Sunday saw New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones benched for the third time this season. Unlike the previous two times, which came in blowouts, the hook the Patriots’ gave Jones in their 10-6 loss to the Colts was much more jarring.
Despite some more minor mistakes, Jones had the Patriots in the game in the fourth quarter. In that quarter though back-to-back drives ended on misfires, culminating in his interception on a 2nd & 12 from the Colts’ 15-yard line, underthrowing a wide-open Mike Gesicki for what would have been a late go-ahead touchdown.
That ended up being the final pass Jones would throw in the game. After a defensive stop the Patriots got the ball back with 1:57 to go and no timeouts, and it was Bailey Zappe – not Jones – leading the huddle.
Outside of injuries, it’s very rare to see a team make a quarterback switch in that situation. After leaving Jones in despite his struggles throughout the game, they turned to Zappe for the game-winning drive. Intended or not, it felt like a statement (even wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster told reporters after the game he was “surprised” Jones was pulled in that spot).
“I just thought it was time for a change,” head coach Bill Belichick said when asked about the change after the game. “I made the decision. That’s what it was.” Belichick also confirmed the change was not made due to injury, despite Jones undergoing a post-game X-Ray.
“Yeah, they just told me I was out of the game, so I wasn’t playing very good, so I got taken out of the game before the two-minute drive at the end of the game,” Jones said when asked about the benching. “Yeah, that’s kind of what it was.”
“I’m not sure,” Jones continued, when asked his reaction to getting pulled. “It’s hard, right. It’s a difficult situation. But at the end of the day, I really did want the team to win. I’ll always be that person. I know that we didn’t win, so it’s hard for everybody, but I have to play better to not even be in that situation. It’s not ideal for anybody. No one is going to do good in that situation”
So Zappe came into the game cold. Not only was he coming into a defensive-driven game with no room for error, he was playing his first meaningful snaps of the season and first snaps at all since Week 5 – over a month ago.
Zappe was able to move the ball close to midfield, but appeared flustered when the Patriots tried to turn a 4th & 1 run with the clock running and under a minute to go into a fake spike. After a scramble getting lined up, Zappe fired a ball over the middle of the field into triple coverage for an interception, seemingly expecting a flag on the play.
“I mean, can’t say what I want to say,” Zappe told reporters after the game, in reference to the officials on the play.
As for the play itself? “We figured the play that we had – fake spike, trying to catch the defense off guard, not get the rush going,” he recalled. “That worked, but that was just me trying to force it and make a play, get us ahead on time. Looking back at it, I’d probably just say, throw it incomplete, move on to the next down, try to see if we could take another shot.”
The question from here will be, where do the Patriots go from here at the quarterback position? “We’ll worry about next week, next week,” Belichick told reporters when about the starting quarterback job moving forward.
In reality, the team will actually have two weeks to worry about ‘next week,’ with the bye week ahead before they face the Giants in New York the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.
If the Patriots are truly going to open up the competition in practice the next two weeks, there are four in-house contenders for the job. Let’s look at the case for each guy moving forward…