Sunday’s game against the New York Jets could be Bill Belichick’s last as Patriots head coach. It also could be the last for Bailey Zappe as New England’s starting quarterback.

Zappe has brought some positive elements to the offense since taking over for Mac Jones in Week 13. He’s moved well in the pocket. He’s hit on some big plays downfield. The Patriots have scored a pair of primetime road upsets with him behind center (at Pittsburgh and Denver).

But Zappe also has lacked consistency, and he’s battled the same ball-security problems that got Jones benched. He has six touchdowns and five interceptions across his five starts, including three picks in the first 20 minutes of last week’s six-point loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Based on what he’s put on film, it’s hard to imagine any team viewing Zappe as anything more than a solid backup. The Patriots, who will own a top-five pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, surely will look to upgrade at the QB position this offseason.

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But that doesn’t make this season a failure for Zappe. The improvement he showed after struggling so badly this summer that he was cut out of training camp was not lost on Belichick, who had high praise for the second-year signal-caller ahead of Sunday’s finale.

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“In August or September, whenever it was, during the final cuts, I talked to Bailey and I thought he had a great attitude and outlook on the situation,” Belichick said Friday in a video conference. “‘What do I need to do better? How can I do it? How can I improve?’ And he’s worked very hard to address those, and it’s shown up in his play and his performance, not just recently but going all the way back to day by day through September, October, all those days.

“You just take it one day at a time, and I think he really tried to embrace that. It’s a big credit to him — his mental toughness, his resiliency and his attitude toward competing.”

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Zappe has two years left on his rookie contract, so he’ll likely be back to compete for a job in 2024 unless another team trades for him this offseason. Depending on which moves New England makes at the position, it’s possible the 24-year-old could serve as a bridge starter until a rookie (Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels, Michael Penix, etc.) is ready to take over.

Jones’ future is murkier after back-to-back dysfunctional seasons as New England’s starter. While the 2021 first-round pick is under contract for the ’24 campaign and is another bridge starter candidate, a fresh start elsewhere could be best for both sides.

Belichick declined to say whether he believes Jones still can be a starting NFL quarterback.

“I’ll hold off on any evaluations on anybody,” the head coach said. “I don’t think that’s really appropriate right now. We’re just, as a team, trying to focus for the Jets and our last game here and just play our best game of the year. We’ll just leave it at that.”

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Featured image via Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports Images