Quarterback Mac Jones didn’t make very many mistakes in New England’s 25-0 victory over Atlanta last Thursday. But one of them was the interception he threw to Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell midway through the third quarter.
There’s an argument to be made that Jones could have compounded the problem when he ended up tackling Terrell after a 35-yard return at Atlanta’s 48-yard line. After all, lowering a shoulder clearly exposes a quarterback to potential injury.
Jones was fine after the play. And the Falcons didn’t end up scoring when New England’s defense got a stop on fourth-and-1.
But part of the issue with the interception is that if Jones didn’t intervene, Terrell could have returned the ball for six. At that point New England was up 13-0, so a touchdown could’ve strongly changed the course of the contest.
That’s part of why offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on Monday that he liked the way Jones handled himself in that situation.
“You would like to never have your quarterback make a tackle,” McDaniels said, via Mike Reiss of ESPN. “But I think that kind of speaks to one, his awareness of what is happening on the play, and then his competitiveness to do the right thing. Sometimes you throw an interception and you can recognize quickly that the play is not going to go very far. And you just try to protect yourself and protect the team and do it. And then there’s other times, where if you don’t make the tackle, this could change the game. I think that we saw that play had the potential to be a play that would affect the score, certainly. And maybe the momentum, for sure, in the game.
“So, give him a lot of credit. He’s a tough kid. Obviously, you don’t want your quarterback to have to do much of that during the course of the year, but if it’s needed and required, that’s why we wear shoulder pads, that’s why we have a helmet on, and that’s why we lift weights. The credit goes to him for understanding the situation and then doing the right thing.”
Jones’ tackle comes in obvious contrast to Denver quarterback Teddy Bridgewater eschewing tackling cornerback Darius Slay on a fumble return a few weeks ago. While Bridgewater admitted he didn’t like watching the film of that play and said he should’ve given better effort, Browns QB Baker Mayfield is a perfect counterexample. He tackled a defender after an interception in Week Two and has been fighting through a shoulder injury — just one of his several ailments — ever since.
Sometimes it may make sense to have a quarterback step in the way of a defender after a turnover. But even if the end result is positive, as it was with Jones, QBs are almost always better off getting out of Dodge when the ball is going the other way.