Commentary

Mac Jones didn’t lose his job (yet), but Bailey Zappe made it clear there are QB options for the Patriots

Bailey Zappe has already made it known that he can handle the heat. Don’t think Belichick isn’t letting Mac Jones know.

Bailey Zappe celebrates with DeVante Parker after completing his first touchdown reception against the Green Bay Packers during third quarter. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The Patriots stink. But that was fun.

Who could have guessed that the first real sign of optimism to come out of New England’s young season thus far would have come courtesy of the third-string, rookie quarterback? Unless, of course, you were writing a hackneyed re-tread of Patriots history.

In this edition of an unheralded backup potentially snatching the job away from a veteran, the role of Mo Lewis was played by a fellow teammate (how many QBs is tackle Isaiah Wynn going to get killed this year?) and the veteran in question was a backup to begin with. So, before you start, this is nothing like 2001. It doesn’t have the same storybook drama and, besides, it’s not like the Brady story really developed in the immediate moments after Drew Bledsoe’s departure way back in 2001.

We’ll hold the door (ever-so-slightly) open, but don’t expect BZ4 methods and other quackery to suddenly become a thing.

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Still though, you have to be forgiven for experiencing at least a little deja vu Sunday afternoon, when Brian Hoyer, filling in for starter Mac Jones who is day-to-day with a high ankle sprain, was forced out of Sunday’s game at Green Bay with a head injury. That paved the way for third-string, rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe to get his first action as a professional football player.

And wouldn’t you know, the kid was pretty good.

It’s not like Bill Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff gave him too much to do. Zappe only threw the ball 15 times, completing 10 of his passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. Not bad for a guy who had been a healthy scratch for the first three weeks of the 2022 season.

But it’s not exactly the sort of line that raises a quarterback controversy between Jones and Zappe.

Yet.

OK, even envisioning some sort of competition has to be a stretch. But the reality is that until Zappe stood behind center during the first quarter of Sunday’s overtime loss, the Patriots hadn’t seen any real promise at the position this season. Sophomore Jones had been the worst-rated quarterback in the entire NFL before leaving last Sunday’s game with the most-painful ankle sprain in the history of mankind. But he’s a first-round draft pick and some nobody kid is going to take his spot? Please.

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Brian Hoyer hasn’t won a game as a starter since the Obama administration. The fact that his own head injury happened only days after Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa exacerbated the absurdity of the NFL’s concussion protocol probably means that the Patriots coaching staff isn’t going to rush him back any time soon. Cam Newton is out there, as are many other regrets that don’t need to be revisited.

As for Jones, he was reportedly telling his teammates late last week to not count him out for Sunday against the Packers. It’s probably still foolhardy to expect him to play a week later against the Detroit Lions, a team with the worst defense — and best offense — in the game.

Which likely means that this is Zappe’s offense for the immediate future. Beyond that? Let’s just say we’re going to find out just how much Belichick respects his second-year quarterback.

It was last week when Belichick mouthpiece Mike Lombardi ranted on his podcast about the turnover machine that Jones has become, even suggesting that he was in danger of losing his job had he not been hurt in the loss to the Ravens. There’s some suggestion that Jones and the Patriots medical staff aren’t on the same page on how to proceed, with or without “tightrope” surgery. Then, in the midst of all that percolating drama, a rookie comes and does his best to rally the team around him to very nearly pull out a win in an environment like Green Bay? Bill must be in love all over again.

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That’s not to suggest that Zappe is going to outright take the job from Jones, but at least there might be one guy on the staff capable of reminding him that the job is not his no matter what. Last week, Jones could laugh about being replaced by Brian Hoyer long-term. Can he do the same about Zappe now?

If Zappe did nothing else on Sunday, he at least finally made Matt Patricia’s offense look presentable, something Jones has struggled with mightily. Whereas Jones can’t find Patricia wooby DeVante Parker without handing the ball over to the other team, Zappe found the wide receiver for a touchdown in Green Bay. Whereas Jones seems consistently unsettled in the pocket, Zappe never seemed to let Sunday’s moment overcome him.

That probably says a lot about what the coaching staff saw in him prior to drafting the Western Kentucky product in he fourth round last spring. He didn’t bring a win to the 1-3 Pats, but he did at least deliver a calm that had been missing over the course of the first month of the season.

Still, nobody is calling for Jones’ job.

Yet.

But just in case they are, Bailey Zappe has already made it known that he can handle the heat. Don’t think Belichick isn’t letting Jones know.

The Patriots aren’t going anywhere. But for one afternoon, at least, they sure were fun again.

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Thanks to Bailey Zappe. Just as we all figured.

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