Forget the Chicago Bears, welcome to “Mac Jones vs. Bailey Zappe” week! The New England Patriots’ QB speculation circus is sure to get full national attention leading up to Monday night’s matchup at Gillette Stadium.
This will be New England’s first prime-time game of the season and there is no shortage of storylines to hype. Top them all off with Bill Belichick’s opportunity to take sole possession of second place, with 325 all-time career wins. A win over the Bears would break his current tie with none other than Chicago Bears founder and owner, George Halas. The timing is uncanny.
Josh Shrock of NBC Sports Chicago isn’t sounding too confident for his team’s chances:
“Bill Belichick’s defense dismantled the Browns and now faces a Bears team with turnstiles taking up three-fifths of the line. Best of luck, Justin Fields.”
Pats fans feel his pain. The team certainly has fielded it’s share of O-linemen fitting that description over the years. Fortunately for New England the line has been fairly solid this year — penalties notwithstanding. Can’t matriculate the ball down the field if you keep jumping offsides for five yards a pop or getting your dwindling supply of backup quarterbacks crushed or concussed.
So far the Bailey Zappe-led Patriots have beaten “the hapless Lions” and “just the Browns.” I’m predicting New England will add “the lowly Bears” to their current win streak — led by Mac Jones if he’s ready to go or Bailey Zappe if he isn’t. Simple as that. The early line has the home-team Patriots favored by 7.5 points. I think they will win by at least 10.
Around the AFC East:
Buffalo Bills (5-1) - Bye week
New York Jets (4-2) at Denver Broncos (2-4)
Miami Dolphins (3-3) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4)
New England Patriots (3-3) vs. Chicago Bears (2-4)
Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) at San Francisco 49ers (3-3)
Los Angeles Chargers (4-2) vs Seattle Seahawks (3-3)
Tennessee Titans (3-2) vs. Indianapolis Colts (3-2-1)
Baltimore Ravens (3-3) vs. Cleveland Browns (2-4)
Cincinnati Bengals (3-3) vs. Atlanta Falcons (3-3)
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4) vs. New York Giants (5-1)
Houston Texans (1-3-1) at Las Vegas Raiders (1-4)
11th - Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): They seemed to have worked out the issues on offense, as they have won two straight. They can run the football, while the defense is improving. [+6]
11th - Nate Davis (USA Today): Rookie QB Bailey Zappe’s role in the offense has grown by the week – to the point it seems like hardly a given Mac Jones (ankle) will immediately get the job back even when he’s healthy enough to play. [+4]
11th - Bo Wulf (The Athletic): The Patriots’ win in Cleveland was one of the most impressive of the week. In what was supposed to be a battle of two of the league’s best traditional rushing attacks, Bailey Zappe threw for 309 yards on 24-of-34 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. And they held Nick Chubb & Co. to a net of just 70 rushing yards.
After Cooper Rush’s loss on Sunday night and P.J. Walker’s loss in Los Angeles, Zappe’s 2-0 record is one game shy of the most wins for a quarterback in an undefeated career as a starter. The 3-0 record belongs to Ed Rubbert, who went undefeated in three games as a replacement player for Washington in 1987. [+7]
11th - Trevor Land (FlurrySports). [+5]
12th - Bryan Fischer (Athlon Sports): The legend of Bailey Zappe continues to grow and at this point, you might take the chatter about there being a quarterback controversy in New England far more seriously than a place like Dallas. Setting that aside, Bill Belichick has to take extra pleasure in thumping the Browns and seeing his defense once again show week-over-week improvement (and definitely won’t celebrate tying George Halas on the wins list). [+2]
13th - Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk): Just as the leaves fall from the trees, the Patriots climb it. [+3]
13th - Ryan Dunleavy (NY Post). [+5]
15th - NFL Nation (ESPN): The hesitance at the start of the season was that the offense, led by coaches Matt Patricia and Joe Judge whose primary experience had been on defense and special teams, would be an Achilles’ heel. Instead, the coaches have been instrumental in getting rookie QB Bailey Zappe up to speed in an emergency situation. Zappe is 2-0 as a starter, and in just over 11 quarters is 51-of-70 for 596 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception. [+4]
14th - Doug Farrar (TouchdownWire): Bill Belichick tied George Halas, trailing only Don Shula, for the most wins by any pro football head coach in history when the Patriots thwacked the Browns, 38-15. Moreover, Belichick has put another stellar defense on the field — and this is the same defense we all said had no cornerbacks before the season began. On offense, Mac Jones’ ankle injury has allowed the Patriots to unleash rookie fourth-round pick Bailey Zappe from Western Kentucky. Zappe put up video game numbers in college, but was thought to be a noodle-armed spread quarterback. It wasn’t really true in college (he threw 17 touchdowns of 20 or more air yards in 2021), and it isn’t true at the NFL level. Zappe completed both of his deep attempts for 50 yards against the Browns, and he made several tight-window throws downfield. [+2]
16th - Karen Guregian (Boston Herald): The Pats are poised to rack up some wins during the upcoming stretch on the schedule. The only question now is whether Bailey Zappe will continue to lead them, or if Bill Belichick gives the ball back to Mac Jones when he’s healthy. [+3]
16th - Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News): The Patriots’ defense has assembled the ideal places on every level for Bill Belichick and per usual, they improve with each game. The running game has been great with Rhamondre Stevenson in the lead, but it’s really the QB play of Bailey Zappe that has sparked them back into wild-card contention. [+1]
16th - Consensus (Bleacher Report): You cannot stop Bailey Zappe. You can only hope to contain him.
