Patriots QB controversy takes bizarre turn in loss to Bears

By Henry McKenna
FOX Sports AFC East Writer

Bill Belichick apparently allotted Mac Jones a one-interception allowance. Because that was all it took. Belichick yanked Jones for Bailey Zappe in the New England Patriots’ 33-14 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday.

The Patriots struggled in the first few drives under Jones and on the third drive, the quarterback made the foolish decision of throwing a floater under pressure. It teed up safety Jaquan Brisker for a sensational interception. Belichick had seen enough of Jones, the 2021 15th overall pick.

Why pull the QB that early? Was it due to concerns about Jones’ ankle injury?

“No,” Belichick said postgame.

So was it a benching due to the interception?

“No,” Belichick said. “

It’s anyone’s guess, whether because Jones was still recovering from an ankle injury or due to poor play.

But the Patriots gave the offense back to their backup, Zappe, who had three great games while Jones was out with his ankle injury. They kept Zappe in for the remainder of the game — despite Belichick saying at halftime Jones would return.

Confused? It’s a bizarre situation. Truly bizarre.

After Jones started 3-of-6 for 13 yards and an interception while falling behind by 10 points, Zappe stepped in and scored 14 unanswered points. For a point of comparison, Zappe was 5-of-6 for 109 yards and a touchdown. It’s fair to say he made better use of his first six passes.

It seemed briefly that the Patriots might take control of the game. It seemed briefly that Zappe would take control of the starting job.

But it only seemed that way. This was not Zappe Hour.

The Bears responded with 23 unanswered points. Zappe could not change the momentum of the game. The offense didn’t help its defense, with back-to-back three-and-outs to open the second half and zero drives with more than 10 plays on the game. Chicago’s offense was dominant against New England’s defense throughout the game.

The Bears rushed for 243 yards, with quarterback Justin Fields leading the team in that category with 82 yards and a rushing touchdown. Fields’ speed was too much for the Patriots front-seven — it felt like New England was struggling to lay a hand on him. The only exception was edge Matthew Judon, who finished with 2.5 sacks and a tipped pass that led to an interception. He was the only bright spot. Otherwise the Patriots’ run defense got worse and worse over the course of the game, especially as they saw starters Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips suffer injuries. It was New England’s worst effort on defense this season. In the passing game, Fields finished 13 of 21 for 179 yards, one touchdown and an interception.

It felt like Zappe had one final chance to ignite the Patriots offense in the fourth quarter with 12 minutes left and a 19-point deficit. He threw an interception, with his pass getting deflected at the line of scrimmage. Roquan Smith grabbed the ball out of the air and effectively put the game out of reach. It only got worse. Zappe would throw another interception before the game ended.

Zappe finished the game 14-of-22 for 185 yards, one touchdown and the two interceptions. The quarterback also fumbled a handoff to receiver Jakobi Meyers. New England’s ground game couldn’t get going. And every ingredient for New England’s recipe for success This season — strong defense, power running and play action — was lacking. They’re in trouble heading into a matchup against the Jets, whose defense looked hot in a win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

For that game, it will be anyone’s guess as to who might start at quarterback: Jones or Zappe. The Patriots coach, predictably, wouldn’t say.

“Yeah, we just finished the game,” Belichick said when asked to name his Week 8 starter.

Zappe struggled Monday with turnovers, just like Jones has done in 2022. Neither of them looked like enough of a game-changer against a Chicago team that many expected to be one of the worst teams in the league.

Last week, the Patriots seemed to have a good problem: They had two quarterbacks. Now, after Belichick pulled his starter early in the game for a backup who flopped, it’s fair to wonder if they have none.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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