After what’s likely been a whirlwind over the last 24hrs for quarterback Bailey Zappe, he’s probably been a little reflective as he ponders his NFL future.
While the hope was probably that he’d end up back in New England to try and finish what he started, it’s likely a little tough for him not to be sitting there wondering, “what if?” as he looks back on what he’s accomplished heading into his second season in the NFL.
In this league, it tends to be how a player performs in key moments that ultimately decides their career, and Zappe certainly put together some good ones.
After being thrown into the fire last October in Green Bay in relief of Brian Hoyer, Zappe certainly shined.
Hoyer had gone down barely 10 minutes into the contest, just one week after Mac Jones suffered an ankle injury the previous week against the Ravens. That saw Zappe get immediately thrust under center, yet the rookie didn’t seem phased. The young quarterback out of Western Kentucky hit the ground running and went head-to-head against Aaron Rodgers, and even forced overtime before they fell just short, losing 27-24.
Zappe finished that afternoon 10-of-15 (66.7%) for 99 yards along with a touchdown, but more importantly, he was calm and cool, and that performance moved him up the depth chart to the point he moved ahead of Hoyer and remained as the backup for the remainder of the season.
With Jones still out, Zappe started the next two weeks against both the Lions and Browns, winning each start in blowout fashion (29-0 and 38-15, respectively) ahead of their match-up against the Bears in Week 7.
Heading into that week, Jones appeared set to return, although video captured of him by various media outlets leading up to the contest showed him looking a little hampered ahead of what was a Monday Night game at Gillette Stadium.
It ended up raining prior to kickoff, and as the game started, it was a cold wet field Jones would test his ankle out on, and he clearly seemed to have some difficulty.
Knowing Jones was coming off the injury, Chicago’s defense forced him out of the pocket on a couple of plays, with Jones having to take off and make some yards with his feet as the protection broke down.
Moving straight ahead, Jones looked fine. But when moving laterally, Jones was clearly in pain and he had one play where he simply crumpled as defenders closed in on him.
Following multiple possessions where they couldn’t get anything going, Jones threw an ill-advised pass to tight end Jonnu Smith, which he couldn’t get quite enough on, and it ended up being picked off.
That led to deafening chants at Gillette Stadium, as the crowd began chanting Zappe’s name as Jones walked off the field.
Zappe’s opportunity was there, but he couldn’t quite seize it. (PHOTO: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)
Zappe’s Opportunity Was There
To their delight, Zappe entered the game on the next possession and immediately went to work. Trailing 10-0 with 11:55 left to go in the half, Zappe put together their first scoring drive. He hit Smith on a 4-yard completion, and then two plays later facing a 3rd-and-5, Zappe completed a throw to Stevenson that the running back took off and picked up 20 yards to get New England down to the Bears’ 30-yard line.
But the next play brought the crowd to its feet as Zappe fired a deep pass up the left sideline, which was hauled in by Jakobi Meyers. Meyers had to completely turn around as the ball sailed behind him, but he managed to make the reception and then lunge across the goal line for the touchdown.
On the next possession, Myles Bryant picked off Justin Fields near midfield, and Zappe put together yet another scoring drive. It started on the first play from scrimmage as Zappe lofted up another deep ball up the left sideline, with the rookie targeting DeVante Parker, who was covered by two defensive backs.
But Zappe lofted it up high and deep enough where Parker went up and snatched the ball out of the air in between them, which gave New England the football at the Bears 7yd line after the 43-yard gain.
Two plays later, Stevenson was in the end zone and, just like that, the Patriots had the lead at 14-10.
By this time, everyone at Gillette that night was going crazy, with Jones on the bench looking on and likely being frustrated by what was unfolding.
Zappe had brought them back and appeared to be potentially on the verge of his third straight blowout victory in as many weeks, which had the stadium in a frenzy at that point.
After all, they had the momentum, and everything appeared to be going their way, much in the same way it had the previous two games.
But unfortunately for Zappe, that brief period would be the end of what had been an incredible run.
The Bears ended up scoring on the ensuing drive after Fields hit Khalil Herbert for a 25-yard touchdown and they added points after Zappe was sacked and lost the football when the Patriots tried to answer, which set up a 23yd field goal for the Bears to close out the half.
That sequence put the Bears back on top at 20-14, and the rookie wasn’t able to overcome that deficit.
After an impressive start, Zappe closed out the game with a second half where he completed just 9-of-16 for 76-yards and 2 interceptions as the Patriots were shut out the rest of the way during a 33-14 loss.
That finish put the ball back in the hands of Jones, who returned the next week against the Jets and he obviously remained the starter for the remainder of the season.
What Happens Next For Zappe?
Looking back, it’s hard not to wonder what would have happened had Zappe turned that outing into another rout, especially given how things started.
Watching it live, it certainly felt like there might have been a changing of the guard that night, especially as Zappe launched two bombs on back-to-back drives as New England moved up and down the field.
Needless to say, had the Patriots ended up with yet another huge win, there’s a possibility that things could have swung the pendulum in Zappe’s direction and left Bill Belichick with no choice but to stay with him.
Instead, that didn’t happen. And here Zappe is one preseason later on the outside looking in.
Somewhere, deep down, that night probably still bothers him and it’s tough not to wonder if that was the game that has seemingly altered his football career. Especially considering what’s transpired for him over the last 24 hours.
What he does from here, whether he returns to New England or ends up elsewhere, is up to him. Hopefully, for his sake, he makes the most of his next opportunity because he’s already learned that things can change quite a bit if he doesn’t.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bailey Zappe Bill Belichick Mac Jones