One week after shutting out the Detroit Lions in his first NFL start, Zappe looked that much better in blowing out the Cleveland Browns—24 completions in 34 attempts for 309 yards and a pair of second-half touchdowns. After the game, head coach Bill Belichick was effusive in his praise of Zappe while speaking to reporters. “He has pretty good instincts, but again, there’s a lot for him to learn,” Belichick said. “He saw some things today and he learned from them, he was able to take advantage and make a couple plays, so it was a solid performance.” What? That’s effusive for Belichick. Zappe also became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win his first two starts and post a passer rating north of 100 in both games. [+4]
16th - Matt Johnson (SportsNaut): We’re not ready to suggest that there is a quarterback controversy, but Bailey Zappe is making fans forget about Mac Jones right now. For all of the criticism Belichick has received for his draft selections in recent years, some of it deserved, the 2021 (Rhamondre Stevenson, Christian Barmore) and 2022 draft classes (Zappe, Cole Strange, Jack Jones) are some of the biggest reasons for New England’s turnaround. [+5]
17th - Dan Hanzus (NFL.com): Forget any contrived talk of a quarterback controversy. Mac Jones is a 2021 first-round pick who will resume QB1 duties once his ankle is healthy enough to allow it. But when that happens, Bill Belichick can rest easy knowing he has a battle-tested rookie backup with legitimate potential. Bailey Zappe, the fourth-round pick out of Western Kentucky, had his best game as a pro in a 38-15 win over the Browns, completing 24 of 34 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns. Zappe was poised and had the offense in rhythm — four different Pats players finished with at least 60 receiving yards. A Patriots staff with former head coach castoffs was an easy punchline during the summer. Who’s laughing now? [+4]
17th - Frank Schwab (Yahoo! Sports): I don’t know what happens next with Bailey Zappe and the Patriots, but I know he has a 111.4 passer rating and looked good on Sunday. He threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns in an easy road win over the Browns. We know Bill Belichick doesn’t mind sticking with a QB pressed into service if he thinks that’s what’s best for his team. A very interesting situation to watch. [+2]
17th - Josh Shrock (NBC Sports Chicago): Bill Belichick’s defense dismantled the Browns and now faces a Bears team with turnstiles taking up three-fifths of the line. Best of luck, Justin Fields. [+2]
18th - Conor Orr (SI): The Patriots tackled well against the Browns, which is the recipe for defeating a non–Deshaun Watson–quarterbacked Cleveland offense. Meanwhile, Bailey Zappe continues to perform well. When New England is playing like this, they have playoff potential, even in a crowded AFC. [-1]
20th - Staff (TheScore): No Mac Jones, no problem. The Patriots are finding ways to win even with Bailey Zappe under center. The key to the rookie quarterback’s success? His efficiency. He’s tossed four touchdowns to one interception. [+4]
23rd - Austin Gayle (The Ringer): Fourth-round rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe is undefeated in his first two career starts, and over that two-week stretch, he ranks fourth in EPA per dropback (0.21) behind Josh Allen, Daniel Jones, and Patrick Mahomes. Unsurprisingly, Bill Belichick is non-committal on who will start when Mac Jones is healthy. Regardless of who gets the start moving forward, Zappe’s success is an overwhelming positive for a New England offense that struggled out of the gate. The Patriots ranked 28th in offensive EPA per drive through the first two games, but have climbed up to 10th in the last four weeks. [+2]
Tier 4 - Dalton Miller (ProFootballNetwork): The “wait and see” category. There might not be a QB controversy in New England, but there’s also no guarantee that there won’t be if the Patriots offense keeps playing football as efficiently as they have in the two weeks Bailey Zappe has started for them.
New England didn’t even run the ball effectively against Cleveland, a team that struggles mightily stopping the run. Zappe and the passing attack were efficient and explosive, albeit while being gifted a few busted coverages. If the offense can keep it up, New England can really take its time getting Mac Jones back on the field. [Up from Tier 5/6]
AVG RANK: 15.1 [+3.4]