The Gameplan

Two key factors driving Bailey Zappe's recent success with Patriots

The young QB has jump-started a once-stagnant Patriots offense.

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Four months ago, Bailey Zappe was briefly out of a job. Earlier this season, he was relegated to third-string quarterback behind Mac Jones and Malik Cunningham.

Now, Zappe is the New England Patriots' starting quarterback, with a 2-1 record and a 106.1 passer rating in his last three games. So, what's powering Zappe's sudden transformation into a productive NFL QB?

Our Patriots Insider Phil Perry joined NBC Sports Boston's The Gameplan on Wednesday night to highlight two specific things Zappe has done "on his own" recently to change the fortunes of the Patriots' offense despite having below-average protection and a subpar group of pass-catchers.

Here's a breakdown of both, as explained by Perry in the video player above:

1. Extending the play

"That is modern-day quarterbacking," Perry said. "It is never going to be perfect snap to snap to snap in terms of the protection that you're getting. The athletes on the defensive line are just too good in 2023. So, what he has done has been able to make that first guy miss.

"Usually it's his ability to step up in the pocket and keep his eyes downfield. (For) Mac Jones, it got to a point with him where he was shaken enough by the protection that he had gotten that he was looking for escape lanes. He was looking to tuck it and run, he was looking to maybe just go down and even take a sack because that was better than the alternative, which might be throwing it into a team meeting by the opposing defense and coming away with a backbreaking turnover.

"Zappe has been able to move around, keep his eyes downfield, allow his receivers a little bit more time to shake free and create some explosive plays."

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To Perry's point, Zappe faced pressure on nearly half of his dropbacks against the Denver Broncos (44.4 percent) but completed 9 of 13 passes under pressure for 115 yards and a touchdown, per Pro Football Focus. One of his best throws of the game came after he stepped up in the pocket to avoid the Broncos rush and hit Demario Douglas for a 41-yard gain.

That's an aspect that was too often missing from Mac Jones' game this season and caused the Patriots' offense to stagnate. Jones threw just one touchdown pass over what would be his final three starts, while Zappe has six in a three-game span.

2. Explosive plays

"That's the second thing he's done is create explosive plays, whether it's in structure or out of structure," Perry explained.

"Against Denver the other night, he was 5 for 5 on passes that traveled at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage down the field. That's fantastic, and to hit some of them in critical situations the way he did, twice to DeVante Parker, once to Mike Gesicki in the back of the end zone ... those are the kinds of plays that the Patriots offense needs, because we know what they have protection-wise, we know what they have receiver-wise.

"These receivers need help getting open. Giving them more time, extending the play, that's exactly what he's done the last couple of weeks when it's looked good. He's had halves where it hasn't been nearly as good, but when it has been good, those are the things he's been doing."

While New England's offense was ultra-conservative in Jones' last three starts, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien has let Zappe air it out. He's already thrown 20 passes of 20-plus yards this season, completing 8 of 20 for 225 yards. By contrast, Jones attempted just 31 deep passes in 11 games, completing 9 of 31 for 133 yards.

Zappe's success is all relative, of course. The Patriots are still averaging just 21.3 points over their last three games (below league average), while Zappe has committed three turnovers and taken eight sacks in that span.

But for fans who witnessed the offense's complete ineptitude under Jones earlier this season, the 2022 fourth-round pick has been a breath of fresh air.

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