FOXBORO, Mass. — For the last month, Bill Belichick and Patriots reporters have been engaging in their own version of the Kylo Ren-Rey Skywalker “interrogation scene.”
Belichick, normally the Sith Lord figure in these kinds of metaphors, has been strapped to a restraint chair while evil beat writers try to extract valuable information. And New England’s head coach has been putting up an admirable fight.
But Belichick finally cracked Thursday morning. And while some of the truth was communicated kinda-sorta directly, the more interesting bit was left unsaid.
Belichick had nowhere left to hide after removing Mac Jones from Wednesday’s Patriots injury report. Vague references to Jones’ high ankle sprain no longer were an option. He either had to confirm reports of Jones being in line to start Sunday’s road game against the New York Jets or publicly leave the door open for rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe to get the start at MetLife Stadium.
He reluctantly went with the former.
“Mac took a full workload yesterday,” Belichick said during his opening statement in Thursday’s news conference. “I expect him to be fully available here for the game, ready to go. So that’s really it for that.”
When fairly asked whether he meant that Jones will start Sunday, Belichick said: “That’s what I just said. He’s going to have the full load. Yeah.”
OK, that’s not really what you “just said” — but we get it. Jones will start against the Jets, and we’ll just have to see whether another unproductive quarterback rotation is part of the plan.
But what about beyond Week 8? Will Belichick commit to Jones over Zappe for the foreseeable future? After all, that’s what he did with Cam Newton in 2020, with Matt Cassel in 2008 and, of course, with Tom Brady in 2001.
Well, that’s when things got interesting.
Reporter: “You can’t say for the whole season?”
Belichick: “I can’t give you, no. You’re going to give me a bunch of hypothetical situations. I don’t know what those hypotheticals are. So we’re not going to get into that.”
Reporter: “I’m trying not to ask a hypothetical but…”
Belichick: “It’s hypothetical. Like here we are today. We’re practicing for the Jets. It’s Thursday getting ready for the Jets. That’s where we are. Anything that happens beyond that, it’s not current. I’m not going to get into it. That’s as helpful as I can be.”
Reporter: “Is the decision to make Mac the quarterback for Sunday, is that fully related to Mac’s health?”
Belichick: “Yes. He’s ready to play. He was ready to play last week, just didn’t feel (like for) the full game. This week, it’s a different situation. That’s it. We’ll take it from there.”
Reporter: “I was just curious did Bailey’s play on Monday have anything to do with it?”
Belichick: “That’s it. No that’s it. We’ll take it from here. Take it from here. Don’t keep trying to trap me into stuff (in) the future, because I can’t — today’s today.”
Belichick now is doing one of two things: Finding ways to tweak, motivate and humble Jones, or acknowledging that the Patriots really have a quarterback competition on their hands — and that Zappe hasn’t been ruled out.
There’s no way it’s the first option. Believe us when we say that Jones doesn’t need any help with motivating himself or creating a chip on his shoulder. Plus, if he can’t get angry after being humiliated by his own fan base, then he probably isn’t franchise-quarterback material.
So, it has to be the second thing.
At this point, it’s clear that Belichick isn’t 100% sold on Jones being New England’s quarterback of the future. And he might be justified in that thinking, considering Jones has thrown an interception in each of his four starts this season and Zappe, outside of his second-half unraveling against the Chicago Bears on Monday, has played mistake-free, winning football.
At best, Belichick is admitting that Jones hasn’t played well enough this season to warrant a full-throated endorsement as the Patriots’ franchise quarterback. At worst, he’s tacitly admitting that Jones’ job is on the line this Sunday and that Zappe is being seriously considered as a long-term replacement.
And we’re not alone in seeing it this way. Some of the most in-the-know reporters covering the Patriots are on the same page.
This isn’t tin-foil-hat stuff.
Belichick is calculated in every single thing he says during his media availabilities. He knows how things will be interpreted, and he makes every effort toward ensuring they’re interpreted the way he would like them to be. Nothing he does is by accident.
To that end, things could change at any moment. One of the more fascinating things about Belichick is that he’s as predictable as he is unpredictable. It wouldn’t shock anyone if called a surprise press conference Friday and publicly backed Jones once and for all.
But, for now, there is an actual quarterback controversy in New England. Belichick has left no room for doubt.