How Patriots’ Bill Belichick misplaced McJones and Billy Zappy

The Patriots have wreaked havoc on the quarterback situation.

Coach Bill Belichick made the unorthodox decision on Monday to alternate McJones and Billy Zappy during an embarrassing, 33-14 loss to the Bears at Gillette Stadium.

Let’s take this decision from all angles to assess what it means for Belichick, Jones, and Zappy.

Bill Belichick

Belichick hurt Jones by sitting down after three series, the last of which culminated in an unwarranted interception.

The local audience was already chanting Zappe’s name, which anyone – including Belichick – could have predicted based on the events of the past week. The crowd was a powder keg that Belichick lit by changing the QB by trailing 10-0.

The decision was initially justified, as Zappe rallied the Patriots to a 14-10 lead, and the whole offense played better around him. But soon it all fell apart after that with five goalless possessions in a row, including three zappy coups (two interceptions, one tripped).

After the match, Belichick said he intended to rotate Jones and Zappy because Jones was still recovering from a sprained ankle. However, Jones moved well last week in training, to the point that the injury appeared to be running late, according to league officials familiar with the situation. No, Jones still isn’t at 100 percent, but he was able to play through it, and that was initially against the bears.

Belichick does not need to justify every decision with the media. But it is worrying that the message was not delivered to the locker room, as it was clear after the match that there were attacking players who had no idea the quarterback’s role in the business. It’s fair to ask how players’ confusion affected their performance in the team’s most lopsided regular season loss in two years.

During the week, Jones took over the majority of the starting reps in practice for the first time since the injury against the Ravens. So the spin that led to Zappe taking the majority of the game’s shots didn’t keep up with its use in practice.

Belichick also said he intended to bring Jones back on the field in the second half, but that didn’t happen because the match got out of hand. Since Jones’ ankle hasn’t fully healed yet and the weather conditions are humid and rough, this idea makes sense on the surface.

But let’s examine it a little. Theoretically, if the defense had not had the worst performance of the season and the score was closer in the second half, Jones would not have been placed in the best position for success on his return. He could have been out of rhythm – an even bigger factor after he missed three matches as well. And based on the quick hook in the first half, he would play while wondering if any particular game could be the last.

Or in another hypothetical situation, let’s say Zappe was playing well, and the game stayed close. How does it make sense to replace a hot midfielder in favor of rotation?

Belichick also declined to name a rookie next week, the opposite of how he handled conditions when Cam Newton struggled in 2020; or when Tom Brady was tried before The Chiefs in 2014; Or when Drew Bledsoe was healthy enough to come back in 2001.

Jones has done practically enough last week to earn him the majority of the cast and the starting nod. So where is the separation? Sure, there are plenty of times a team can maintain a competitive advantage by keeping the depth scheme a mystery, but this doesn’t really seem to be one of those times. He didn’t get rid of bears, anyway.

Last week, the three longest-serving Patriots captains – Matthew Slater, Devin McCourty and David Andrews – praised Belichick’s consistency in the face of adversity. And they noticed how it played a role in their transformation from a 1-3 start as Jones lost to injury.

This week, Belichick ignited the controversy in the middle that shouldn’t exist. If he didn’t trust Jones to play the full 60 minutes, it would be easy to wait another week and commit to Zappy after his great starts against the Black and Brown. Nobody will blink.

Or, if Jones’ leash was really as short as one turn, was he really the right guy to start facing the bears? Was Belichick waiting to try to deliver a message?

That might not be a joke either. Reports of a possible quarterback turn have surfaced before kick-off, so that appears to be the plan in advance, even if neither Jones nor Zap knew when the first hook would happen or if anyone else knew the hook would happen at all.

deepen

Belichick routinely asks his players to ignore the noise – whether it’s noise, criticism or controversy – but he turned up the volume this week. He has never shied away from making unorthodox training or personnel decisions, with the quarterback certainly rotating under that umbrella. And even when these calls didn’t work, there was often some consistency behind the reasoning that led to them.

This consistency is missing in this case.

Mac Jones

Jones should play better. Because he knows that.

It starts with employee turnover, and ends with a turnover of the night.

But don’t overlook the context of Monday night. Left tackle Trent Brown was reported for two suspensions and a false start as the Patriots opened with three straight doubles, and he wasn’t the only man with early protection issues, which were more prevalent in Jones’ first three starts than Zappe’s previous appearances.

It’s totally normal for a quarterback to show some rust after a multi-game absence. This season it happened with Dak Prescott, Jimmy Garoppolo, Tua Tagoviloa, Zach Wilson and more.

As a result, Jones sailed away on his first throw and may have missed a few reads in his three series. He also had a little help around him.

The objection was unforgivable, as he did not see safety rotating as he floated down a driveway to Juno Smith. It was Jones’ seventh turn (six picks, one touch) this season. While some of these giveaways were circumstantial or a byproduct of a bad pocket, ball safety should have been a priority when Jones returned to work, because Zappe had been so clean in the previous three games.

Jones is no stranger to competition or adversity since his time in Alabama, so his confidence shouldn’t be a concern in Monday night’s fallout. In fact, his self-confidence and competitive vigor were major appeals ahead of the 2021 draft.

He will have to maintain these traits for as long as this ordeal continues.

Billy Zappy

Zappi came out of the fire.

He made the impressive decision to hit Rhamondre Stevenson for 20 yards in third and fifth before a 30-yard touchdown pass to Jakobi Meyers, and Zappe opened his second series with a confident 43-yard throw to DeVante Parker.

It must also be admitted that Zappe got help that Jones could have used. Myers, who was wide open thanks to broken coverage, adjusted when Zappe’s throw was far. Parker made a great and contested catch.

Then Zappe crashes to the ground. It’s an inescapable hurdle for any inexperienced midfielder, as Cooper Rush could attest in his final start before Prescott’s return.

Zappe couldn’t stand the Bears’ modifications and often lived on check passes. He was a 6 of 6 for 40 yards while targeting Stevenson on the next five possessions as he walked 4 of 12 for 48 yards with two interceptions and three hitting passes when thrown to the receivers and tight ends.

Zappe has dealt with protection issues, too. His first goalless possession ended with a third-class sack. Brown’s penalty thwarted the next half. Cole String’s fist preceded Zappy’s first interception. Of course, it’s also not ideal for a young midfielder to be forced into passing situations where the defense has conceded five times in a row to score.

Zappe’s two best performances happened against the Lions and Browns after he secured the majority of the starting reps in practice. It shouldn’t be a coincidence, then, that he struggled after training mainly as a backup.

Whatever Belichick’s name as a starter, the Patriots needed a more defined mid-back plan the rest of the way because the spin created an unnecessary problem for a number of reasons.

(Photo: Brian Fluharty/USA Today)


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