What’s next for Mac Jones, Bill Belichick and the Patriots?
AFC East Reporter
The New England Patriots appeared to have an in-season quarterback controversy for the first time since 2001. Bill Belichick, in the past, would not stand for questions about the team’s starting quarterback when it was Tom Brady.
And for obvious reasons.
In 2016, when Brady missed time with his Deflategate suspension and Jimmy Garoppolo stepped in as a capable replacement, Belichick hushed the hypotheticals and stuck by Brady as the starting quarterback.
It appeared earlier this week that Belichick was out of practice with these types of matters.
Technically, Belichick was doing something similar. But his comments were having a totally different result. After Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe rotated in a Week 7 game on primetime TV, Belichick declined to answer hypothetical questions. But this week, rather than sticking by his starter like he did in 2016 from the outset, Belichick dismissed hypotheticals in order to avoid naming a starter.
Will Jones start, when healthy?
“That’s a hypothetical question so let’s see where that is and what that is,” Belichick said Tuesday in a video conference call.
The news came down Wednesday that Jones will indeed start heading into Week 8, and for the remainder of the season, according to ESPNbut it seems clear that Belichick needed to do a better job keeping the team in the loop. Last week, many players did not know that the plan was to remove Jones from the game and, potentially, insert him back into the lineup for the end of the game (Belichick said Jones’ ankle was a consideration in developing the idea for the platoon).
“It’s tough, as a man, to see somebody who worked so hard get that kind of treatment, but at the end of the day, we’re all trying to feed our families,” receiver Jakobi Meyers said in the locker room after the game. “We have to make plays no matter who’s throwing [the ball].”
There were pregame reports that both quarterbacks would play. Belichick fielded a question about why he didn’t take the time to inform all his players.
“I talked to the quarterbacks. I talked to the leaders of the team,” Belichick said during an appearance on WEEI Sports Radio on Tuesday. “Everybody knew what the plan was. I mean, not every single person, obviously. I wouldn’t’ t talk to every person about another player’s role in the game. They all have their jobs to do. There was no lack of communication.”
And yet Meyers — the team’s top receiver — indicated he did not know. Starting running back Rhamondre Stevenson also seemed in the dark.
So maybe Belichick is a little rusty about how to handle a quarterback controversy, because he has only made the situation worse. Certainly, there are people within Jones’ camp who are not pleased with how the dynamic has played out. Jones, however, has made it clear publicly he’s on board with Belichick.
“Coach Belichick obviously did a really, really good job explaining it to me. And I knew what the plan was, and the timing is the timing,” Jones said. “We were on the same page. There’s no hard feelings.”
You’d have to think Jones and Belichick can forget about this weirdness — in the right scenario.
Yes, things got embarrassing in a blowout defeat to the Chicago Bears (who were widely considered the worst team in the NFL going into Monday’s game). But Belichick has weathered worse. Or, at least, he’s been through similarly adverse circumstances. And generally , he’s come out the other end with a Super Bowl victory. That’s not to say Belichick will do that here. But the man has a history of managing his team past his own mismanagements.
And that’s what this has been: mismanagement.
Best case scenario? Jones finishes the Week 8 matchup against the Jets with zero turnovers in a win. That’s how this relationship heals quickly: winning. And it would help if Jones cut down on the turnovers.
How do things get worse? If Jones throws a handful of interceptions, particularly in a loss, Belichick will surely be upset. If Zappe plays, it’s easy to imagine that Jones would be upset. And that’s how this controversy gets even more dramatic. Even Belichick has continually said that he won’t keep playing two quarterbacks in one game. He must know it’s a bad idea. If Belichick pulls Jones for Zappe in another game, it might mean the Patriots are making the change for the rest of the season .
It’s a tenuous position for everyone involved. Belichick can’t afford to end up with two quarterbacks in a state of broken confidence. Certainly, Jones’ standing with the team seems confusing. And Zappe didn’t get much in the way of first- team reps last week — and finished the game with a pair of interceptions. Did he feel properly prepared?
Belichick is a master of controlling external forces while setting up his players to succeed from an X’s and O’s standpoint. So it’s easy to imagine this situation coming to a positive resolution. But there’s a lot at stake.
One quarterback needs to come out the other end at a starting-caliber level, because if the Patriots end up with none, they’ll miss the playoffs. And Belichick will be to blame.
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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