You already knew Bailey Zappe was going to be asked the questions about the Patriots’ bizarre plan at quarterback when he took the podium after Monday night’s shocking loss to the Chicago Bears.
It went as uncomfortably as you might expect, with Zappe awkwardly trying to pull a “We’re onto the Jets” after a question about how many first-team practice reps he got this week before seemingly forgetting you then have to re-use that phrase for the rest of the conversation or no one will believe you.
In the locker room around that time, offensive players like Mike Onwenu and Jakobi Meyers were telling reporters they had no idea Bill Belichick and the coaching staff were going to pull starting Mac Jones from the game and play Bailey Zappe, with Onwenu apparently not getting Belichick’s memo that playing both quarterbacks against Chicago was part of the plan all along.
Mark Daniels of MassLive even wrote one offensive player apologized to Jones for the way the game unfolded.
Somehow, though, that’s not the worst part of this mess the Patriots willingly created with their bordering-on-negligent handling of their two young quarterbacks.
No. The worst part was that while Zappe, a rookie who’s been thrust into a situation nothing could’ve prepared him for, and Patriots offensive players were stumbling through these queries from equally mystified media members, Belichick was nowhere to be found.
Not until after Zappe’s painful presser and Devin McCourty’s trip to the podium did Belichick take the lectern. It’s the first time I’ve ever covered a Patriots game where Belichick wasn’t the first man up to address the media after a game — coincidentally at the time people wanted answers most of all.
Sure, Belichick was right about everything that happened on the field. The Patriots were out-coached, out-played, out-worked, out-muscled in every phase of football against a Chicago Bears team that simply isn’t very good.
And you know what? If Belichick really wants us to believe Jones and Zappe knew they’d both be playing on Monday and even that Jones’ departure in the second quarter was predetermined rather than a performance-based benching, we can try.
(Of course, the question is why you’d even play Mac Jones in the first place if he wasn’t 100-percent healthy given how Zappe has played in his limited action.)
But it strains credulity that Belichick, who spends so much time controlling narratives and gaslighting people for fun when it comes to the inner workings of his football team, would so willingly create the quarterback controversy wishful fans wanted his team to have and then make his players answer for it before he did.
Belichick has earned a certain cache over 20-plus years of championships and accolades, including closing in on the all-time win record for coaches. He gets to be cagier, perhaps even openly disrespectful, with those that question him than another coaches with less standing might. He gets to point to the rings when people tell him he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and that’s often enough.
But this? This has to be called what it is: Belichick failed his team before, during and after this game. Not just as a coach but as a leader.
How can you claim to take responsibility and say “if it doesn’t work, blame me” and then be AWOL when it’s your time to step up and wear it?
Why are we asking Zappe, a kid who by all accounts wasn’t supposed to play this season but has been thrust into a maelstrom he didn’t make, to face the scrum first as if the failure to put him in the best position to succeed was his own fault?
And why is Mac Jones once again being forced to take the high road and just absorb all the slings and arrows with a good-natured smile while pretending he doesn’t hear the “Zappe! Zappe!” chants all around him in the first quarter?
How’s that in the best interest of the football team? Because to my eyes, Belichick’s handling of the quarterback situation benefits absolutely no one — not even himself. And instead of keeping his team rolling with a chance to sneak into the back end of the playoffs, Belichick exposed his own squad for being a front-running pretender.
What’s more: he also showed the world his team, which many praised for supposedly having two solid quarterbacks, might actually have no quarterbacks and may not have a definite answer at the position by the end of the year.
In a sport where coaching can truly make a difference (see: Brian Daboll), Belichick brought his team down on the field and didn’t do anything to elevate them off of it, either.
If this team isn’t going to be well-coached or have good communication coming from Belichick on down, which is the whole premise upon which this version of the Patriots is built, this entire operation is doomed.
Looking back on all those reports about there being a disconnect between Jones and the organization, maybe the likes of Mike Florio and Albert Breer were right all along. They were just blaming the wrong guy.