Before Tom Brady marched the Patriots into position for Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal against the Rams at the end of Super Bowl XXXVI, before anyone knew that a GOAT grazed inside him, the great John Madden suggested in the CBS booth that Bill Belichick play for overtime against the Greatest Show on Turf.
There will never be another Tom Brady.
But understand this: Brady, in his second season as starter, was not as advanced as Mac Jones is now.
“It might be blasphemous, but someone who wasn’t nearly to me what Mac Jones is right now,” NFL Network analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner told Serby Says, “just in terms of what they’re asking him to do, how they’re asking him to make plays, the amount of plays that they’re asking him to make.
“We played Tom Brady in the Super Bowl that year and I think he threw for like 150 yards maybe . … I think he had one touchdown pass [in the Super Bowl] throughout that playoff run to the Super Bowl. So he wasn’t being asked to do nearly as much as Mac Jones is doing, in my opinion. And that has to excite you.
“Now that doesn’t mean that Mac’s gonna progress like Tom Brady and be better than Tom Brady or anything, it’s just I think Mac is really ahead of his years in understanding how to play the position, and we’re seeing that, and we’re seeing his team be successful because of it.”
Jones does not have the arm talent of, say, Zach Wilson. And it doesn’t matter because he knows how to play the quarterback position.
“It’s always a relative term,” Warner said, “because a lot of people would say the same thing about me. If you looked at how far I could throw the ball, I would have been average. But, what separated me was — I still tell my son to this day — I could go out there and throw a ball up to 45 yards the same way I could throw the ball at 10 or 15 yards. And so in a game, you don’t need to throw the ball 70 yards. But you have to have the ability to put whatever you need on the ball to be able to make those big-time, second-level throws.
“Mac has shown me that he’s got the ability to make some of those big-time throws. I still want to see more. … I still want to be convinced that he can do those things from different platforms, and do it on a consistent basis. But there’s been some throws that I didn’t know he could make that I’ve seen him make when there’s other guys in the league that I would have said very similar things about them coming out of college, and I’m still sitting here going, ‘They’re still not making those throws that I just think they can make,’ or someone coming out kind of like, ‘I don’t know if they can make that throw, and they haven’t shown me that they can.’ Mac Jones is starting to show me that there’s some throws I wasn’t sure he could make that he’s making.”
Wilson will have to rein in the reckless Brett Favre in him when he returns from his knee injury Sunday in Houston.
“I think Zach is the opposite of Mac,” Warner said. “The arm talent isn’t gonna be an issue for him. He’s gonna be able to make all those kind of throws. But the problem is he’s not doing the other things — he’s not making the layups, he’s not seeing the field, he doesn’t always know exactly where his eyes should be. And so that’s what you get — you get a young guy or any quarterback that’ll make some plays for you and get you excited about their future, but there’s no consistency to it. And that’s going to be the thing for Zach: Can he get there? Can he learn how to play the game and play the position and know where to put his eyes, and how well can he do it?
“I believe there’s kind of a ratio that you have to have as a quarterback. So it’s everything from you have to be able to make the layups, and that means make the throws you’re supposed to make, make the reads you’re supposed to make, and if you do that almost every time, you’ll be a starting quarterback in the National Football League. And then there’s all the way up to the Patrick Mahomeses is that all these special throws, these crazy things, these things that only one guy can do, somewhere in there, starters have a ratio from making the layups to making the special plays, and that ratio has to be good enough between all of those things to determine whether you’re a starting quarterback, and how good of a starting quarterback you could be. Those guys that are on the lower end, that make the right plays, that make the layups, I look at them kind of like an Andy Dalton-type player. He’s gonna be successful, he’s going to win, he’s gonna get you to the playoffs, he’s a starting quarterback in the National Football League, but he certainly doesn’t have those other things, that’s probably as far as he’ll get you, he’ll need help from other people.
