Some thoughts on Monday night’s loss:
1) It’s not often you see New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick make any egregious errors, but it’s safe to say that regardless of where you may fall on the Mac Jones vs Bailey Zappe debate, the future Hall of Fame head coach is probably sitting there this morning wishing he had handled things differently.
As Jones took the field on Monday night at a rainy Gillette Stadium, anyone hoping to see him re-establish himself as the starter could tell something was off.
For those who have watched him over the course of the last year, we didn’t see the normally confident player under center Monday night. Instead, we saw a guy who was obviously playing in pain and mentally was playing too close to the vest. The emphasis on turnovers was clearly on his mind, and it was also obvious he was overthinking every play.
It was a recipe for disaster, and that’s exactly the result they ended up with.
The Chicago Bears, as expected, came after him hard and forced him to move around and it definitely appeared that he wasn’t back anywhere close to where he needed to be. He didn’t look comfortable, and there were clear signs that his ankle injury was still hampering his ability to deal with the rush in the pocket. That also saw him be tentative throwing the football, as Jones appeared to lack confidence in what throws he could actually make.
During each dropback, Jones took a look downfield, and with the Bears playing a fair amount of guys in coverage, there were windows, albeit fairly narrow ones and Jones didn’t initially appear comfortable pulling the trigger.
Instead, he opted to take advantage of the running lanes Chicago left open since they probably didn’t expect him to be able to take off and run. Jones admitted after the game he went that route for the sake of at least trying to keep the chains moving and he ended up carrying 3 times for 24-yards, including one on a 3rd-and-5 where he ran up the middle for 10-yards and a first down and extended the drive.
That was probably the most positive play of the night, that and a throw to Hunter Henry for a 12-yard gain on the ensuing set of downs that got them across midfield.
Still, whatever doubts he had in himself ended up playing out, and unfortunately, his night ended later in that series after facing a 2nd-and-10 play where he was under pressure by the Bears’ defense. As Jones dropped back with defenders coming hard after him, he threw a ball up to Jonnu Smith as he was falling away and it turned into a disaster.
As he released it, Jones had tried to loft the ball up and over the defender, but since he was falling backward, he didn’t get enough on it. As a result, the pass ended up getting picked off for his sixth interception of the season.
At that moment, Jones knew his night was over. His head dropped, and his reaction was definitely telling. To make matters worse, after already getting booed off the field on the previous series when their second drive stalled, the reaction to the turnover took it to a completely different level.
An unbelievable chorus of boos rang out, with fans at Gillette Stadium following that up with a deafening chant of Zappe’s name from the stands.
It’s one of the most shocking scenes we’ve potentially ever seen play out for a player during the Belichick era, and while the head coach has gotten 99% of his decisions right on the field over the years, it’s safe to say he got this one badly wrong.
Jones finished completing just 3-of-6 for 13-yards along with the interception. From there, Zappe came in and replaced him for the rest of the night.
Regardless of the outcome, the only takeaway was that Jones shouldn’t have been out there to start with, and it sounds like Belichick knew it might have been a bad idea. According to the broadcast, he reportedly had told ESPN ahead of the game there was a possibility Zappe would play. He said after the game that those statements where made due to his concerns over Jones’s health.
“Yeah, that was a factor, yes,” said Belichick.
As a result, even he knew Jones potentially wasn’t ready, and he made the decision to start him anyway.
With that in mind, putting him out there on a cold rainy wet field on a bad ankle didn’t make a lot of sense. Especially when it created a nightmare scenario where Jones had no margin for error since each time he touched the football and had a negative play, the chants for Zappe were clearly audible during the broadcast.
While the decision to make a change made sense from a competitive standpoint, it’s a sequence that absolutely should never have played out. Zappe should have just gotten the start because Jones simply wasn’t ready to play.
Belichick tried to downplay things after the game, telling reporters that the decision to sit Jones wasn’t due to performance, although it’s certainly hard to view it any other way.
