Will Patriots bounce back against Bills, thanks to Mac Jones' improved play?

Quarterback Mac Jones threw for a career-high 382 passing yards in the New England Patriots' 33-26 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving. Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Return of Mac: It was late Thursday night in a quiet Patriots locker room, and receiver Jakobi Meyers relayed why the team’s 33-26 loss to the Minnesota Vikings provided a mixture of pain and hope.

“The ones where you feel like you played well hurt the most. We know we didn’t do everything perfect, but we all played our hearts out. I feel like we all played tough, played together,” he said.

“That stings a little bit more when it doesn’t necessarily go your way. But we have a good locker room, good vets, good guys on the team. I feel like we’ll bounce back”

The play of quarterback Mac Jones, perhaps more than anyone else, is reason to believe a bounce-back is possible as the Patriots quickly transition to preparations for Thursday’s home game against the Buffalo Bills (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video).

For the first time this season, he looked like the 2021 version of Mac Jones.

“I think he played really well,” Meyers said. “It was a loud environment, a hard place to play. But also a great place to play. I feel like he did a really good job commanding the huddle, commanding the offense.”

Jones’ 382 passing yards established a career high and showed the potential of the passing game when he’s given time in the pocket.

His first seven throws of 10-plus yards downfield were completed. In all, he was 9 of 12 for 220 yards and two touchdowns on passes of 10-plus air yards, which tied his most such completions and passing touchdowns on those throws.

“I didn’t feel pressure at all, hardly. They did a great job,” Jones said of the offensive line. “If we can just continue to do that, then I think a lot of things will go our way.”

Jones liked the attitude, effort and toughness with which the offense played, while also lamenting missed opportunities (0-for-3 in the red zone, 3-of-10 on third down) and a fourth-quarter fade.

“The result wasn’t what we wanted, but I think there were some good things there,” he said.

Quarterbacks coach Joe Judge added that the raucous environment tested the offense and felt the way Jones & Co. responded to that “was a step in the right direction and showed the maturity of the [unit] start to take place.”

Specific to Jones, he said: “Mac played the other day the way he prepared. He had a really good week of preparation and it showed up in how he performed.”

2. Harris on crutches: Running back Damien Harris was on crutches in the locker room Thursday night after being knocked out of the game with a thigh injury. That puts his status in doubt for this Thursday’s game against a Bills team that has shown vulnerability against the run at times. The last time the Patriots were in a similar situation this season, they turned to J.J. Taylor -- not rookies Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris -- as the top backup to Rhamondre Stevenson (68.4% playing time on the season).

3. Meyers’ injury: Meyers played a season-low 16 snaps Thursday night after injuring his right shoulder on the team’s first offensive play -- a diving 26-yard catch. He initially went to the pop-up medical tent on the sideline before retreating to the locker room for further evaluation.

“Just landed in a weird position, had my arm trapped a little bit,” he explained. “I started to feel better throughout the game, so they gave me the green light to go back. I appreciate them for that. When anything threatens your job, you kind of go into a little bit of shock mode, but I have good teammates and coaches who rallied around me and kept me calm.”

As for if the injury might affect him in the weeks to come, he said simply: “I haven’t heard otherwise. They will have to sit me down for me not to go.”

4. 'Same story’ in red zone: The Patriots have advanced inside the red zone 31 times this season and scored just 12 touchdowns. Entering Week 12 games, only the Broncos have a lower touchdown percentage. Mac Jones noted it’s “the same story” after Thursday’s 0-for-3 performance -- an ill-fated reverse that went for minus-5 yards hurt the cause -- with tight end Hunter Henry adding: “We did some things better than we have been, but still in the end, made some crucial mistakes.” It’s hard to imagine the Patriots making a legitimate postseason push without improvement in that area.

5. Where’s Phillips?: Whenever veteran safety Adrian Phillips is on the field, good things usually seem to happen. So his reduction in playing time the past two games -- 62 of 119 snaps played -- has stood out. The Patriots have integrated Jabrill Peppers into the mix a bit more in his place, but after Peppers seemed to be at the heart of a miscommunication that resulted in Adam Thielen’s 15-yard touchdown catch on Thursday night, it bears watching to see if the timeshare continues this week.

6. Judon neutralized: Linebacker Matthew Judon was held without a sack Thursday night -- just the third time that’s happened this season. Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell said that was a top priority for his team, which “used a lot of different techniques on the edges to try to condense the rush.” That included lining up running back Dalvin Cook across from Judon on one play -- and having him chip -- a page right out of the New England playbook.

7. Kemp’s crew: Alex Kemp’s refereeing crew led the NFL in most penalties called per game leading into Thursday’s Patriots-Vikings game (an average of 18.4 through Week 8). But the crew dramatically reversed its tendencies on Thursday, calling just nine overall -- six on the Patriots (55 yards) and three on the Vikings (20 yards). That isn’t usually a worthy note to highlight, but there were a handful of egregious misses that had a significant impact, most notably Patriots safety Kyle Dugger clearly held at the point of attack on a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

8. Kickoff specialist: Would coach Bill Belichick consider elevating kicker Tristan Vizcaino from the practice squad as a kickoff specialist? It might be a luxury he can’t afford, but it’s worthy of consideration as the team transitions for a third straight game without the injured Jake Bailey. Of seven kickoffs by veteran Nick Folk inside U.S. Bank Stadium on Thursday night, only two carried into the end zone. When Vizcaino kicked off for the Cardinals in Week 10, five of his six found the end zone.

9. Thankful Belichick: On Thanksgiving weekend, Belichick shared what he’s thankful for in a pregame interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub, saying: “Everything, really. Just the opportunity to have a great family, to be the coach of the New England Patriots, to be in New England -- and have so many great players, coaches and staff people with me to help us do our jobs. Living the dream.”

10. Did You Know: On Thursday night against the Bills, Safety Devin McCourty is set to start his 200th career game, which ranks third in Patriots history behind quarterback Tom Brady (283) and offensive tackle Bruce Armstrong (212). Only 89 NFL players have started 200 games, and only 23 have started 200 games with one team.