After throwing his first NFL touchdown, Mac Jones hurried toward his spot on the bench while accepting a row of high-fives from his teammates. The most zealous among them was Cam Newton, who trailed the rookie down the sideline before finally getting his attention and offering a pronounced slap on the hand and tap on the helmet.
"I didn't hear him or see him and then I was like, Oh, my bad," Jones recalled afterward. "But that's Cam for you: He's happy and he's a great teammate. So I'm happy to be in the same room as him and just learn from him because he's a great dude."
The former MVP was sincerely proud of his future successor. Jones' latest showing, however, only seemed to pull that future closer to the present.
Following the Patriots' 22-20 win over the Giants on Sunday, coach Bill Belichick said he has yet to determine who'll be his starting quarterback for Week 1 against the Dolphins.
"No, we still have a lot of decisions to make," he told reporters.
Belichick still has two weeks to decide. The past three have given him a lot to consider. Jones closed out the preseason with perhaps his best performance yet, connecting on a host of downfield throws while leading three scoring drives against New York.
The No. 15 pick of the 2021 draft continued a trend of moving the offense the moment he takes the field. The difference this time was that he was directly responsible for a scoring play.
Jones, victimized by a couple drops near the end zone in previous weeks, delivered a dart to Isaiah Zuber in stride for a 17-yard touchdown. He'd also complete passes of 21, 19, 27 and 30 yards while going 10 of 14 for 156 yards and a 131.8 passer rating. His lone blemish was taking four sacks, which he later admitted were partly a product of him holding onto the ball too long.
Over three preseason games, Jones completed 69 percent of his throws for 389 yards and was sacked five times. The numbers are not comparable to those of Newton (14-21, 162 yards, 1 TD, 0 sacks), who started each game this August but played significantly less.
The veteran led just two drives Sunday, this after missing five days with the team because of a "misunderstanding" with COVID-19 protocols. He opted for short throws before unleashing a perfect deep ball to Jakobi Meyers that was initially hauled in but then stripped away by linebacker Blake Martinez.
It was the first turnover for either QB this preseason. It was also Newton's final snap of the night. He finished 2 of 5 for 10 yards.
Now, he and his neophyte counterpart wait to find out who's QB1 to open the season. Jones was asked during his postgame press conference whether he felt like he's played well enough to win that job. His answer made it clear that he's trying not to look too far ahead or behind.
"I've gotten a lot opportunities to play and I can improve on everything that I want to improve on," Jones said. "I think I've made progress. But honestly it's just the only thing that matters is today, and then tomorrow I'll focus on tomorrow. But I think the past is the past, and we're kind of moving on to the new season here."