeded Bills, against who Jones has struggled in two starts, so Buffalo has the edge in the game.
But do the Patriots really need Jones to carry the load? Or do they just need him to be serviceable here? Eventually, they’ll need to get a strong game out of him or a clutch drive to win a championship, but as we saw in the Bills-Patriots game in Week 13 where Jones threw three passes, the Patriots can win with their rush offense and their rock-solid defense.
That will sound familiar to Patriots fans. That’s how Brady won his first championship — and maybe even championships — with New England. That will give Jones a blueprint to follow as he looks to take the Patriots back to the Super Bowl.
Here’s a look at Brady’s first playoff run and how Jones’ numbers compare to the ones Brady posted during his rookie season.
Tom Brady’s first playoff run with the Patriots
Brady won all three of his playoff starts during his first year as a starter. That included the team’s 20-17 upset victory over the Rams in Super Bowl 36, during which Brady led the team on a game-winning field goal drive despite the late, great John Madden famously proclaiming that he would play for overtime.
That drive — along with the famed “tuck rule” call — is Brady’s lasting memory from that postseason run. His main responsibility during that postseason was to avoid mistakes, which he largely managed to do, save for one interception.
Below is a look at Brady’s stats from that postseason:
Tom Brady (2001 postseason)
Yards per game
2 (1 pass, 1 rush)
Incredibly, Brady recorded 52 of his 97 total passing attempts in the first game against the Raiders. He also had more passing yards in that contest (315) than he did in the other two contests combined (260). That means he averaged just 130 passing yards per game in the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl.
The NFL was a bit less pass-happy back in 2001, but that is still an abnormally low number for a quarterback. Belichick simply opted to lean on the defense and running game to help carry the inexperienced Brady to a title.
Belichick will likely attempt to replicate that again in 2021 with Jones. Will Jones be able to do it? His numbers from 2021 suggest that he should have a chance to do so.
How Mac Jones’ 2021 stats compare to Tom Brady’s 2001 stats
All told, Jones’ rookie-year numbers are close to what Brady produced in his first year as a starter. Jones made 17 starts while Brady played in 15 games making 14 starts after Drew Bledsoe suffered a lung injury while playing against the Jets.
To compare the two as accurately as possible, we added the numbers from Brady’s three postseason starts to the ones he posted during the regular season. That gave us a 17-start sample size with which to compare him to Jones. We also could have extrapolated his numbers from a 14-game starting slate to a 17-gamer, but adding actual game results felt like the better record.
Here is how the two stack up after one season.
Yards per attempt
Jones is a bit more efficient, as evidenced by his advantage in terms of completion percentage and yards per attempt, but also has the edge in passing yards and passing touchdowns. Again, that’s partially due to the increased passing volume at the NFL level, but it speaks to the fact that Jones is managing the game effectively, much like Brady did when he was a first-year starter.
We’re not comparing Brady to Jones flat out. It wouldn’t be fair to say any rookie, no matter how good, is going to stack up against the greatest quarterback of all time long-term. However, we can say that his rookie-year numbers compare favorably to what Brady produced during his first Super Bowl run. So, if Belichick can get his defense and running game to perform at a high level this month, Jones should theoretically give the Patriots a chance to win.
That theory will be put to the test on wild-card weekend as the Patriots travel to Buffalo to take on the Bills.