FOXBORO, Mass. — Let’s all settle down a little bit.
Bailey Zappe played well in last weekend’s overtime loss to the Green Bay Packers. Honestly, he played better than anyone could’ve expected from a rookie-third stringer thrust into his first game action, and did so at Lambeau Field, no less.
And Zappe again was impressive in the New England Patriots’ 29-0 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday. The fourth-round pick looked cool, calm and collected in completing 17-of-21 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown in his first NFL start. The Patriots absolutely needed a victory, and Zappe made sure the offense held its own on a day when New England’s defense shut out the NFL’s highest-scoring offense. Bill Belichick couldn’t say enough good things about the Western Kentucky product during a postgame press conference.
Fans are high on Zappe, and they should be. And the “ZAPP-EE, ZAPP-EE” chants raining down from the Gillette Stadium crowd were a neat touch at the end of Sunday’s game.
Zappe has done an admirable job since taking over for Brian Hoyer last Sunday. And he certainly is playing a cleaner game than what he showed during the summer.
But believe us when we say that Zappe, who entered the 2022 NFL Draft as a projected career backup, was a total mess during spring practices and training camp. His uneven performance during the preseason — when he threw a pick in all three games — was but a taste of what reporters and fans witnessed on the practice fields outside Gillette Stadium during training camp. There were hospital balls and interceptions aplenty. Those kinds of issues don’t disappear over the course of a few weeks, and likely would resurface if Zappe were forced to play against better NFL defenses.
Moreover, Zappe has done little more than managing the game, throwing to open receivers and doing what his coaches have asked him to do — all of which he deserves credit for. New England’s coaching staff simply is putting Zappe in a position to not lose the game for his team, and he’s executing.
But he’s hardly Dan Marino out there. He’s not even Mac Jones, for that matter.
Take a look at his Next-Gen Stats passing chart against the Lions, who inarguably have the worst defense in the NFL.
Most of those completions were to wide-open receivers, too. The Patriots probably would’ve won this game if practice-squad QB Garrett Gilbert got the start. And we’re not joking.
Again, Zappe deserves praise for what he’s done. That it’s easy to envision New England beating the Browns in Cleveland next week if Zappe gets the start is a testament to the rookie’s confidence, preparation and overall ability.
But Jones is better, and it’s not close. The Patriots offense struggled in its first two games this season, but Jones played well in Week 3 — despite three interceptions — while amassing a career-high in passing yards. His relative struggles over the first few weeks largely can be explained away by the general state of New England’s offense, coaching included. We’re talking about a top-15 pick who just put together one of the best campaigns by a rookie quarterback in NFL history.
Jones is more accurate than Zappe, throws with more velocity and is capable of making more high-end plays. He was voted a captain in his second season for a reason.
That’s not to say the Patriots shouldn’t be over the moon about what Zappe has done this season. He’s given them reasons to believe he could develop into Jacoby Brissett 2.0: a career backup who’s capable of starting in a pinch and/or being flipped in a trade. There’s real value in that.
But a long-term starter in New England? Don’t count on it — at least not while Jones is around.