FOXBORO, Mass. — What’s that old saying? If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one?
That’s where the New England Patriots find themselves after Monday night’s 33-14 loss to the underdog Chicago Bears — a game that featured a QB usage plan unlike any previously seen in the Bill Belichick era.
Mac Jones started the game, then was replaced by rookie Bailey Zappe early in the second quarter. But this move, according to Belichick, was not made because Jones was struggling (though he was), nor because he suffered an in-game injury (though he was working his way back from one).
Though Zappe’s entrance sparked a brief rally, neither signal-caller looked especially impressive against a Bears team that, entering this primetime matchup, was widely viewed as one of the NFL’s worst. As a result, the Patriots are facing even more questions at the game’s most important position as they head into a short-week road matchup with the division-rival New York Jets.
Belichick and both QBs spoke to reporters after the loss. Here’s everything we learned from their postgame comments:
— The Patriots planned to play both QBs against Chicago, with Jones starting in his first game back from a high ankle sprain and Zappe entering in relief.
“I told the quarterbacks that we were going to play both of them, and that’s what we did,” Belichick said.
“I think it was the best thing to do based on the situation,” Belichick said.
— Jones’ removal after three series was not performance-related.
“That’s not what it was, but you can write whatever you want to write,” Belichick said. “That’s not what it was.”
The Patriots went three-and-out on Jones’ first two drives, and his final snap was a bad interception on an ill-advised throw to tight end Jonnu Smith.
— Jones’ health entering Monday night influenced the Patriots’ unorthodox QB plan. He had missed the previous three games and has yet to fully participate in any practices since his injury.
“Yeah, that was a factor, yes,” Belichick said.
— The Patriots intended to reinsert Jones at some point during the second half, but Belichick altered that plan because he considered the game out of reach. New England trailed by six points at halftime and 12 points entering the fourth quarter, with Chicago scoring two minutes into the fourth to stretch its lead to 19.
“He would have gone back in,” Belichick said. “The score got out of hand. I didn’t think that was the right thing to do.”
Belichick didn’t share specifics about when Jones would have reentered the game, or why. It’s possible the Patriots planned to have him play the first and fourth quarters but changed course when they found themselves down by three scores before their first offensive snap of the final frame.
Zappe led two rapid-fire touchdown drives after replacing Jones, but his final five possessions resulted in a lost fumble, two three-and-outs and two interceptions, with the Patriots failing to score after the 6:04 mark of the second quarter.
— Belichick said he communicated this plan to both quarterbacks, and Jones said he was on board with it.
“(It was) just part of the plan,” Jones said. “I think Coach Belichick obviously did a really, really good job explaining it to me. I knew what the plan was, and the timing is the timing, but we were on the same page, and there’s no hard feelings or anything. I wish I played better while I was in there, but hopefully I’ll have a chance to do that in practice and kind of earn that back and then apply it in the game.”
Zappe, meanwhile, deferred to Belichick on most game plan-related questions, but he did reply, “Nothing to my knowledge,” when asked whether there were conversations about Jones potentially reentering the game. Asked when he learned Jones would be starting, he responded: “About the same time y’all did.”
The rookie signal-caller, who quarterbacked the Patriots to back-to-back victories during Jones’ layoff, was asked whether he received any first-team practice reps late in the week.
“That’s a question — moving on to the Jets, actually,” he said. “So getting ready for them.”
— Not every Patriots player, however, got the memo about the Jones/Zappe split.
Wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and guard Mike Onwenu both said they were surprised when Jones was pulled. Meyers didn’t sound thrilled about it, either.
“It’s tough as a man to see somebody who worked so hard get that kind of treatment,” Meyers said, referring to Jones.
— Who will start against the Jets, who sit at 5-2 after beating a shorthanded Denver Broncos team Sunday? Belichick said he won’t employ a platoon system where a different QB gets the nod each week, but he’s not revealing how the Patriots will approach this pivotal AFC East matchup in East Rutherford.
“We just finished the game,” Belichick said when asked who the Patriots’ starting quarterback is.
Does Jones expect to start this week?
“I guess when Sunday comes, we’ll know,” he said.