With starting quarterback Mac Jones still nursing an ankle injury, the New England Patriots were forced to start a backup for the second straight week. But while they turned to veteran Brian Hoyer last Sunday in Green Bay, they had to rely on the rather inexperienced Bailey Zappe in Week 5 against the Detroit Lions.
Zappe, of course, did a fine job. The rookie completed 17 of 21 pass attempts for 188 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Most importantly, he helped the Patriots to a 29-0 victory over the Lions.
Zappe is therefore now 1-for-1 in starting opportunities. His first ever start at the NFL level — he entered last week’s game in the late first quarter after Hoyer suffered a concussion — immediately ended with him earning his first victory.
As a consequence, Zappe became the seventh quarterback coached by Bill Belichick to celebrate a victory in his first ever start. Meanwhile, only one first-time starter left the field in defeat between Belichick’s stints with the Patriots and Cleveland Browns:
- Todd Philox: Browns 28-16 win at Los Angeles Raiders (9/29/92)
- Eric Zeier: Browns 29-26 win at Cincinnati Bengals (10/29/95)
- Tom Brady: Patriots 44-13 win vs. Indianapolis Colts (9/30/01)
- Matt Cassel: Patriots 19-10 win at New York Jets (9/14/08)
- Jimmy Garoppolo: Patriots 23-21 win at Arizona Cardinals (9/11/16)
- Jacoby Brissett: Patriots 27-0 win vs. Houston Texans (9/22/16)
- Mac Jones: Patriots 16-17 loss vs. Miami Dolphins (9/12/21)
- Bailey Zappe: Patriots 29-0 win vs. Detroit Lions (10/9/22)
As can be seen, Mac Jones is the only first-time starting quarterback coached by Belichick not to be victorious in his debut. He and the Patriots came up just short against the Dolphins last opening day, with Jones leading the team down the field into potentially game-winning field goal range before a Damien Harris fumble crushed New England’s hopes and secured the loss.
Jones, like Zappe, was a rookie when he made his first career start. The list above also features two other first-year players: Eric Zeier, a third-round pick in 1995, and Jacoby Brissett, a third-rounder himself in 2016.
Zappe, for comparison, arrived in New England as a fourth-round draft pick earlier this year. He began the regular season as QB3 behind Jones and Hoyer, but moved up the depth chart over the last two weeks.
With Jones still dealing with a high ankle sprain, and with Hoyer on injured reserve for at least three more games, there is a chance that Zappe will be able to add to his starting résumé in the coming games. But even if not, and Jones returns to the lineup for the Week 6 game in Cleveland, the rookie QB has had a positive impact already — all while benefitting from the increased opportunities in practice and on game day.
“It was better definitely being able to get in the huddle every day, call a play, see it, execute it, versus watching somebody else do it. That’s always more beneficial, but he learns well whether he is in there or not,” Belichick said about Zappe after the win over Detroit.
“He was confident out there. He does a good job. He does a good job of seeing the game and can come off and identify and articulate what he saw, what happened. That’s usually right. What he saw is usually what I saw or maybe when you look at the film, maybe there’s something that’s a little gray in there that his explanation is actually good. It was the way he saw it. Maybe he might not have done the right thing, but he saw the game.”
Zappe’s ability to do that goes back to his extensive preseason reps, Belichick pointed out. Now, the young QB is reaping the benefits of those. The results speak for themselves, as does the fact that he has added another win to the list of first-time starters above.