New England Patriots

New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 03: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots walks across the field in the second quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium on December 03, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

For a 2-9 team, there was a lot of anticipation for the New England Patriots’ Week 13 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. The team made a long-awaited quarterback switch, with Bailey Zappe making his first start of the year in place of Mac Jones.

Despite the change, the results looked similar. While the Patriots had just one turnover – a Rhamondre Stevenson fumble on a play during which he got hurt – for the first time in four weeks, the offense failed to capitalize. They ended up with 257 total yards, which was down from last week and 40 yards below their season average for yards in a game, and were shut out for the second time in 2023.


READ MORE:

Just how ‘one-sided’ have these recent Patriots losses been?
Ups & Downs from the loss to the Chargers
Why the Patriots’ quarterback change came this week


In the end the Patriots lost 6-0, dropping their record to 2-10. They’ve lost five games in a row, making this their longest losing streak since early in the 1995 season.

Still, with a new quarterback there’s plenty to discuss from this game. Let’s get to this week’s takeaways…

  • Bailey Zappe’s performance

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 03: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots throws a pass in the first quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium on December 03, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 03: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots throws a pass in the first quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium on December 03, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

    In his first start of 2023, Zappe went went 13-of-25 for 141 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He also ran the ball four times for 16 yards.

    We’ll start with the good from Zappe. Perhaps as a product of having not had a ton of game action behind this offensive line this year, he looked very comfortable in the pocket. His feel for the pass rush was excellent and he was able to move around and maneuver himself to extend plays. That includes scrambling, when he used his legs to create yards when receivers were covered downfield. That was highlighted by a fourth-down run he had on a 4th & 3 in the third quarter, where he pump-faked a defender up in the air then ran around him for a first.

    The question is, will Zappe be able to keep that pocket poise as the pressure around him ramps up. He was hit six times by the Chargers on Sunday, taking five sacks (not all were his fault, but even pressure sacks can get a quarterback sped up).

    What Zappe will need to build on is making more of his throws, either from a clean pocket or when he extends plays. He misfired to open wide receivers on multiple occasions. Those accuracy issues have been apparent since training camp, and are something he’ll need to get cleaned up.

    Overall though, the Patriots seemed to give Zappe a fair shake of things at quarterback. While the gameplan seemed run- and screen-heavy early, they let him open it up more some in the second half. Ultimately Zappe couldn’t deliver, but he showed enough where he should get another chance next week – against a much tougher Steelers defense.

  • Offensive operation

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien talks with quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) as they take on the Los Angeles Chargers in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien talks with quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) as they take on the Los Angeles Chargers in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    When Mac Jones was the starting quarterback there were a lot of questions about the offensive operation. Between plays, things weren’t going smoothly as the team tried to get the play call in, substitute, and line up.

    Some of those issues continued with Bailey Zappe. The Patriots were called for three offensive penalties – a false start, a 12-men call, and a delay of game. They nearly had a few other delays throughout the game, with Zappe making checks up until the play clock hit zero. That was also the case with Jones.

    This doesn’t reflect on Zappe so much as it does the offensive coaching staff. These penalties are often tied to preparation.

    One other thing that made the operation tricky on Sunday? A rotation at left tackle between Trent Brown and Conor McDermott. It was the second week in a row the two rotated, although Brown – who is dealing with multiple injuries – started this week after McDermott did last week. The 12 men call came when the team tried to switch the tackles.

  • Lack of urgency late

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85) on the ground after an incomplete pass against the Los Angeles Chargers in the last minutes of the game in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85) on the ground after an incomplete pass against the Los Angeles Chargers in the last minutes of the game in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    The weirdest part about this game for the Patriots was their lack of urgency late. With 4:36 to go in the game the Patriots forced a Chargers punt, and were set up with 1st & 10 from the 13 with two timeouts remaining.

    Given the flow of the game, it made sense for the Patriots to move quickly. Either this becomes established as the final drive, or they three-and-out quick and punt it back, leaving enough time for another stop. Instead the Patriots took their time, running on three of the first five plays with a quick slant mixed in as well, and huddling up in between. By the time the Patriots got out to the 42-yard line, two and a half minutes had come off the clock.

    At that point, it was too little, too late. Zappe threw three incompletions in a row, culminating with a throw into a crowd on fourth down to to end the game.

    Why were the Patriots so casual at the end? Lack of trust in a new QB? Worried about the pass rush? Belichick didn’t give an answer after the game, but whatever the reason it was out of character for a team trying to win.

  • Lack of trust on special teams?

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - DECEMBER 03: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on before the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium on December 03, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 03: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on before the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium on December 03, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Zappe may not have been the only player the Patriots didn’t trust in this game. They had a few opportunities to attempt long field goals, but instead of going with rookie Chad Ryland opted to either punt on a short field or go for fourth downs. Ryland didn’t record any attempts in the game.