“That’s not what it was,” said Belichick when asked about it after the game. “You can write whatever you want to write. That’s not what it was.”
Jones was asked about the ankle during his press conference after the game and the 85%-90% report we had heard earlier in the week didn’t sound like it was necessarily accurate. Jones was actually asked about it, and part of his response was telling.
“I didn’t really do the whole percentage thing,” said Jones. “I think you’re either able to play or not and obviously, in the NFL you don’t get any credit for playing hurt or not, and there’s no excuses. I felt like I was good to go and like I said, with time, it will get better, and [I’ve] just got to play the game of football better.”
The part of not getting any credit for playing hurt seemed to be a shot at the response he got from the fans who cheered his departure after the Bears had built an early lead and the team had failed to answer.
At the end of the day, there’s no question some of the responsibility unmistakably rests on Jones’s shoulders since all players face adversity. But Jones also physically wasn’t up to the challenge Monday night.
Still, at the same time, if you’re set up to fail, outcomes like these tend to come to fruition, which isn’t good for the player, or the team.
Needless to say, Belichick is likely second-guessing how he handled it. Now he’ll have to both figure out how to deal with that, as well as try and get his team ready to turn the page with a tough game against the New York Jets up next.
2) While Belichick may have told ESPN that both quarterbacks knew ahead of time that they were going to potentially each play, that message didn’t appear to extend outside that circle.
Mark Daniels of MassLive.com reported that multiple starting players were unaware more than one quarterback would play, with Mike Onwenu and Rhamondre Stevenson among the guys who were apparently blindsided by what transpired.
There seemed to be a fair amount of frustration as a whole among players over how the night played out for Jones, with Jakobi Meyers certainly among the most vocal.
“Not even as a football player. I mean, it’s tough as a man to see somebody who worked so hard kind of get that kind of treatment,” said Myers via CBS Boston’s Michael Hurley. “But at the end of the day, we’re all trying to feed our families, so we’ve got to go out there and make plays with whoever’s throwing it.”
Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald then asked Myers for clarification on his “treatment” comment.
“Not even the coaches, just everybody,” Meyers said. “The crowd, all of it. It was an ugly situation, in my opinion.”
Ugly is probably an understatement. Watching that entire sequence of events unfold was definitely stunning to anyone who viewed it on television. For the players on the field and in the locker room, they evidently shared the same sentiment and it hits home a little harder since they have a deeper relationship with him.
Zappe also didn’t appear to be aware of the plan either. ” I prepared this week like I have every other week,” said Zappe. “I prepared as if I was going to play or not.”
As a result, it definitely feels like there were mixed messages in the locker room, which only seems to further complicate an already uncomfortable situation.
Zappe got off to a fast start, but struggled Monday night. (PHOTO: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)
3) As for Zappe, his entrance into the game definitely gave them a spark initially. He came in and hit Smith for a 4-yard pass, and then followed that up with two-straight big plays, hitting Stevenson for a 20-yard gain before finishing things off with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Myers, who made a terrific grab and got himself across the goal line for the score.
That touchdown got the Patriots back in the game, trailing 10-7, and then the defense came up big on the next series and put the ball back in Zappe’s hands at midfield.
Zappe then tossed a high arcing pass to DeVante Parker, who went up and snatched the ball for a 43-yard gain that gave New England 1st-and-goal at the Bears’ 7yd line. To plays later, Stevenson took it in for the touchdown and New England went up 14-10.
However, that would be as close as they’d get as Zappe struggled from there on out. He followed that series up with a fumbled handoff to Meyers, two punts, and then two straight interceptions.
He finished the night completing 14-of-22 for 185-yards along with his touchdown, as well as the two picks and the turnover.
While things might not have gone completely as planned for Zappe, it also didn’t help that the Bears kept the football out of their hands as Chicago held the football for 37:14 compared to just 22:46 by New England, as well as running 70 offensive plays compared to just 48 by the Patriots.
