The 2022 season brought immense frustration to New England, where a promising offense skidded to a halt in a trying campaign.
As quarterback Mac Jones sees it, such frustration is now behind the Patriots. A change in coaching and the passage of time have given everyone a chance to repair any internal fissures, and reason to feel confident 2023 will not be a repeat performance.
"No, I think we're good," Jones said on Wednesday when asked about his relationship with coach Bill Belichick, per the team transcript. "I think the biggest thing that we've all talked about is just having a fresh start. I think there's a lot of learning experiences from last year that we've talked about and this year, it's all about just working together, right? You've got to come up with a plan, obviously talk about it, and then execute it. So, I'm excited for that part of it. For me, I'm just trying to be really consistent, try not to ride the wave, just stay my course and hopefully, everybody on our offense feels that, too. I think Coach O'Brien does a great job laying out what we do well so far, and we're going to learn every day what we do well and then from there, you just keep moving forward and execute the plan. So, I'm definitely excited for that.
New England's 8-9 finish revealed a clear need for better direction offensively. One year after Jones surprised the NFL by succeeding as a rookie, the Patriots finished 26th in total offense and 27th in third-down conversion rate. Jones would often return to the sideline visibly (and understandably) dismayed by New England's inability to convert, and by the end of the season, it was clear the Patriots needed to move in a new direction offensively.
Belichick called up an old friend, O'Brien, the former Patriots offensive coordinator and Texans coach, and brought him back to New England. Belichick has also taken an active role in helping Jones develop intellectually. So far, the move is paying off.
"I think he's done a great job," Jones said of Belichick. "I think at the end of the day, he does a great job explaining defenses and all those things that can help a quarterback, especially in the red zone because it's a little bit tighter down there. But, yeah, I think (O'Brien) does a great job, as well, just explaining everything, and (assistant quarterbacks coach) Evan (Rothstein), so it's kind of those three guys that you can lean on. Obviously the players, too, right? You can ask the players questions, and I think it's great that our defense is really good. It makes it hard. It's going to be a great camp because we're going to go back and forth, hopefully, and just battle with each other."
After such a dreadful 2022 season, the bar for notable improvement isn't too high. With an experienced play-caller in O'Brien now in charge, the Patriots should be better. And if their production exceeds that mark, Jones might take the next step or two most expected from him a year ago.
"I think every season, right, regardless of what sport you're playing, what you're doing or your job, you're trying to become better at what you do," Jones explained. "For me, it's just a lot of listening, taking everything in and really just working hard. I'm just trying to try new things in the offseason, but once I come out here and once we come out here as a team, at the end of the day you're running through these plays trying to just get a feel for them. You're obviously going to try some new things, but you want to come out and play free. That's the biggest thing, is don't overthink anything and just go out there and play the game that we know."
With six Super Bowls to his name, Belichick has peak job security. But one playoff appearance in the three years since Tom Brady's departure is subpar compared to the Patriots' standards, so the time is now to show they can be more than a middling franchise in this post-Brady era.
Jones, Belichick and O'Brien have begun the work toward proving New England can again be a home to a contender.