Phil Perry

Is the Mac Jones Era finally over? Belichick provides telling clue

It might be Bailey Zappe's time to shine this Sunday against the Chargers.

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FOXBORO -- Mac Jones stood and watched after Bailey Zappe took snap after snap during an early portion of Patriots practice that was open to reporters. Jones continued to watch idly as Malik Cunningham stepped up and took a handful of quarterback snaps of his own.

Jones was benched for the fourth time this season in Sunday's loss to the Giants. But Wednesday's apparent demotion -- based on how early practice snaps were doled out -- was the first indication that Jones' run as New England's starting quarterback may be over.

Bill Belichick wasn't about to detail his plans at the quarterback position ahead of Wednesday's practice.

"Yeah, I’m not going to make any announcements on our lineup at any position," Belichick said. "So, it doesn’t matter what the position is. We’ll see how practice goes, see if everybody is ready to go. Hopefully everybody is ready to go, see what the injury situation is, and we’ll go with who we think is best on Sunday."

Jones was pressured five times and sacked twice against New York. After losing to the Colts in Week 10, he said he received X-rays after absorbing nine hits.

Belichick took a similar approach a week ago in not announcing who would be starting for the Patriots at quarterback. But, according to team sources, Jones and Zappe split starting quarterback reps in practice leading up to the Giants game. Players and coaches alike were in the dark on which quarterback would get the start until Sunday.

If Wednesday's early-practice reps were any indication, however, it could be much clearer this week who will be the first quarterback on the field when the Patriots face the Chargers on Sunday.

Jones took a seat in favor of Zappe after playing the first half against the Giants at MetLife Stadium in Week 12. He threw two picks and fumbled (recovered by the Patriots) before being removed.

"Bad quarterback play," Jones said after the game. "It wasn't good enough by me. If the quarterback doesn't play well, you've got no chance. I wasn't moving the ball and scoring points. I understand why that happened."

In his first series against the Giants, Zappe quarterbacked the Patriots to their lone touchdown drive of the game. But ultimately he didn't fare much better than Jones. He was picked off once -- on a play where it looked like safety Xavier McKinney was daring Zappe to throw it deep -- and was nearly picked off twice more.

Zappe's average depth of target during a screen-heavy second half for the Patriots offense was 2.3 yards, which represented the lowest figure in the league last week.

Still, based on a brief snap-shot in Wednesday's practice, it looks like he could be the new No. 1 quarterback in Foxboro.

And perhaps Cunningham, who is on the practice squad and has worked out at both receiver and quarterback during his rookie season, will be the No. 2. Cunningham functioned as the backup to Jones in a Week 6 loss to the Raiders when he played three snaps offensively and Zapped served as the emergency third quarterback.

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