It's been a frustrating sophomore season both on and off the field for New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones.
Before suffering the high-ankle sprain that has sidelined him for the last three weeks, Jones struggled to adjust to the Patriots' "streamlined" offense. With Matt Patricia and Joe Judge replacing Josh McDaniels as de facto offensive coordinators, Jones threw five interceptions through three games.
Apparently, those offensive changes combined with Jones' injury have caused some tension behind the scenes in New England. The MMQB's Albert Breer says the relationship between Jones and the team has soured at times lately.
"I think things did get a little sideways really over the last couple of months," Breer said Sunday on Patriots Pregame Live. "I think it's going back to the change from Josh McDaniels. 'Why are we bringing in Joe Judge and Matt Patricia when Bill O'Brien's sitting out there and potentially we could have made a run at him? Why does it make sense to have a defensive guy and a special teams guy here? Why are we changing the offense? Why are we streamlining after all the success I had?' ...
"I think that bled over into the injury now and I think this has sort of given the coaches an opportunity to send a message to Mac. I don't think Mac was ever in jeopardy of losing his job, but I don't think that they told Mac that either. I don't think they said to Mac, 'Listen, you're good, don't worry about how Bailey Zappe plays.'
Zappe hasn't lit up the box score since replacing Jones, but the rookie has done his part to give his team a chance to win. He forced overtime in his first NFL appearance vs. the Green Bay Packers, then helped the Patriots to a 29-0 win over the Detroit Lions in his first career start. His only turnover in the two games was an interception that bounced off the hands of wide receiver Nelson Agholor.
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The expectation is Jones will resume his role as the starting QB when healthy, but head coach Bill Belichick wouldn't commit to that during his recent press conference.
"We'll see where he is," Belichick said. "I don't know."
Breer believes Belichick and the Patriots are using this as an opportunity to send a message to their 2021 first-rounder.
"This is a chance for them to sort of send the message to Mac that you have to do things better," Breer added. "Like, if you trust the offense, look what the offense is doing for this fourth-round pick out of Western Kentucky. We saw early in the year he freelanced some, he took shots downfield, we saw the turnover issue. I think part of the message here is, watch what Bailey Zappe is doing. He's doing what we're telling him to, and watch how the offense works for him."
Zappe took over for Jones again in Sunday's Week 6 game vs. the Cleveland Browns. It will be worth monitoring the Patriots QB situation leading into the team's Monday Night Football matchup against the Chicago Bears.