A return to Mac Jones makes sense, but how can Bill Belichick deny the Zappe Magic?

Does Belichick really want to derail what he has going right now?

Bill Belichick and Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe. Nick Cammett/Getty Images


Poor Mac Jones can’t win.

The longer the Patriots’ first-round pick sits on the sidelines with a high ankle sprain, the longer the quarterback allows the contagious Bailey Zappe Fever to fester in the fandom. Even when Jones is finally ready to return, if Bill Belichick decides to give him his job back, he’ll get it with the looming reminder of what a fourth-round rookie was able to do in his absence.

All Jones has to do is be better than the rookie who has seemingly instilled new life into this team by buying into a newly-implemented offensive approach that Jones, reportedly, has struggled with to some degree behind the scenes. No pressure, dude.


What Bailey Zappe managed to accomplish Sunday afternoon against the Cleveland Browns might earn him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. The quarterback completed 24 of his 34 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown as the Patriots won their second-straight game, 38-15, to pull even at 3-3 on the season. Zappe posted a QB rating of 118.4, making him the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win with back-to-back ratings of 100-plus over the course of his first two professional starts.

For a second-straight start, the rookie out of Western Kentucky brought a certain energy to the field that was not evident during Jones’s first three starts of the year. Zappe’s ability to take care of the football — his only interception was the fault of Ol’ Slippery Digits, Nelson Agholor, last Sunday against the Detroit Lions — is in contrast to the struggles Jones has faced thus far, throwing five interceptions over three games. You can even make note of the fact that Zappe and receiver DeVante Parker, who is solely responsible for at least a pair of those Jones picks, hooked up on a beautiful 50-50 ball on Sunday that might have gone the other way with Jones’s luck.


The Patriots, a team that seemed destined for the basement (which is where they still sit in the AFC East) suddenly seem like they are capturing the magic brought on by their rookie replacement. How in the name of Matt Gutierrez do you NOT ride the Zappe train until further notice?

The similarities to Tom Brady’s emergence in 2001 may be difficult to ignore, which means there must be another similar scenario to have taken place that doesn’t have Patriot fans clearing space for six more Super Bowl titles. On that note, anybody remember Mike White?

Yes, we’re all looking forward to the return of “The White Lotus,” but the other Mike White, the Jets’ fifth-year quarterback out of…ahem…Western Kentucky, gives us a recent reason to slow down on the Zappe hype. White won those same Player of the Week honors that may be in Zappe’s immediate future with a Halloween performance against the Cincinnati Bengals last year during which he threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns. New York beat the eventual AFC champs, 34-31.

The next weekend against the Colts, White completed only seven passes. He then went on to toss four interceptions against the Bills a week later. Joe Flacco returned to the starting role the next week, keeping the position warm for rookie Zach Wilson, who took his job back at the end of the month.


That’s not to necessarily suggest the same cliff is coming for Zappe, but there are things for Belichick to consider when deciding whether or not to ride the Zappe Express.

As it turns out, the schedule works out nicely for Jones’s return. ESPN’s Mike Reiss suggested Monday morning that Jones was a possibility to play for the Patriots right up until Sunday morning, when the quarterback determined that he needed more time before seeing game action. That might suggest he’ll be ready Monday night when the Patriots welcome the awful Chicago Bears to Gillette Stadium. It would give Jones a rehearsal of sorts prior to his team’s showdown against the 4-2 New York Jets six days later. That is a game the Patriots absolutely need to win particularly when they already have a winless record (0-1) within a division that appears to have shed the capital ‘L’ that helped define it for the better part of the Patriots’ dynasty. There are more combined wins (15) in the East than there are any other division in the AFC. Only the NFC East (17) has more in the NFL.

So, give Jones the warmup, then it’s business as usual from there on out.

But what if Jones shows many of the same tendencies against the Bears that he did in uneven performances against the Dolphins, Steelers, and Ravens? The Zappe whispers won’t so much be under the radar as they will be a defining nuisance of Jones’s sophomore campaign. And if Zappe is proving to be a more willing disciple of the team’s new offense, that decision has pretty much been made, hasn’t it?


The last time Jones posted a QB rating greater than 100 was last January against the Jacksonville Jaguars in a 50-10 laugher. He hasn’t posted back-to-back 100-plus ratings since last October. In all, Jones can boast an NFL rating of 100 of higher in only seven of his 20 career NFL games.

Zappe has three. Over three games.

Now, granted, the Patriots have scaled the offense back to a point that Zappe can handle (not to mention to one that makes supposed offensive coordinator Matt Patricia look somewhat competent in his new role). With Jones, there might be more of a chance to unload the bag of tricks. Maybe Jones will prove he can handle some of the process more adeptly. Or maybe Zappe just keeps rolling, no matter what the coaching staff throws at him.

Or maybe it doesn’t matter. Perhaps the rest of the team (in particular, the offensive line for anybody not named Isiah Wynn) has gelled to a certain point to where who’s behind center matters little. The offense is starting to click. Yes, it’s the Lions and the Browns, but compared to where the Patriots were in Week 1, we’ll take whatever we can get.

On the one hand, it might get better with Mac.

On the other, does Belichick really want to derail what he has going right now?

There’s been a dismissive contingent of Patriot experts all too willing to point out Zappe’s inefficiencies, all while whistling past the graveyard when it comes to Jones’s mistakes. But which came first…did the offense start to improve because of Zappe, or did it start to get better because the play-calling was simplified? And if, with Jones, the complications get unveiled, will the offense still be able to keep up?


Mac probably makes a lot of sense to get the start against the Bears. I just don’t know how you make that move after watching what Zappe has done.

Especially if Zappe is the next Tom Brady.

Just don’t rule out Mike White either.


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