Some thoughts following the Patriots’ 38-15 win over the Browns on Sunday in Cleveland:
How Did Bailey Zappe Do on Sunday?
The New England Patriots couldn’t have asked for a better performance from rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe, as he finished the day against the Browns with another solid showing.
Zappe completed 24-of-34 for 309-yards along with two touchdowns as the Patriots blew out the Browns 38-15 to improve to 3-3 on the season.
But for anyone wondering if Zappe’s just been the benefactor of playing two weak teams in the Lions and the Browns, it doesn’t change the fact that there ended up being some notable little things that stood out as being the difference in how he performed.
One of those moments showed up early in the third quarter during their touchdown drive. Facing third-and-goal from the Browns’ 2yd line, Zappe dropped back to throw and immediately looked to his right and cocked the football back with the intent to target either Hunter Henry or Jakobi Meyers, who were each in the vicinity near the front right corner of the end zone.
However, with both players fairly well covered, Zappe then turned to his left and saw rookie Tyquan Thornton break away from his defender and start making his way back across the end zone. Zappe reset his feet and immediately fired a perfect strike, as Thornton hauled in the touchdown pass which put New England even further ahead at 17-6.
That was about as well executed a play as we’ve seen and for Zappe to quickly go through his progressions and make that play definitely stood out.
The other thing that stood out on Sunday was the fact the rookie showed some impressive pocket awareness, including sensing pressure from his blind side on more than one occasion which saw him elude the defender and then continue the play.
While he had the one play where he lost the football after he was hit as his arm was moving forward, his performance in that area as a whole has been better than you would expect from a rookie QB.
Still, it wasn’t all perfect. Zappe missed a big opportunity on their first offensive series where he didn’t notice Hunter Henry had broken free off the snap, with Henry ending up all by himself in the back of the end zone. Instead, Zappe held onto the football and rolled to his right, which saw Henry work that side but the tight end ended up being pushed out of the end zone by the defender.
Though Zappe fired a pass that could have been a touchdown to the veteran (and Zappe actually stiff-armed a defender off of him to make the throw) Henry ended up getting called for “illegal touch pass” due to the fact he had gone out of bounds prior to coming back in and making the catch, and Zappe was out of the pocket. As a result, they were forced to settle for a field goal.
But all things considered, it was an otherwise terrific showing by the rookie, which was exactly what New England needed as they improved to 3-3 on the season.
When Will Mac Jones Be Back?
While Jones made the trip to Cleveland, Bill Belichick clearly felt it was better to let Zappe handle the duties for another week while allowing Jones to continue getting healthy. Next Monday’s contest against the Bears marks just shy of one month to the day since Jones got hurt against the Ravens, with the second-year QB looking about as healthy this past week as he’s been since suffering the injury.
That could potentially mean that he’ll soon get the opportunity to resume his season, which likely sets the stage where Jones will need to be laser-focused coming off of what was a fairly rough start to his sophomore campaign.
One of the primary reasons New England has won each of the last two games, including nearly pulling off the win out in Green Bay, has been a reduced number of turnovers from the quarterback position, which plagued Jones over the course of the first three games.
Part of that problem centered around both the pass protection and the team’s emphasis on DeVante Parker, with four of Jones’ five interceptions coming on targets to the veteran wideout.
However, the other notable difference has been the improvement by the offensive line both in pass protection and running the football, as well as a shift toward running more play-action passes (something Jones had excelled in) while keeping opposing defenses off balance. They’ve also done a better job at picking their spots to Parker, which was one area where they had some success Sunday after he caught four passes for 64-yards.
Overall, it’s been a much better mix of plays, and Matt Patricia deserves the credit for getting away from the things that weren’t working while sticking to their strengths and the results have been obvious.
For Jones, he’s also likely had plenty of perspective after being a spectator the last few weeks, along with getting a little healthier overall – outside of the ankle injury – after getting banged around to start the year. Given the changes that have gone on during his absence, he’s certainly set up for success. Now he just needs to go back out and seize the opportunity the same way he had prior to before he went down.
Zappe has definitely exceeded expectations, and if nothing else, he’s ascended up the depth chart into the backup quarterback job for the foreseeable future. How long he stays there will be up to Jones, but this whole experience has definitely been eye-opening in the sense that the Patriots appear to have two very capable guys on the roster at quarterback, which is definitely not a bad thing.
Zappe exceeded expectations these last few weeks. (PHOTO: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)
If Jones Returns, the Timing is Perfect For Zappe
These last three games couldn’t have gone any more perfect for the standout at Western Kentucky and any Patriots fan out there who is a fan of Zappe should be rooting for Jones to perform well.
Why? Because Zappe’s stock will never be higher than it is right now. Without any black marks on his resume, he’s now in control of his future in the sense that he’ll have an opportunity to earn the job if Jones ends up not being the guy, or he’ll end up potentially giving the Patriots a solid return on the 4th round pick it cost to select him if Jones gets back to being a Pro Bowl quarterback.
But for right now, they’re not in any rush to make any type of rash decisions.
Simply put, if Jones returns to playing at a high level, Zappe’s value has clearly grown leaps and bounds these last few games and his job security both with the team and in the league has certainly benefitted from it as a result.
And it’s not something that can be downplayed. He’s done something not every college quarterback has done, which is become a competent player against NFL competition. Anyone who has followed the number of names who have come and gone in this league should already realize Zappe’s eclipsed quite a few of them just in a few games.
