Bailey Zappe didn’t get the win Sunday, but he did get plenty of respect from teammates and coaches who gushed about the way the third stringer handled himself in getting thrown into action in hostile Green Bay. Given the current quarterback situation in New England, those reactions matter as much as his performance, because this might be Zappe’s show for the foreseeable future.
Let’s start with what he did Sunday. Zappe earned respect for what he did on the field, including his first career touchdown pass — the first thrown by a rookie QB in the NFL this season — but also for what he said off it, when he put that 25-yard strike to DeVante Parker into perspective following the 27-24 overtime loss at Lambeau Field.
“It felt good, in that moment,” Zappe said of the third-quarter connection that gave the Patriots a short-lived 17-14 lead. “But once that moment was over, I was ready for the next play.”
Such is the lesson for the Patriots.
They had plenty of moments to be proud of against a Packers team regarded as a legitimate Super Bowl contender, from a defense that harassed Aaron Rodgers all afternoon to an offensive line that consistently delivered the first punch, but above all, to a little-known QB who didn’t wilt under the hottest of football lights.
But the moment is over.
Now, these Patriots have to rally behind the 23-year-old quarterback who is their only healthy thrower. This was no one-off adventure, not unless there is some speedy healing for first-string incumbent Mac Jones or his usual backup, veteran Brian Hoyer.
Neither is very likely, given the seriousness of a high ankle sprain, the injury that knocked Jones out of action in the final sequence of a Week 3 loss to Baltimore, and the seriousness of a concussion, the injury Hoyer sustained on his second series under center Sunday.
Even emergency quarterback Jakobi Meyers was out of action against the Packers, sidelined for the second straight week by a knee injury. Bill Belichick declined to share who would have been under center had anything happened to Zappe — “It didn’t turn out to be anybody, so we’ll see,” he grumbled — but the coach/GM will have to find some answers this week.
The coach half of that equation showed out on Sunday, authoring a masterful game plan that nearly pulled off an upset of the heavily favored Rodgers & Co. Now, it’s the GM’s turn to work some roster magic.
The Patriots are going to need some bodies. A return of Cam Newton? Not likely. But nothing is impossible. He’s available, and he has played for Belichick before. But having expressed an interest in only being a starter and sharing a few too many negative reviews of his time in New England since losing out to Jones a year ago, it’s tough to imagine a second Patriot act for Newton.
There are other options — a former practice squadder like Garrett Gilbert, a veteran journeyman like Mike Glennon — that seem more like Belichick’s speed as he awaits the return of Jones.
Meanwhile, he continues to guide the development of Zappe, who despite a college résumé with stops at FCS Houston Baptist and FBS Western Kentucky, performed well under difficult circumstances. Zappe completed 10 of 15 passes for 99 yards while directing two second-half touchdown drives, which should bring some hope that the Patriots can get some wins out of the softer part of their schedule these next few weeks.
Home games against the Lions and Bears sandwiched around a trip to Cleveland are nothing like the cacophony and raucousness in Green Bay, where Zappe took his first snap deep in his own territory with one of the league’s more ferocious defenses staring down at him. As commentator Tony Romo put it on television, “He’s seeing 15 guys on defense out there.”
“You start your first drive in the NFL backed up in Lambeau Field. That’s pretty tough,” veteran center David Andrews said. “I think he did a really good job commanding the huddle. I know that was tough.
“I’m proud of the way he competed, man. He went really quickly from thinking he wasn’t playing much this year to being thrown in the mix in a hostile environment against a really good defense. I thought he led us well, and did a really good job.”
Zappe was as appreciative of those around him as they were of him, crediting teammates for keeping him “cool, calm, and collected.”
“After the first play, the first handoff, I kind of settled in and things quieted down,” he said. “I started giving the ball to playmakers and let them do what they do best, just making sure I did my job. That was the biggest thing.”
“You don’t care about what the third-string quarterback has been doing until he has to play,” captain Devin McCourty said. “Obviously he’s not had a ton of reps, no game reps since the preseason, but even in the preseason in his first game against the Giants and their blitzes, he showed great poise and composure, and I thought he did the same thing tonight.
“He did that today — he comes to work every day, and he has Mac, who was thrown into the fire right away, and Hoyer, a true veteran, and he learns.
“I thought he got an opportunity today and stepped up in a big way.”
All signs point to Zappe needing to step up again, and likely for a few more weeks.