PITTSBURGH — Let’s make this clear right off the top: Bailey Zappe didn’t win himself anything resembling long-term job security in Thursday night’s Patriots victory.

But his primetime performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers should quiet the incessant quarterback whispers that have followed New England for weeks.

Making his second consecutive start, Zappe completed 19 of 28 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns with one interception and a 115.2 passer rating to lead the Patriots to a sorely needed 21-18 win at Acrisure Stadium. And he did it without his primary running back (Rhamondre Stevenson) and top two receivers (DeVante Parker and Demario Douglas), all of whom were inactive due to injury.

“Zap was balling tonight,” running back Ezekiel Elliott, who amassed 140 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown in Stevenson’s absence, said after the game. “He commands our attention in that huddle. He was out there making the checks, making the points.

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“He just had so much confidence, and the offense definitely could feel that.”

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It wasn’t the most complete outing from the second-year signal-caller, who did nearly all of his damage during a sensational first half. More than 70% of Zappe’s completions, more than 80% of his yards and all three of his touchdowns came before halftime as the Patriots — who’d scored just 13 total points over their previous three games — shot out to a 21-3 lead.

Rather than rely on screens and short passes, as both he and former starter Mac Jones have at times this season, Zappe attacked the Steelers’ defense downfield. He attempted six passes of 10-plus yards in that first half and completed four of them, including a 37-yarder to receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on the opening series, a 28-yarder to Smith-Schuster to beat a blitz on third-and-3, and a 24-yard touchdown strike to tight end Hunter Henry over two defenders.

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Zappe also scrambled for a first down on third-and-9, flashing the helpful mobility he showed in his first start against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Some of the old offensive issues returned after the break. Zappe’s final two quarters featured one interception, one near-INT, one sack, three team first downs and five drives that ended in punts. New England’s defense got the necessary stops to secure the win, with Pittsburgh’s only second-half points coming after a blocked punt deep in Patriots territory.

Perfect? Hardly. Sufficient? Certainly.

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The Patriots’ entire QB room will be reevaluated — and, more than likely, revamped — this offseason, but for now, Zappe is the clear starter. He does not have to worry about relinquishing that gig to Jones ahead of next Sunday’s matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Had Zappe flopped Thursday night, a pivot back to Jones or a dice roll on practice squadder Malik Cunningham (who dressed but didn’t play for the second straight game) would have been plausible, perhaps even preferred. Now, it would be surprising if either QB leapfrogged the fresh-faced Western Kentucky product over the final four weeks of this dismal Patriots season.

Is Zappe someone who should factor into the Patriots’ quarterback plans for 2024, even as a backup? That’s something he’ll need to prove over this next month. But in the short term, he’s QB1.

Featured image via Philip G. Pavely/USA TODAY Sports Images