    That may have been due to Ryland’s pregame issues. After missing a game-tying 35-yard field goal at the buzzer last week, Ryland hit all of his short kicks in warm-ups but then went 0-for-5 on kicks from 48 to 55 yards. Bill Belichick seemingly alluded to this after the game.

    “Kicking conditions weren’t great out there today, especially on those long field goals. They were tough in pregame,” Belichick said after the game. “We thought we had a better chance – I think it would have been a tough kick.”

    More punts meant more chances for rookie Bryce Baringer, who had an up-and-down performance. His first two punts were excellent, but then he had multiple shanks – one of which led to a 34-yard return that set up the Chargers’ second field goal. Baringer finished with seven punts averaging 38 net yards per punt, with three punts down inside the 20 and no touchbacks.

  • Bigger role for DeVante Parker

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver DeVante Parker (1) ruled no catch out of bounds against Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Deane Leonard (33) in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver DeVante Parker (1) ruled no catch out of bounds against Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Deane Leonard (33) in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    As long as Bailey Zappe is starting games for the Patriots, expect a bigger role for DeVante Parker. Zappe seems to like throwing to Parker – and that showed up on Sunday.

    Parker led the Patriots with nine targets, catching four passes for 64 yards. Zappe clearly trusts the veteran wideout, and wasn’t shy about throwing him the ball in tight windows. Parker delivered on a few of those plays, including a 27-yard comeback route which he caught through contact on the longest passing play of the day for the Patriots.

  • No Malik Cunningham

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sideline as they take on the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sideline as they take on the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    After he took his first quarterback snaps in practice in a few months, the Patriots elevated rookie Malik Cunningham from their practice squad. There were reports that the team had an offensive package ready to go for Cunningham on Sunday.

    Despite that, Cunningham didn’t see the field. While active, he didn’t record a snap.

    Following the game, Cunningham told Andrew Callahan of The Boston Herald that there was a package installed for him this week. He just never got in the game.

    “We did what we thought was best,” Bill Belichick said after the game, when asked why Cunningham didn’t play. Pressed on why not playing Cunningham was the ‘best’ option, Belichick explained “we had times where we got things going, we wanted to try to stay with what we were doing.”

  • Peppers plays

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) is tackled by New England Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers (5) in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) is tackled by New England Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers (5) in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Jabrill Peppers got the start for the Patriots in this one, and played well. He recorded four tackles, including a big third down stop early in the game.

    After his hot mic moment ripping the team last week, some wondered if Peppers would end up in the coaching staff’s doghouse. It turns out, that wasn’t the case. Expect Peppers – who has been one of the two best players on defense for the Patriots this year along with Christian Barmore – to remain a key member of that defense down the stretch this season.

  • Overall defensive effort

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Jahlani Tavai (48) tackles Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots linebacker Jahlani Tavai (48) tackles Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Sunday’s offensive performance – or lack thereof – is the big story from this game. Still, let’s not let the defensive effort go unnoticed. The Chargers came in with the eighth-ranked offense in the league. Rain or not, holding that group to just 241 yards and six points is an accomplishment.

    In particular, Bill Belichick created another headache of a day for Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. Herbert finished 22-of-37 for 212 yards. A few drops certainly helped the Patriots’ cause, but it’s not like Herbert had a ton of options all day.

    The problem is, it’s another defensive accomplishment that isn’t getting enough support from the other units. With Sunday’s game, the Patriots have allowed a total of 26 points in their last three outings. That’s the fewest for any team in the NFL in a three-game stretch this year – yet the Patriots lost all three games.

    We broke down more numbers on the imbalance between the Patriots’ offense and defense here.

  • What does Bill Belichick think went wrong?

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sideline as they take on the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sideline as they take on the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    What does Bill Belichick think went wrong for his team on Sunday? Based on his postgame comments, he’s not putting it all on the offense.

    “Some missed opportunities here today,” Belichick said after the game. “We moved the ball, but we’re on a long field. Just really didn’t do a good job of field position. Couldn’t play the complementary game that we needed to play.”

    That was one of a few times Belichick mentioned the Patriots “moving the ball” on the Chargers, despite the team finishing with 257 yards and averaging 4.1 yards per play.

    During his halftime interview with CBS, Belichick also mentioned the need to create turnovers. This ended up being the Patriots’ first game without forcing a turnover in seven weeks.

    Despite the zero on the scoreboard, it sounds like Belichick wanted more from his defense (and special teams) on Sunday, in addition to the offense. A turnover likely would have flipped the game, but it wasn’t there. In the end though, it’s interesting to hear Belichick cite a lack of complementary football when the defense held the other team under seven points, and still lost.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.

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