Can the New England Patriots withstand an injury to their starting quarterback? If they want to have any shot of being a playoff team again this season, they’ll need to.
Mac Jones suffered a high ankle sprain during Sunday’s 37-26 loss to the Baltimore Ravens that reportedly will sideline him for “multiple weeks,” leaving veteran backup Brian Hoyer and fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe to steer the ship until he returns.
Speaking one day after that game, longtime Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater was asked how the team will move forward without their most important player.
“I do believe that we’ll respond the right way,” Slater said in a video conference. “We’re very early on in our season here, and if we don’t handle it the right way, this thing can spiral away from us. Needless to say, when you lose a player at that position of that caliber, it is challenging. But we have confidence in all the quarterbacks on our roster. Obviously, Coach (Bill Belichick) has them on our roster for a reason.”
Hoyer — whom Slater calls “Axel,” his given first name — has been Jones’ primary backup for the past two seasons, making him the most likely candidate to start when the Patriots visit the Green Bay Packers this Sunday. The 36-year-old is in his 14th NFL season and has logged three separate stints with the Patriots, who initially signed him as an undrafted rookie in 2009. He has lost his last 11 starts — including one in Cam Newton’s stead in 2020 — with his last victory coming early in the 2016 season.
Zappe, a record-setting passer at Western Kentucky, saw the most work of any Patriots QB during the preseason but has been a healthy scratch for the team’s first three regular-season games.
“I’ve been with Axel for 14 years now,” Slater said. “I’ve known Axel for 14 years and been a teammate of his off and on during that time. I have a lot of confidence in him. And Bailey’s done a great job getting himself ready and continuing to be a pro. So we’ll see how it goes.”
It remains to be seen whether Jones will undergo surgery to repair his injury. That decision will influence his recovery timetable. If the Patriots place him on injured reserve this week, he would be unavailable for upcoming matchups with the Packers, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears.