Two starts, two victories.
The New England Patriots did not enter the regular season expecting Bailey Zappe to see any significant playing time. The third quarterback on the depth chart, the rookie was supposed to sit and learn behind starter Mac Jones and veteran Brian Hoyer.
However, Jones suffering an ankle injury and Hoyer sustaining a concussion changed the trajectory of his rookie season. The rookie quarterback has responded well, though, with Sunday’s 38-15 victory over the Cleveland Browns being more of the same for the fourth-round draft pick.
Zappe took care of the football, and showed that the spotlight was not too bright for him — something that was noticed by his teammates as well.
“A lot of poise, a lot of composure,” said center David Andrews after the game. “Having a lot of fun out there. I think he’s done a really good job for us, and doing what he’s being asked to do.”
While Mac Jones is trending in the right direction and might return to the starting lineup as early as next week against the Chicago Bears, Zappe has held down the fort well. After helping the Patriots beat the Detroit Lions 29-0 in his starting debut last week, he also looked generally comfortable against Cleveland.
Despite starting on the road for the first time in his young career, Zappe ended up completing 24 of 34 pass attempts for 309 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Bailey, he’s a great player,” said running back Rhamondre Stevenson. “He’s doing his best out there. I think everybody can see that he’s completing passes and just doing what the coaches are asking him to. I’m proud of that kid.”
Stevenson caught four of Zappe’s passes on Sunday for a total of 15 yards. Jonnu Smith, meanwhile, was on the receiving end of two throws for a combined 61.
“He’s making a ton of improvement,” the tight end said post-game. “The guy back there just looks comfortable, like he’s really settling in, really figuring it out. He knows that he’s got a lot to improve on, as we all do, and I think just from him having that mindset he’ll continue to make a lot of strides. So, hats off to him. He’s come in the last couple of weeks and been doing a hell of a job. Couldn’t be more proud of him. He’s playing his ass off.”
Cornerback Jalen Mills also echoed those remarks.
“A young guy who’s out there doing exactly what coaches are asking him to do,” Mills said about him. “Whether it’s run or pass, he’s making his right checks. I know Mac and Hoy, they’re doing a good job as far as helping him as well. So, I think there’s a growth with the young guys. They’re getting better every day.”
As for Zappe himself, he showered his teammates with praise after the offense put up a season-high 38 points. Besides his own two scoring passes to Hunter Henry and Tyquan Thornton, Stevenson found the end zone twice with fellow rookie Thornton also scoring on a run play.
Not only did his support structure work well on the field, though, but off it as well. As Zappe pointed out following the game, the help he has received has been vital to his success since moving up into the starting lineup.
“My teammates, my coaches, they’ve definitely supported me, helped me a lot, answered the questions that I’ve had on the sidelines, kept me calm on the field as far as teammates,” Zappe said. “And when you have guys like we have on the offensive side, it’s very easy.”
For all the success Zappe has recently had, the Patriots are making sure he will not get complacent. Head coach Bill Belichick is setting the tone, and his players are following suit.
Just look at Jonnu Smith.
“He’s still a rookie, so we definitely are going to sit here and say, ‘Zappe the GOAT,’” Smith said on Sunday with a smile. “But he definitely has impressed. Like I said, just looking comfortable.”