A year after crashing out of the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, the Patriots are back in the tournament.
New England went 10–7 in the regular season, good enough for a wild card spot in a round matchup against Buffalo in the wild card round. The Patriots’ roster improvements in the off-season can be seen as a big reason for their one-year turnaround, with the most notable change coming to the quarterback. New England drafted Mack Jones in the first round and made him their starting quarterback just ahead of the regular season, cutting 2020 starter Cam Newton in the process.
Jones had a solid rookie season, clearly standing above his fellow first-round rookie quarterbacks. He led all rookies in passing yards (3,801), passing touchdowns (22), completion percentage (67.6), and passer rating (92.5), making him one of the two leading-runners to win Offensive Rookie of the Year Gave.
Despite the solid numbers though, recent history suggests that the Patriots season will end on Saturday. Since 2000, the rookie quarterback is 6-8 in his first playoff debut. It should be noted that four of those starts were made by rookies who replaced regular starting quarterbacks, which would adjust the record to 4–6 among rookie quarterbacks who were team starting quarterbacks during the regular season. .
The last rookie quarterback to start a playoff game was Lamar Jackson in 2018. The Ravens QB had a rough day at the office, completing just 14 of 29 passes for 194 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. When he ran for 54 yards, he was sacked seven times in a 23–17 wild card defeat.
Two years earlier, Duck Prescott, who won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016, also fell short in his first playoff debut. Prescott and the Cowboys’ offense fought for the first three quarters of their divisional round matchup against the Packers, scoring just 13 points while entering the fourth. Prescott changed that, however, allowing Dallas to score 18 points and level the game 31–31, with 35 seconds left. But it was too much time for Aaron Rodgers, who guided the Packers to a game-winning field goal. Despite the losing effort, Prescott’s final stat line looked good, completing 24 of 38 passes for 302 yards with three touchdowns and a pick.
In 2012 three rookie quarterbacks started the season after, with two going head-to-head against each other. Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin face off in the wild card round. Griffin led the Redskins to a touchdown on their first two drives, giving them a 14–0 lead. But after losing 24–14 after Griffin left the game with a knee injury in the fourth quarter, he did not score for the rest of the day. Griffin finished the day with only 84 passing yards.
Wilson was also not very influential. He completed 15 of 26 passes for 187 and added 67 yards to the ground.
In the AFC, Andrew Luck also welcomed a tough playoff. While he threw for 288 yards, it came on 54 passes as the Colts failed to reach the endzone in a 24–9 loss to the Ravens.
A year earlier, Andy Dalton helped the Bengals back into the playoffs as a rookie. He had a rough day’s playoff debut, completing 27 of 42 passes for 257 yards with three interceptions as the Bengals lost to the Texans, 31–10.
Mark Sanchez came into his playoff debut in 2009 with a win as a rookie, giving the Jets a 24–14 road win over the Bengals. Sanchez also managed to manage the game well. He completed 12 of 15 passes for 182 yards with a touchdown.
In 2008, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan made their playoff debuts as rookies with varying results. Flacco’s Ravens scored a road victory over the Dolphins despite completing only 9 of 23 passes for 135 yards. Ryan had a shaky day in his playoff debut, completing 26 of 40 passes for just 199 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions as the Falcons fell to the Cardinals, 30-24.
Ben Roethlisberger was the only non-injury replacement rookie to make a playoff debut in nearly 20 years in 2004. After helping the Steelers lead 15–1, Roethlisberger won against the Jets in the divisional round. But he didn’t do very well there, completing 17 of 30 passes from 181 yards with touchdowns and two interceptions as Pittsburgh needed overtime to win.
Just as many rookie performances in recent years don’t look pretty, the average stat line doesn’t look pretty either. The 10 aforementioned quarterbacks averaged 200.9 passing yards with 1.2 touchdown passes against 1.1 interceptions, which is good for an average passing rating of 79.3.
So, history says that Jones will have a bad day at the office but he can still win. However, playing on the road against the league’s top pass defense in freezing temperatures will certainly make things difficult for the Patriots and Jones early in the playoffs.
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