Everyone saw it coming from a mile away, but seeing arguments be made for the Patriots to make a quarterback change hasn’t been any less jarring.
Let’s state the facts: Bailey Zappe played very well in his first NFL start. The 23-year-old executed New England’s game plan almost perfectly and managed the game well enough to earn his first win. Also a fact: the Patriots defense put together it’s best performance of the season and shut out the league’s highest scoring offense.
You see, this is what the Patriots do under Bill Belichick. Facing adversity and needing to place a rookie under center, everyone steps up to do their job and contribute to a Patriots win. It’s a fool proof method.
As pointed out by NFL Media’s Kevin Patra, the Patriots are now 5-0 under Bill Belichick when starting a non-first-round quarterback who was making their first start, joining Tom Brady (2001), Matt Cassel (2008), Jimmy Garoppolo (2016) and Jacoby Brissett (2016). Quarterbacks in the same situation for all other teams are 30-80 (.270 win percentage) in that span.
Of course, Zappe played well. Aaron Rodgers is the only other quarterback in the last 20 seasons to finish with an 80-plus completion percentage, 100-plus passer rating and one or fewer INTs on 20-plus pass attempts in his first career start, per Patra. The plan for Zappe going in clearly had something to do with limiting mistakes, and according to Belichick, he did that.
“Bailey made a lot of good decisions,” Belichick said. “Was accurate with the ball. Thought he showed some poise there in some pressure situations where he got out of it and found an open receiver, made good decisions.”
Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell chipped in with some praise of his own, understanding exactly how the Patriots would approach Zappe’s first start.
“I would say this: They had a good game plan for him, which we knew they would. They didn’t do anything too exotic,” Campbell said after Detroit’s loss. “And they were able to stay ahead of the sticks. They were very efficient. They gave him some easy throws and some things where they could block it up and let him see it and run away from coverage. And you know what, he made those plays. He made those plays.”
All in all the fourth-rounder clearly deserves credit, but a lot more went into the Patriots’ 29-0 victory than the rookie quarterback, who only attempted 21 passes. After all, he wasn’t exactly the first player to do what he did under the Belichick regime.