“Then you have the Patrick Mahomeses that can do all the special stuff, and he’s gonna win games for you with the special, and obviously he’s really good at the layups as well, and that’s why they’ve been in two Super Bowls. And all starting quarterbacks have to fall in that ratio somewhere, and what we’re trying to do as we determine who these guys are is we say, ‘OK, what is that number for you?’ And Zach Wilson right now has shown us, ‘Oh, he’s really good at this, at the special, but he doesn’t make nearly enough of the layups.’ And so right now when I watch him I say, ‘Well right now his ratio isn’t high enough to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League.’ Mac is because he’s making most of those layups, he’s making most of those good decisions and he’s making some of the special throws, and that puts him in that category. I think there’s some quarterbacks in the league that don’t do enough where I look at ‘em and go, ‘This guy shouldn’t be a starter.’
“And don’t get me wrong, that’s not saying Zach should be sitting on the bench, that simply means he’s not there yet where I say, ‘This team can build around,’ or, ‘This team can win because of Zach Wilson,’ because he’s not doing enough things within that ratio to say he’s at that position yet.”
Warner doesn’t believe in the word ceilings for quarterbacks.
“I’ve seen really good college players come into the NFL and five years into the NFL they’re the same guy they were when they got there,” he said. “Then we’ve seen guys like Tom Brady that seem to get better every year. And that doesn’t mean they can throw it farther, that doesn’t mean their feet are faster, they just learn the game, and they’re able to make more of those special throws. They’re able to see the field and get the ball out of their hands. I don’t know if you’re gonna be the guy that doesn’t get better or the guy that can get astronomically better every single year and be great.
“What Mac Jones is doing right now is ahead of the game. And If Mac Jones does this the rest of his career, he will have a very successful NFL career. … He will be a guy that goes to the playoffs a lot in my opinion, and it’s still yet to be determined if he can be a championship quarterback. I have seen enough if he doesn’t get any better to say he will survive in this league for a long time. If he’s able to continue to grow and get better, I would think on the horizon you would say you’ve got a quarterback that can compete for championships.”
ESPN NFL front-office insider Mike Tannenbaum got to evaluate Jones at the Senior Bowl.
“I thought he was a young Matt Ryan,” Tannenbaum said. “He could make all the throws. His athleticism is underrated. He’s accurate, throws with great anticipation, incredibly smart, natural leader … and I think sometimes in the draft process we overthink things, but he was a really good player on a really good [Alabama] team. He has impeccable character, and he’s gonna continue to be a really good pro.”
Brady’s 2001 regular season ended with 18 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 63.9 completion percentage. Jones has 14 TDs, eight INTs and a 70.2 completion percentage. Brady, of course, was a sixth-round pick. Jones was the 15th-overall pick.
“It’s a little bit different because obviously the expectations as a sixth-rounder were different,” Tannenbaum said. “The thing that caught my eye about Brady was Coach Belichick his first year  kept four quarterbacks on the active roster, which is like really rare. So to Bill’s credit, not only did he draft him, but I think somewhat of an undertold story about Tom Brady and the Patriots was the fact that his rookie year, he was kept on the active roster.
“I think Mac Jones pushes the ball down the field more than Tom Brady did obviously early in his career.”
Should Jones have gone higher than 15? The 49ers, remember, debated between him and Trey Lance.
“As I said in my draft coverage for ESPN, he was the guy that I was taking third overall,,” Tannenbaum said.
The Jets picked Wilson with the second-overall pick.
“I was intrigued by his upside,” Tannenbaum said, “but I could understand why a team would take Mac Jones before him.”
What would the former Jets GM have done at No. 2?
“I would have drilled down further just to make sure I had all the information,” Tannenbaum said. “It was really close to me between Zach Wilson and Mac Jones. It was kind of a coin toss. I had the benefit of spending a week with Mac Jones, and I saw firsthand how good he was.
“I thought he was gonna be a more athletic Matt Ryan.”
He looks the part of a Bill Belichick quarterback, in so many ways. He talks like a Bill Belichick quarterback. Incredibly enough, you cannot rule out Mac Jones taking Belichick to a dream Super Bowl showdown against Tom Brady.