How Would Patriots Replace Mac Jones If QB Misses Week 2?

Brian Hoyer likely would be the next man up


September 14

By all accounts, Mac Jones dodged a bullet during the New England Patriots’ season-opening loss.

Multiple reports indicated the back injury the quarterback suffered against the Miami Dolphins is not considered serious. Jones himself confirmed that, saying Monday that “everything’s good” and he “definitely feel(s) a lot better.”

Jones said he hopes and expects to play this Sunday. But neither he nor the various reports on his condition have stated with certainty that he will be available when the Patriots visit the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2.

“He’s doing everything he can to be ready for practice (on Wednesday) and obviously for the game Sunday,” NFL Media’s Mike Giardi reported Tuesday on NFL Network, adding that Jones was feeling “a little bit better” than he did Monday.

It appears likely Jones, who has not missed a game in his young NFL career, will be behind center when New England takes the field at the newly renamed Acrisure Stadium (neè Heinz) this weekend. But if he isn’t, how would the Patriots replace him?

That duty likely would fall to veteran backup Brian Hoyer.

The 36-year-old journeyman is three years into his third stint with the Patriots, having also started games for six other franchises in his circuitous career. Hoyer has been a valuable mentor for Jones since the latter arrived in Foxboro, Mass., last offseason, and he’s played well in mop-up duty, going 9-for-11 for 227 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions across five garbage-time appearances in 2021.

Outside of head coach Bill Belichick, no member of the Patriots organization knows New England’s offense better than Hoyer. And as retired wide receiver Julian Edelman recently noted, Hoyer also has experience in a Shanahan-style system from his time with the San Franciso 49ers. New England introduced several Shanahan/McVay-esque elements into its offense during training camp, though those largely were absent from their Week 1 game plan.

“I think Brian having a lot of experience in the league helps,” quarterbacks coach Joe Judge said Tuesday.

Hoyer has not started a game since Week 4 of the 2020 season, however, and that was a night to forget for the seasoned signal-caller. Taking over on short notice after Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19, Hoyer ruined two Patriots drives with costly red-zone errors and eventually was benched for Jarrett Stidham in a 26-10 road loss to the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs.

If Hoyer starts in Jones’ stead, his backup would be fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe, who was a healthy scratch for Sunday’s 20-7 loss in Miami. A record-setting passer in Western Kentucky’s Air Raid offense, Zappe saw frequent reps with the second-team offense early in training camp while Hoyer was sidelined with a reported illness, and the Patriots gave him plenty of opportunities to impress during the preseason.

While he showed flashes of potential and a strong arm, Zappe struggled with his accuracy and consistency, throwing an interception in each of his three preseason appearances.

“He’s been able to take reps, learn from situations that he’s experienced, improve on those,” head coach Bill Belichick said after the Patriots’ preseason finale. “Get a better understanding and familiarity with the offense and also what’s going on with the defensive side of the ball. He’s improved in a lot of areas.”

Judge said he rarely sees Zappe repeat the same mistakes twice — an encouraging trait for any first-year player.

“I’m not saying never, but very seldom,” Judge said last month. “… He’s definitely very serious about his craft.”

If either of the Patriots’ backup QBs was thrust into action, New England likely would rely more on its running game, which performed better against Miami than it did for much of the summer. Lead back Damien Harris rushed for 48 yards on nine carries, with Rhamondre Stevenson carrying eight times for 25 yards. Most of their successful runs came on traditional Patriots staples rather than the outside-zone plays the team emphasized during training camp.

The Patriots’ backfield depth took a hit Tuesday when third-down back Ty Montgomery was placed on injured reserve, sidelining him for at least the next four weeks. Montgomery’s absence likely will elevate either rookie Pierre Strong (a healthy scratch in Week 1) or practice squadder J.J. Taylor into the gameday lineup against Pittsburgh and could lead to more third-down snaps for Stevenson and/or Harris.

The Steelers forced five turnovers and sacked Joe Burrow seven times in a Week 1 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals, but the Patriots will not need to deal with reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt, who is expected to miss the next six weeks with a torn pectoral muscle.

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