Mac Jones' floundering play to open the 2023 season sunk low in Week 4, leading Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to yank the starting quarterback from a no-win situation in the third quarter of the 38-3 blowout in Dallas.
The question is whether last week was rock bottom or if there are still depths of despair to reach.
Despite Jones playing his worst game of the season -- 150 passing yards, two interceptions, with two of his three turnovers turning into touchdowns for Dallas -- the staff has stuck by the starter. Offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien insisted Tuesday that Sunday's Jones wasn't the real Mac.
"Some of the decisions that he made were very uncharacteristic of Mac," O'Brien said, via ESPN. "He's just trying to make a play, he's wanting to win, he's very competitive. I think you'll see a lot of improvement in Mac as we keep moving forward here."
In the most lopsided loss of Belichick's 29-year head coaching career, Jones generated a 39.9 passer rating, the third-lowest of his career -- behind last year's horrific loss to Chicago (16.7), during which he was benched after six pass attempts, and Week 15, 2021 in a loss to Buffalo (31.4).
O'Brien said the coaching staff bears some of the blame for Jones' early-season struggles.
"Mac is a battler," O'Brien said. "He is a competitor. When you play quarterback in this league, you have to limit the mistakes and you have to limit the bad games you have, obviously. We have to do a better job of coaching up some things with him. He has to do a better job of making good decisions for us. He knows that. He takes a lot of ownership -- you saw that, I think, after the game. He blames himself.
"The game wasn't lost because of one guy. The game was lost, on our part, because of how poorly we played and coached in the game. ... We have a lot of belief in Mac; I think he'll get back to doing it the way he knows how to do it."
The offensive line has done Jones no favors, and the running game is nearly non-existent, with their 3.4 yards per carry through Week 4 ranking 28th in the NFL.
Yet it was more than that on Sunday. Yes, the Cowboys brought consistent heat, but Jones fled several solid pockets, a clear sign of a QB not trusting his blocking to hold up. The mind-numbing decisions have mounted by the week, and there is no semblance of calmness in the pocket, confidence in letting it rip, or rhythm to the game for Jones.
Then there were the silly throws back across the field from the far hash Sunday. One he got away with, but then tried to go back to the well and threw a pick-six that essentially iced the game before halftime. Jones isn't Josh Allen. O'Brien doesn't need him to be.
"You always have to play mentally within yourself," the OC said. "It doesn't mean that you can't take calculated risks; it just means that you have to do a really good job of making sure that you understand what we're trying to do on every play and executing that play to the best of your ability at a high level, and take what the defense gives you.
"I would say, for the most part, Mac does that. We're going to work really hard this week to improve some things."
The Saints defense Jones faces in Week 5 is no walk in the park either. New Orleans just had its 11-game streak of allowing 20 points or fewer broken last week.