For a fleeting moment on Monday night there was some optimism in Gillette Stadium. Under the cheerful jubilation of 65,000, Bailey Zappe entered the game in the early second quarter and immediately led the New England Patriots to back-to-back touchdowns to turn a 10-0 deficit into a 14-10 lead.
The return of “Zappe Fever” came at the expense of the man he helped replace the previous three games: Mac Jones. The second-year quarterback, who had led New England to the playoffs as a rookie, struggled in his return from a high ankle sprain.
While Jones would end the game against the Chicago Bears as the Patriots’ leading rusher — in itself not an ideal situation — his command of the offense left a lot to be desired. He completed just three of six pass attempts for 13 yards, gained just one first down, and threw another interception that can best be classified as ill-advised.
After three drives, Jones was pulled in favor of Zappe. The move was later described as part of a pre-determined rotation, but he never reentered the game even as Zappe struggled to get the offense on track. New England ended up losing 33-14.
The handling of the quarterback situation by head coach Bill Belichick, meanwhile, was described as somewhere between odd, bizarre and baffling. It also created more speculation and, at least from the outside looking in, has placed the team and its starting quarterback firmly at a crossroads.
Nominally, a fully-healthy Jones may very well be the starter. There is a good chance he takes the field against the New York Jets on Sunday, and might even go wire-to-wire.
The fact remains, however, that Jones and the entire Patriots offense looked out of sync during his three drives on Monday.
The supporting cast did him no favors either; the offensive line opened no holes in the running game and the pocket collapsed around him on too frequent a rate, all while the play-calling looked a lot more like it has in Weeks 1-3 than during Zappe’s rather successful stint as starter. Add it all up and you get a bad situation, and a quarterback who did not look comfortable at all.
The Patriots, however, need Jones to be comfortable and confident when under center. They also need him to make better decisions. Zappe, on the other hand, provided all of that after entering the lineup in Week 4 and Monday’s contest in the second quarter.
It was not meant to last and “Zappe Fever” fizzled out in the second half versus the Bears. Still, seven games into its 2022 campaign New England is now faced with more questions than ever at the most important position on the field.
“I just try to control what I can control. That’s my attitude and my effort. That’s something that I’ve done since high school,” said Jones after the game. “Obviously, I need to be able to play better, and we do as a team as well. I just have to lead the team and do that. ...
“I just have to do better at my job, and that’s all it comes down to. That’s all I can control. Honestly, we’ve got a good chance here to go against the Jets, and that’s what I’m focused on. I’m going to do my best to put my best foot forward. I’ve been in this situation before, and just going to try to help the team. Whatever my role is, I’ll be ready, and I’ll give it 100 percent.”
That role was in no doubt whatsoever entering the season, and even after its early portions of up and down play. Questioning it now might very well be reactionary and overestimating the importance the game against Chicago has in the grand scheme of things.
Jones did all he could to get back onto the field quickly, and he showed enough in practice to earn the coaching staff’s trust to get the start versus the Bears. He also did not show enough for whatever reason to be kept in throughout the game.
What remains at the end of the day is the Patriots handling the entire situation unconventionally, to say the least. It did them no favors on Monday night and has now seemingly left them with a quarterback quandary of their own making.