Mac Jones hits rough stretch with Patriots battling for playoff position

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quarterback Mac Jones' rookie growing pains are showing up at a tough time for the New England Patriots.

Jones finished 14-of-32 for 145 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions in Sunday's 33-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots have sputtered in each of the last two weeks since their bye, with Jones failing to find the rhythm he had exhibited more consistently during the team's prior seven-game win streak.

"There's no excuses, and there's really nothing to talk about. I didn't play great," said Jones, who finished with a 31.4 passer rating, easily his lowest of the season (55.2 vs. the Saints in Week 3 was his previous low). "I can play better and I can lead a lot better. It starts with me."

Jones entered the day having completed 69% of his passes on the season. His 43.7% on Sunday was his lowest completion percentage of the year (51.4% vs. Chargers on Oct. 31 was his previous low), and now he looks to rebound next Sunday against No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Having grown up in Jacksonville, and playing in college at Alabama, Jones is experiencing colder weather conditions than he's accustomed to, but he said that has nothing to do with his recent struggles.

"I think it just goes back to execution, throwing it to the right guy, regardless of the weather," he said. "I'm still learning, obviously. The accuracy needs to improve."

Last week, as shown on HBO’s "Hard Knocks", Indianapolis Colts coaches made it a point to put the game in Jones' hands and see how he would respond. The Bills, while failing to shut down the Patriots' rushing attack as effectively as the Colts did, did something similar by getting out to an early lead and forcing Jones into more passing situations.

Deception was a big part of the approach that Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier employed, with a focus on tight end Hunter Henry.

"Coach Frazier and [head coach] Sean [McDermott] made a helluva game plan," safety Jordan Poyer said. "The ability for them to just keep turning the dial on our calls, and keep mixing it up, showing him different looks, and trying to confuse him on our back end as much as possible. We knew [Henry] was a top target, knew that Mac liked to get him the football, and forcing Mac to look elsewhere."

The game turned in the second quarter, when the Bills scored 10 unanswered points to break a 7-7 tie. Jones was 2-of-9 for 20 yards and an interception in the quarter.

Further disappointment for Jones came when he was yanked down by Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes on a 7-yard run along the Buffalo sideline, a play that was initially penalized for unnecessary roughness before referee Shawn Smith picked up the flag.

"What we ruled was, we had contact on the sideline," Smith said in a pool report. "And after discussion, we determined that it was incidental contact that didn't rise to a level of a personal foul. There was no second act by the defender in that situation, so we determined there was no foul, based on that action."

That could have given the Patriots, who were trailing 17-7, the ball at the Bills' 37-yard line with 1:22 remaining until halftime. Instead, Patriots right tackle Trent Brown was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct before the next snap, pushing the Patriots back to their own 32.

That was a costly swing of 31 yards, although given the inconsistent performance of the Patriots, it's hard to definitively say it would have made a major difference. The Patriots aren't stringing enough positive plays together.

Henry had said after last week's loss that it's easy to forget Jones is a rookie, and center David Andrews made it a point to note that the team's struggles don’t fall solely on him.

"He's very tough for us. He does a great job of standing in there," Andrews said. "We just have to do better for him, and we all have to do better for each other."