New England Patriots

New England Patriots

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - NOVEMBER 26: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots calls a play during the third quarter against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on November 26, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

For the second week in a row, the New England Patriots are playing things close to the chest when it comes to their starting quarterback for this Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Bill Belichick has declined to name a starter when asked by the media and his players have followed suit. The closest indication the team has given was letting reporters see Bailey Zappe take the heavy majority of the reps during a brief window of Wednesday’s practice, while Mac Jones didn’t throw a single pass in the session.

Away from the cameras though, it’s been a different story. Throughout the week, sources have painted a picture about what the plan is behind closed doors for this Sunday.


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On Wednesday night, the first reports came through. Doug Kyed of The Boston Herald noted that Zappe ‘took the majority’ of the starting reps in practice, and Mark Daniels of MassLive added that Jones ran the scout team. Jeff Howe of The Athletic later reported outright that the Patriots plan on starting Zappe on Sunday “if all goes as expected.”

UPDATE: Howe has since reported that Zappe will in fact start on Sunday

That plan appears to have held through to Friday. According to Andrew Callahan of The Boston Herald Zappe ran the two-minute drill at Friday’s practice. That practice period – and situational football as a whole – is typically the focus of Friday practices. If those reps went to Zappe, it’s another strong sign the team plans on having him start. That would make sense, as Jones’ play has continued to spiral downward as the season has gone on.

  • FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 12: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots looks to pass in the fourth quarter during the NFL match between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots at Deutsche Bank Park on November 12, 2023 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

    FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY – NOVEMBER 12: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots looks to pass in the fourth quarter during the NFL match between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots at Deutsche Bank Park on November 12, 2023 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

    Callahan had two other notes on Zappe’s week as well. He relayed from sources that “Zappe’s practice performance was similar to past weeks, when Mac outplayed him,” and that there was the “same energy at practice,” an observation Callahan added was “according to sources who wanted new QB [to replace Jones].”

    That all seems to point to Zappe struggling during practice this week. Zappe’s practice issues go back to the summer, and he was cut out of training camp before re-signing with the practice squad.

    When Jones struggled early in the season, it was reported that part of the reason the team wasn’t making a quarterback change was because Zappe hadn’t done enough in practice to surpass Jones in the eyes of the coaches. Prior to the game against the Raiders in Week 6, which followed two blowouts in which Jones was benched, Callahan wrote that “team sources indicate Jones will start the Patriots’ game at Las Vegas primarily because their other options – a second-year backup they cut six weeks ago [Zappe] and a third-string journeyman [Will Grier] – are unfit.”

    Of course, that was a month and a half ago now. However, Belichick’s comments on Friday seem to suggest that Zappe is showing coaches the same level of play now as he was then.

  • FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 22: Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on before the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 22: Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on before the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    On Friday morning, Belichick was asked to give his assessment of Zappe’s week of practice. “He’s pretty consistent, about what it’s been all year,” Belichick shared. “He’s pretty even-keeled, not a lot of roller coaster with him.”

    Some interpreted that ‘roller coaster’ remark as a shot at Jones’ erratic play this year. While that may be true, Belichick is also saying Zappe is performing as well now as he did “all year,” when he couldn’t overtake Jones for the starting job despite that erratic play.

    Belichick answered one other question directly about Zappe, when a reporter asked “what positive he has going for him as a player” as he prepares to make his first start of the year.

    “He played some last year. There were some times where he was competitive, a little more experience this year. I mean, we talked about that in training camp,” Belichick replied. “There’s growth in players from year one to year two, year two to year three and sometimes year three to year four. So, we have young quarterbacks and I’d say they’re both on a growth pattern.”

    Reading the tea leaves, it seems like this is a situation where Jones ‘lost’ the job more so than Zappe ‘won’ it from him by outplaying him. Just one writer’s opinion.

    However it happened though, Zappe will get a real chance to show what he can do this week. He’s struggled in his four relief appearances of Jones this year (48.7 completion percentage, no touchdowns, two interceptions) but this is the first time this season he’ll have a true full week of preparation under his belt. Last time he had that – filling in for Jones after an ankle injury last year – he went 2-0 and kicked off Zappe Fever. Now, with a full week to gestate, will The Fever return?

  • 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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