After the game, Zappe wasn’t happy about the turnovers and admitted he’s got to get back to work.
“Yeah, just got to get better,” said Zappe. “Can’t fall off like I did. I’ve got to make some throws. I’ve got to make better decisions on certain things. That’s the good thing about having another week. Get back at it tomorrow. Watch film tomorrow. Get ready for next week.”
His performance likely didn’t necessarily solidify his role as the starter, which probably would have happened if the offense had continued running things up on Chicago after the way things started.
Instead, his play down the stretch leaves the door open for debate, which will likely keep this ongoing saga alive for the foreseeable future.
However, with Jones’s health still in question, Belichick still may opt to keep Zappe in there and just allow Jones to get back to 100%, which could potentially see Zappe under center next Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Fields made things tough on the Patriots’ defense. (PHOTO: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)
4) On the other side of the football, Monday night’s performance by the defense was difficult to watch, but there was certainly one big reason why they struggled badly to shut down the Bears’ ground game.
Defensive tackle Christian Barmore was inactive for last night’s contest, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the defense, and Chicago did a terrific job taking advantage of his absence.
With Barmore out, the Patriots obviously had a tough time inside both in the ground game and it eliminated one key part of their game, which had been the ability to create pressure up the middle. That gave quarterback Justin Fields options when it came to making plays with his feet, which left the defense spending most of the game chasing him around the field.
The final result saw Fields absolutely kill them. He finished with 82-yards on 14 carries and he was a big reason why the Bears finished Monday night converting 11-of-17 on third down (which excludes a kneel down by Fields on third down on their final series), with the quarterback converting 5 of their 11 third-down conversions.
What was frustrating about that is the fact New England’s defense got them in 3rd-and-6 or longer on 9 of those plays, and Chicago converted all but three of them.
Linebacker Matthew Judon said after the game that it was just a frustrating night, and now they’ll have to look at the tape and make the corrections ahead of next week.
“I think he just had running lanes,” said Judon after the game of Fields. “He kept the drives going on third down. We gave him third-and-long, and it seems like he would just find a running lane and pick it up with his feet or make a throw. I think he was just keeping the chains moving. I think we kind of had no answers for him. We have to look at the film and get that corrected.”
5) One thing that’s probably going to complicate their upcoming battle against the Jets is going to potentially see them have to deal with the loss of David Andrews, who suffered a head injury at the end of the contest.
The injury came following Zappe’s first interception where Andrews got blown up by Mike Pennel while trying to make a tackle.
As Andrews was in pursuit, Pennel absolutely leveled him and the veteran center never saw him coming. That led to Pennel initially being flagged for an illegal blindside block as well as an ejection.
Andrews was down on the field for quite a while before eventually getting up and going to the locker room, with the team later reporting that he had suffered a head injury.
He was then replaced by James Ferentz at center, who finished the night and may find himself in that position if Andrews can’t go his weekend.
Also lost Monday night was both Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips, who each suffered injuries. That left New England’s secondary fairly depleted and will be another area to watch heading into this weekend.
All-in-all, Monday night certainly played out about as poorly as it could have possibly gone. They’ll now try and pick up the pieces and, at 3-4, head into Sunday with a must-win game against what appears to be a vastly improved Jets team.
As far as who will be under center, that will remain a key question, and Jones said that his approach will stay the same regardless of how it plays out.
“I guess when Sunday, we’ll know,” said Jones. “Like I said, I want to become a better player and prepare like I always prepare and put the hours in every day, my schedule doesn’t change.”
“I’m just going to continue to do that, and hopefully, the results will take care of themselves. There’s some things you can’t control, and I’m just going to control my attitude and my effort. I’ll come in early, stay late, and do my job.”
Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: Adrian Phillips Bailey Zappe Bill Belichick Chicago Bears David Andrews Jakobi Meyers Jonnu Smith Kyle Dugger Mac Jones Matthew Judon New England Patriots