A pair of championship-winning quarterbacks from Alabama will meet for the first time on an NFL field as Mac Jones and the New England Patriots play host to Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins in the season opener for both teams on Sunday afternoon.
Jones, who was selected at No. 15 overall by the Patriots in this year’s draft, is set to make his NFL debut after guiding the Crimson Tide to their 18th national title in a 52-24 rout of Ohio State a season ago.
To get the starting job in New England, the 23-year-old beat out former NFL MVP Cam Newton, whom the Patriots released Aug. 31.
Tagovailoa is entering his second NFL season after being drafted No. 5 overall in 2020. He started nine of his 10 games for the Dolphins as a rookie last season. As a freshman at Alabama in 2017, Tagovailoa helped lead the Crimson Tide to a national championship with a 26-23 overtime victory against Georgia.
Jones and Tagovailoa were teammates at Alabama during the 2019 season. A then-junior Tagovailoa began the year as the starter before a season-ending hip injury made Jones the starter.
“Tua’s an awesome guy. He’s really a good, talented football player,” Jones told Boston radio station WEEI about his Week 1 matchup. “Learning from him and (Eagles quarterback) Jalen (Hurts) was great, obviously. Now that we’re all getting a chance here in the NFL, I think it’ll be cool to go up against each other.”
Jones will be surrounded be a revamped offense after the Patriots finished 7-9 last season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
The Patriots reloaded this offseason with the signings of tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and the re-acquisition of Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Brown.
Henry, who missed time during the preseason with a shoulder injury, said he expects to play on Sunday.
New England’s defense will also get a boost from returning two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who opted out of the 2020 season, as well as linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who re-signed with the Patriots after being cut by the Dolphins in March. The Patriots also brought in two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Matt Judon to bolster their front seven.
Tagovailoa will look to build on an up-and-down rookie campaign in which he threw for 1,814 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Miami narrowly missed the playoffs, going 10-6 under second-year coach and former Patriots assistant Brian Flores.
“Good fundamentals, good technique, good communication, good decisions, and that he has fun playing his game that he loves to play,” Flores said when asked about his second-year expectations for Tagovailoa. “I love coaching football. I’m going to be having fun on Sunday.”
Flores said the Dolphins are preparing to be without tackle Austin Jackson and tight end Adam Shaheen on Sunday. Both are currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
The game will feature the reunion of the McCourty brothers – Devin and Jason – who will be on opposite sidelines after spending the past three seasons together in New England. Jason McCourty was voted a team captain in his first season with Miami while Devin McCourty was named a captain in New England for the 11th time.
Agholor (ankle) was one of three Patriots players listed as limited in Wednesday’s practice report. Tackle Yodny Cajuste (hamstring) and safety Jalen Mills (ankle) also were limited. Miami tackle Liam Eichenberg (thigh) and wide receiver Preston Williams (foot) were limited participants for the Dolphins.
–Field Level Media
–Field Level Media