Tom E. Curran

Patriots' QB drama shows how far the mighty have fallen

It's hard to find any logic in Bill Belichick's plan at quarterback.

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The Patriots are now the team they used to laugh at.

A 2-8 record. Averaging 14 points per game. Entering the weekend with nobody -- not the players, not the coaches, not the quarterbacks themselves -- knowing which of two underwhelming options will start Sunday against the Giants.

Is that what’s best for the football team? Is this Bill Belichick playing chess again? Or is it what punching out early looks like?

Because if the knee-buckling loss in Germany didn’t seal Belichick’s fate, taking 13 days to reveal who will start at quarterback probably has.

Or even worse, taking 13 days to even decide. We presume Belichick’s just playing coy. That he knows but isn’t telling.

If that’s the case? If he did know and still split reps right down the middle between Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe? Well, that ain’t the way to get someone ready to start a football game unless you’ve committed to just effing around.

And if he truly didn’t know which guy to start? It’s because he’s effed the position up beyond recognition. And he has.

I mean, nothing says “That was the last straw” like hauling a player’s ass off the field after the latest in a season’s worth of WTF moments and putting in his backup -- COMPLETELY COLD -- for a game-winning drive.

We can differ on who gets what portion of blame for the fact Mac Jones was unusable after that pick. But we can all agree he was indeed unusable once he got tugged.

Yet behind Door No. 2 stood Zappe. Who was horrendous all summer and remained there in mop-up duty against the Cowboys and Saints. On cue, Zappe said to Mac, “Hold my beer…” then threw a pick on a fake-spike play that was so poorly executed that THREE Colts were on the scene in the middle of the field to pick Zappe off.

The play design was absurd. Who you gonna fool on a fake spike when all the receivers take off and run 25-yard routes? You wanna pretend nothing’s going on, then let a boundary receiver take off while everybody else dawdles? But I digress.

But Jones became usable again when Belichick realized a Zappe-Will Grier combo platter against the Giants (or a Zappe-Malik Cunningham combo platter) has the potential to be even more embarrassing for him.

Currently, fans are throwing tomatoes at Jones at an even higher rate than they are Belichick. If Zappe goes out there and plays as he did during training camp, the fanbase clamoring for “anyone but Mac” will see how badly Belichick staffed the most important position in pro sports.

First-round quarterback and 2021 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year runner-up Mac Jones is now a shield for Belichick. If he plays, he’ll still take the abuse when they lose. If he sits and the team is inept under Zappe, then the mismanagement is exposed.

And if you doubt the team’s regard for Zappe, please recall October 15. The 1-4 Patriots needed a win in Vegas. And they installed Cunningham as Jones’ backup against the Raiders, leaving Zappe inactive. The Patriots opted to have a player who’d never thrown an NFL pass be a blown knee away from playing in a game that mattered.   

There are so many moments competing for rock-bottom – Mac Jones’ pick against Indy, JuJu Smith-Schuster’s drop against the Commanders, the Mac safety sack against the Raiders, the entire games against New Orleans and Dallas, the Sin City Meltdown of 2022 -- but this weeklong shrug-a-thon from Belichick about who’ll be his starter may be the winner.

🔊 Patriots Talk: Bill Belichick’s QB strategy seems to be “embrace the chaos” | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

What’s the purpose? What’s the logic? What’s the plan? Again, this is what’s best for the football team?

In the summer of 2021, the Giants came to Foxboro for joint practices against the Patriots. That was the week Jones put to bed the competition with Cam Newton for the starting job. He didn’t just show he was better than Cam -- he showed he was much better than Giants starter Daniel Jones.

Two years later, the offense is such that Kendrick Bourne remains the team’s leading receiver with 37 catches. DeVante Parker and Smith-Schuster have combined for 37 catches. In 2020 with a cooked Cam Newton throwing in a landlocked offense, Damiere Byrd had 47 catches. Parker has 46 total since he came to the team last year.

The only intrigue entering this game with the Giants is which Patriots quarterback starts after a week of prep when neither option got the full complement of reps to prepare.

Week 12 of the 2023 season. Bill Belichick is playing chess. The rest of the league is playing football. (I stole that...)

Prediction: GIANTS 12, Patriots 9

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