What he’s accomplished has been impressive, and while people are likely going to be split on this, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a Jones vs Zappe situation. Granted, that’s likely going to be the discussion this week and probably every week for the rest of the season if Jones makes any type of mistake. Still, fans always talk about wanting the best players from top to bottom at every position. The Patriots just happen to find themselves in an unusual situation where they seem to have that benefit at quarterback.
All you need to do is look around the league to realize how fortunate they are to be in this spot. Having a capable signal-caller in the NFL is rare as it is, so the fact New England has two is a luxury other teams would love to have.
And Jones deserves a chance at redemption. While he’s caught some criticism for how his season started, there’s obviously been a lot of time and energy by both him and the team, so it clearly makes sense for them to see that through. There are also some things that he does a little better at this point in terms of running the offense and reading defenses, primarily from experience. That’s not a slight at Zappe. It’s just that this time last year, Jones was gaining experience working against NFL defenses while Zappe was finishing out his last year in college. It just is what it is.
At the same time, for Jones, things have clearly changed. There’s absolutely no question Zappe’s growth has increased the pressure on the former first-round pick, although that isn’t exactly something he hasn’t experienced given the road he faced before eventually becoming the starter at Alabama. But in order to stay there, he’ll have to play well, and it’s doubtful fans in New England will complain as long as that continues.
After what we’ve seen, Zappe’s time will likely come. For now, expect Belichick to brush off the question for at least another week, since there’s no reason to give up the advantage of forcing the Bears to potentially have to prepare for two quarterbacks.
But when the ball does shift back into Jones’ court, it’s up to Zappe to build on what he’s done behind the scenes for the remainder of the season if Jones gets the starting nod next Monday night.
He’s done his job. Now it’s just up to Mac to do his. Otherwise, Zappe’s done enough where things might indeed get interesting.
A Big Day For the Defense, Barmore Injured
It was good to see the Patriots put up another solid performance defensively, with New England getting off to a good start right out of the gate by forcing a turnover on just the second play of the afternoon. Kyle Dugger did the honors, picking off Jacoby Brissett to help set up the Patriots’ first points of the contest.
They also picked him off early in the third quarter, with Jalen Mills picking off a throw after Brissett took a shot from Ja’Whaun Bentley, which forced an errant pass and Mills came up with the turnover. That play set up a 31-yard touchdown to Henry, which at the time gave New England a 24-6 edge and pushed the game further out of reach.
Overall, they held a pretty formidable rushing attack to just 70 total yards, along with corralling Nick Chubb, who carried 12 times for 56-yards.
They also defended eight passes while coming away with two interceptions, as well as hitting Brissett eight times while sacking him on four of them.
One big concern coming out of this game is the fact that the team lost Christian Barmore midway through the second quarter with an apparent knee injury. Barmore initially went into the blue medical tent before eventually going to the locker room.
The team first listed him as “questionable” but later downgraded him to “out” and he didn’t return.
His loss would be big as he’s a massive key to that defensive tackle group, both against the run as well as getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. As a result, his status will be something to keep an eye on heading into next week.
Also banged up was Deatrich Wise Jr., who was hurt in the fourth quarter but the news appears to be positive on him. He seemed to be in good spirits during his post-game press conference, which injured players don’t typically take part in.
Wise said team chemistry right now is in a good place and he’s pleased with where they are as a group defensively.
“Most definitely, everything is clicking together,” said Wise Jr. “We still have some things to clean up, we will watch film to see where that is at. Right now, we are doing a great job. We started last week and we want to keep the momentum going and do the same thing this week.”
Stevenson got the job done Sunday. (PHOTO: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports)
Stevenson Stepped Up, Thornton Reaches a Milestone
With Damien Harris missing Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury, Rhamondre Stevenson came up big. He carried 19 times for 76-yards, including a 31-yard scoring run for the Patriots’ first touchdown of the day.
That carry was Stevenson’s third run of 20+ yards this season, with the running back being the only Patriots running back to break off runs of over 20-yards so far this season.
His 31-yard run was also his second-longest run of the year, with the veteran back breaking off one for 49-yards last week against the Lions.
Stevenson also made a few plays in the passing game after hauling in four passes on five targets for 15 yards. That’s an area he continues to get work in, which has been a nice addition to his game as the team has seemingly been transitioning away from a third-down back role for the sake of keeping opponents honest.
That strategy appears to have paid off because the Patriots caught the Browns off guard as they called Stevenson’s number on a 3rd-and-10 from the Browns’ 31yd line late in the second quarter. They clearly weren’t expecting it, and he broke through their defense and was off to the races, which saw him end up in the end zone.
They’ve also done a good job so far with moving Thornton around and using him in various scenarios, with the speedy rookie getting the call after the muffed punt by the Browns late in the fourth quarter. Thornton took the football and flew up the left side and effortlessly glided in for a 19-yard touchdown.
He finished with both a rushing and receiving touchdown in during the victory, becoming just the second Patriots rookie to do it since Irving Fryar last accomplished it against the Seahawks in 1985.
The improvement on the ground and the offense’s growth as a whole has been great to see in recent weeks. With the team now sitting at 3-3, we’ll see if they can get above .500 when they battle the Bears next Monday night at Gillette Stadium.
Posted Under: 2022 Patriots Season
Tags: Bailey Zappe Cleveland Browns Hunter Henry Mac Jones New England Patriots Tyquan Thornton