FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots couldn't have asked for a better start Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. They forced a quick three-and-out on defense before ripping off a 7-yard run on their first offensive play.
Things were promising, and then...
It was almost as if quarterback Mac Jones and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels forgot to "ignore the noise," which is one of coach Bill Belichick's favorite sayings for his team.
After being questioned over the past week by reporters about the lack of deep-ball passing, it almost seemed like they were determined to challenge the external narrative that the Patriots couldn't effectively do it.
Jones threw two deep incompletions that, even if they were the correct reads, never had a chance based on ball placement. The Patriots punted. Things veered off course quickly after that, the run was never established and Jones ultimately attempted 51 passes against just 17 runs in a 28-13 loss.
The disappointing turn highlighted how Jones was consistently throwing down the field Sunday with minimal success.
He finished 3-of-19 with a touchdown and two interceptions on throws at least 15 yards down the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information, which ties for the second most deep incompletions (16) by a quarterback in any game over the past 15 seasons.
Some of that was a result of late-game throws with the outcome essentially decided and the Saints knowing what was coming. But the two early misses ultimately were the first decisive turning point of a disappointing day as the Saints took over, scored a touchdown and never trailed again.
"It's more about us and me just executing our plays. I can do a better job of that," said Jones, who took 11 hits as the protection in front of him was shaky at times. "I don't like to assume anything. I just like to watch the tape and look at it from a bird's-eye view and don't be emotional about it. I'm sure there's plays I left on the field. I know there are. We can all play better together, and we will."
Jones' confidence that things will turn around is admirable, but as safety Devin McCourty relayed after the game, the message in the locker room from special-teams captain Matthew Slater is that the time for talk is over.
"Slate kind of told the team that it's coming down to the point in the season, like, you've got to do it," McCourty said. "We talk about a lot of different things each week, we kind of live off what the Patriots have done in the past ... but for this team, we've got to stop talking about it and get it done. Obviously we have a huge test Sunday coming in. Tampa will be ready to go."
The Buccaneers (2-1) are coming off a 34-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, and one of the obvious questions for the Patriots (1-2) is how they can keep pace with quarterback Tom Brady (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC). The Buccaneers are averaging 34.4 points per game, while the Jones-led Patriots are at 18.
The Patriots will need to play their best complementary game to have a chance, which means the defense will need to rise up in critical moments unlike the struggles at the end of losses to the Miami Dolphins and the Saints, and the special teams will need to tighten things up after having a punt blocked, hitting a kickoff out of bounds and totaling two touchbacks.
"There's no magic sauce here," Belichick said. "Just have to go back to work and do better."