Let’s not act as if Mac Jones is above a quarterback controversy


The Patriots aren’t in a full-blown quarterback controversy yet, but Bailey Zappe makes it easier for them not to rush Jones back.

Bailey Zappe could be looking to create a quarterback controversy with Mac Jones in the coming weeks. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Look, all I’m saying is that the last time we had a quarterback controversy in these parts, it only led to one of the most successful eras in modern football.

It might behoove us not to outright dismiss the idea.

Nobody is (honestly, at least) suggesting that Bailey Zappe might be the next Tom Brady. He might be Nick Foles, but let’s not kid ourselves.

But there is a decidedly different feeling when the third-string rookie takes the field for the New England Patriots. Despite not having been tasked with having to make many decisions, Zappe has handled the process fluidly. His pocket presence has either helped step up production from the offensive line in front of him, or simply made it look better by virtue of his footwork. Zappe’s lack of mistakes has made things easier on his team’s defense, which just happened to throw a shutout of the NFL’s most dangerous offense through the first four weeks of the 2022 NFL season.

I suppose the most pertinent question is, how couldn’t you have the Zappe Fever right now?

The Patriots improved to 2-3 on the season Sunday afternoon with a 29-0 rout of the Detroit Lions, a team that began the day with much-maligned quarterback Jared Goff hearing whispers of early-season MVP, but ended it with sighs of sensibility. Bringing all their mistake-filled bravado to the stage, the Detroit Lions cemented why they are, perhaps, the most pathetic American sports franchise this side of the Arizona Coyotes.

So, the fact that Zappe completed 17 of his 21 passes for 188 yards and his second career touchdown against a team that boasts the worst defense in the league has to remain a talking point. You can’t praise the Patriots’ defense for handling what was such a potent attack and not raise an eyebrow after seeing what Zappe could handle against a defense that ranked dead last in the NFL.

Popular opinion says Mac Jones is still the Patriots’ quarterback. It was the same sort of mentality that figured the guy who was in the first few weeks of a 10-year, $103 million contract — to that point, the biggest contract in NFL history — would re-claim his own job some 21 years ago .

Bill Belichick must be asking the football gods what he did to deserve this (Only kidding. Of course he thinks he deserves this). After watching his second-year, first-round quarterback look like the second coming of Baker Mayfield over the course of the Patriots’ first three games, the Patriots head coach couldn’t have asked for a better scenario to erupt.

Jones is still day-to-day with a reported high ankle sprain, but you’re not hearing too much these days about rushing into the tightrope surgery. That’s the Zappe Fever talking.

We can all sit here and pooh-pooh the idea of ​​a rookie taking over full-time for an Alabama pedigree, but Zappe is doing everything (no matter how little it might be) being asked of him. Even if Belichick is hell-bent on giving Jones his job back, the nugget of Zappe’s success is going to be an earworm for the remainder of the season. Every poor decision Jones makes from here on out is going to come with a reminder via Belichick as to how Zappe did it. Cleaner. Quicker.

This isn’t like Brian Hoyer having good back-to-back games, a situation that would be welcomed with gratitude, but hardly a threat to Jones’ job. With Zappe, it’s different because of the unknown that comes with him. What if he is special? And how could the Patriots possibly come across two such unicorns two decades apart?

This is what Belichick has in his back pocket now; the lingering threat of Bailey Zappe taking the reins. It’s a coaching tactic that couldn’t have existed prior to Hoyer going down (now on injured reserve).

But a full-blown quarterback controversy? No.

Not enough.

Let’s not act like Mac Jones is an all-deserving veteran incumbent with plenty of room for error. He was the fifth quarterback taken in the Class of 2021, which has thus far been a collective bust. He only has 20 NFL starts under his belt, the latter half of which are trending in a troublesome direction. He was even the worst-rated quarterback (76.2) this season before going down with the ankle injury.

Guess whose rating (104.8) is only three points lower than Josh Allen (107.4)? It begins with a ‘Z’ and ends with the fever gripping New England.

Maybe Sunday’s game was the apex for Bailey Zappe, the by-product of a stellar, defensive outing. The crowd at Gillette may never again chant his name in victory. When healthy, Jones will take back over and the Patriots can see if they can maintain any of the good energy that Zappe left behind into a mid-season run. We’ll see.

But after watching Bailey Zappe for two straight Sundays, nobody is exactly rushing Mac to hurry back anytime soon.

That doesn’t make it a controversy, does it?

Just stay tuned. If you weren’t around the last time we went through all this, Belichick just might prove again that he’s not one to be married to the script.

And if he has the fever, well, watch out.

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