One way or the other, things will get really interesting upon Mac Jones’ return


Sanity says that it’s a question of when and not if Mac Jones will return to his rightful role as New England’s starting quarterback.

And if the flurry of recent reports from ESPN, The Athletic and others are accurate, that return could very well come this Monday night at Gillette Stadium against the Bears.

If so, things are about to get even more interesting for the Patriots and their passionate fans.

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Zappe Fever has been fun over the last three weeks, seemingly all the football world with its roots in Foxborough falling in love with third-string, fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe as he transformed from unknown name on the roster to undefeated starting QB, helping keep New England’s season from falling apart this fall.

Meanwhile, Jones has taken barbs through the public forum. After a rookie season that was about as good as anyone could ask for – 10 wins, a return to the postseason and a trip to the Pro Bowl for the No. 15 overall pick – suddenly there are questions about his pocket presence, accuracy, attitude and viability as a franchise QB.

What have you done for me lately? Indeed.

Now, though, with Jones seemingly set to return to work after missing barely a month of action to what was reported as a severe high ankle sprain things are about to get turned up on a notch on whatever you call New England’s quarterback competition/conversation/situation/controversy.

If Zappe is stepping aside (for now?), he does so at the height of his unexpected fame, popularity and performance. He’s 2-0 as a starter. He has a 111.4 passer rating that would lead the NFL if he had enough passing attempts to qualify for the rankings. He just threw a couple touchdown passes and for more than 300 yards in Cleveland to lead the road win. He continues to come off as anything but entitled, his aww shucks youthful appearance buoyed by him humbly declaring that it’s “surreal” to have been an NFL starting QB even for just a couple weeks.

Zappe’s Q rating and likeability are through the roof.

As long as Jones matches that production he’ll return to his rookie year popularity in his return to action. Even the Foxborough “faithful” should be able to recall the way they felt about No. 10 back when was still No.
1 in their hearts last season as he worked his way impressively through his rookie campaign, winning more than just two games and throwing more than just four touchdown passes.

All’s well that ends well for Jones assuming he can match or supersede Zappes’ recent revelatory production against a Bears defense that’s certainly better than anything the rookie faced and likely better than people will give it credit for.

And if Jones reclaims his top-dog QB job with emphatic production and success on the field, all will be well and good in Bill Belichick’s land. He is after all, joining an offense that’s more refined since he went down in Week 3. Matt Patricia and Co. have evolved, the offensive line and running game leading the way while the passing attack continues to find its “streamlined” identity. Jones could return to a better place than he left with a better overall offense around him.

That would almost certainly be best for the short- and long-term future of Robert Kraft's franchise.

But what if, after being away from game action and limited in practice for three-plus weeks, Jones doesn’t have his A-game? What if Jones, god forbid, punts on his first series back in action? Or worse, what if he turns the ball over as was a sticking point with his play that former Patriots assistant Michael Lombardi and other FOBs (Friends of Belichick) have harmoniously harped on?

Anything less than success from Jones will likely be met inside Gillette Stadium with negative reactions from the fan base. Boos can’t be ruled out. Zappe chants should be expected.

Then, the C-word that no one wants to say or validate, will indeed take hold in New England. Controversy will be here. And controversy will remain until Jones and only Jones finds a way to send it away.

It’s a whole new world in Patriot Nation, further from life as Jones’ once knew it than one would expect after missing a measly three games. Jones is no longer seen as the chosen one, the preferred Patriots QB son. He must regain that throne, whether he realizes it or not.

You thought Zappe Fever was crazy?

Hold onto your butts, Patriot Nation. One way or the other, Mac Jones’ imminent return is about to make things way more interesting in New England.

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