Patriots

Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe and the rudderless future of the New England Patriots

A soggy Monday night became one of the darkest in the two-decade history of Gillette Stadium. 

There are reasons to question Bill Belichick's decisions with the offense both Monday night and before that. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

COMMENTARY

Bill Belichick could have passed George Halas to become the second-winningest coach in NFL history with a win over the Chicago Bears Monday night.

Instead, Belichick helped deliver a season-altering mortification that ranks right up there with the most absurd evenings of his tenure in New England.

Where to begin with what was an atrocious night of football and personnel management at Gillette Stadium? We witnessed the return of the defensive “bogeymen,” shredded by Justin Fields (179 yards passing, 82 yards rushing), who looked more like Michael Vick than the Kordell Stewart the second-year quarterback was trending to become. Matt Patricia, Joe Judge, Carmine, or whoever is holding the offensive play sheet showed all the imagination of a Lifetime Christmas movie, thoroughly predictable and led by second-rate players. And all this was happening as quarterback Mac Jones, returning from a four-week absence, picked up where he last left off as the worst-rated at his position, prompting early chants of “We want Zappe” from the frustrated crowd.

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After the fans got what they apparently wanted — Jones pulled from the game after only three offensive series — even folk hero Bailey Zappe couldn’t elongate his magic touch, one that fizzled in the evening’s mist along with any obstinate thought that the Patriots might challenge for a playoff spot in 2022.

That’s hard to do from last place in the AFC East, a spot where this team seems destined to linger. Both in the immediate and long-term futures.

The inferior Bears strutted away from Foxborough with a 33-14 upset that dropped the Patriots to 3-4, 1-2 at home.

After the game, the night somehow got even worse.

Say what you will about the timing of Belichick’s decision to pull a struggling Jones (who actually ran for 11 more yards than he amassed throwing the ball — 13) after his first interception of the night, but the insertion of Zappe into the lineup did give the Patriots a fleeting spark that energized the fickle crowd and the quarterback’s teammates into contention. Zappe immediately took advantage with a 30-yard strike to Jakobi Meyers that cut the Patriots’ deficit to a field goal. Later in the second quarter, Zappe found DeVante Parker for a 50-yard gain, setting up a Rhamondre Stevenson touchdown that gave the Patriots their only lead of the evening.

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Zappe Fever was alive and well as the football “experts” who so vigorously pushed for Mac Jones as “the guy” slinked down from their ivory towers. Soon enough, they would commiserate with the Zappe crowd to come to at least one agreement where the quarterback controversy was concerned.

If the Patriots have two quarterbacks, they really have no quarterback.

Despite a quick glimpse of its sphere, Zappe’s magic bubble burst all over the field at Gillette, leaving behind a disjointed locker room filled with players who seemingly weren’t aware of Belichick’s plan to give both quarterbacks time against the Bears. Oh, the coach made a half-hearted attempt to suggest that pulling Jones from the game was in the scheme all along, a factor that he seemingly told to nobody other than personal publicist Adam Schefter.

Instead, what Belichick managed was so crippling to his team that he may have set the Patriots back for the final time under his watch.

If you’re the Krafts, planning for the future health of the franchise, how do you watch that performance and not start preparing to make a call to Sean Payton? Even if they convince the 70-year-old Bill to depart on his own accord, the prospect of him leaving Patricia and his mulleted offspring in charge has to give Bob and Jonathan tremendous pause. Despite flashes of brilliance, there is more and more evidence that the game has flashed past Bill, leaving behind a gaggle of young nerds to lead the game into the future. It’s a bitter world where the likes of doofus Brandon Staley have more long-term potential than the most-storied coach of the modern NFL, yet here we are.

Belichick did his public persona no favors after the game, insisting that the two-quarterback scheme was the plan from the get-go. Yet it also appeared that he failed to inform anybody of that matter besides the two quarterbacks. And Schefter.

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Wasn’t there a likelihood that Jones would struggle out of the gate after a month on the sideline? Yet, despite that, Belichick sent the former first-round pick into the fire before a ravenous, Monday night crowd that had been lubricating even longer than usual on Route One. The “We want Zappe” chants were inevitable. The public demoralization of Mac Jones didn’t have to be.

“You hate to see one of your brothers treated like that,” said Meyers, who admitted to MassLive that offensive players were not aware that Belichick would employ two quarterbacks on the night. “You want to see him do well. You want to see everybody do well, including Zappe, but as far as getting caught up in it, you really don’t have time to really focus on the decisions being made.”

Where the Patriots go from here is a much bigger inquest than simply wondering who gets the start at quarterback Sunday against the Jets. The loss to the pathetic Bears may end up being a landmark of sorts, the game where Belichick’s dubious, impertinent structure of this team took on enough water to remain sunk in the division. He still needs 23 wins to tie Don Shula as NFL wins leader. The probability of it happening in New England dipped precipitously Monday night in Foxborough. Unless the Krafts are OK with a decision-making process that gave their first-round investment a pair of head coaching rejects from elsewhere instituting a new offense that has failed at most every attempt.

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Despite not knowing who’ll start Sunday, the Patriots don’t have a quarterback controversy; they have a franchise philosophy controversy.

A soggy Monday night became one of the darkest in the two-decade history of Gillette Stadium. 

Unfortunately, it only hinted about the storm yet to come.

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