It’s not just on the field that Patriots coach Bill Belichick has put his quarterbacks in a difficult position.
His longstanding tactic of stonewalling and offering as little detail as possible on anything that might interest the Patriots’ opponent has put Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe on the spot with the media.
After the bizarre decision to have both quarterbacks play Monday night — as it turned out, Jones, returning from an ankle injury, was pulled after three series and one regrettable interception — reporters rightfully and repeatedly have asked how and when they found out their playing status.
The result is an ongoing theater of the absurd, with several shows daily. It peaked Wednesday. During his morning news conference, Belichick answered the first five questions about the quarterback situation with the phrase, “We’ll see how it goes today.” At 3:45 p.m., an answer seemed to come confirming it went well when ESPN’s Field Yates tweeted that Jones took approximately 90 percent of the first-team snaps in practice and would start Sunday against the Jets.
But of course, for some ridiculous reason, Jones couldn’t confirm as much when he talked with reporters later in the day. Here’s a sampling of questions and some of his answers, edited for length.
Q: “Do you plan on starting this Sunday?”
Jones: “I plan to start every game that I’ve ever played in. So whether that was in pee-wee football or third string at Alabama, I always try to prepare as a starter.”
Q: “That report by ESPN a couple of hours ago indicates that you will start. Have you been told directly that you will start this Sunday?”
Jones: “What report are you talking about?”
Q: “There was a report by ESPN’s Field Yates saying that you’ll start this week … Have you been told directly that you’ll start this Sunday?”
Jones: “I think obviously we don’t really talk about that.”
Thursday morning, Belichick confirmed that Jones “would have the full load” and start Sunday. As plugged in as Yates is with the Patriots, it’s hard to believe he knew Jones would start before the quarterback did.
Jones shouldn’t have to obfuscate to that degree. As for Zappe, he’s not quite as polished at the say-nothing, reveal-nothing approach. After Monday’s loss, Zappe answered several questions with the desired vagueness before he accidentally let a little information slip. When asked when he found out about the two-quarterback plan, he said, “About the same time y’all did.”
Pretty safe bet he heard about the grievous rookie mistake of being forthcoming.
Between the travel, late nights and weekends, and the inescapable assortment of lousy games that populate even the best teams’ seasons, play-by-play broadcasters’ dues are paid many times over before they even get consideration for the best assignments. So it’s been satisfying to see some talented, dedicated voices receive the highest-profile opportunities lately.
Kevin Burkhardt, whose sportscaster origin story includes working as a used-car salesman while trying to break into broadcasting two decades ago, will call the Super Bowl for Fox this season at age 48 after being elevated to the top team following Joe Buck’s departure to ESPN. Burkhardt is deserving, as is Ian Eagle of his new opportunity.
Eagle, 54, will succeed Jim Nantz as CBS’s voice of the men’s basketball Final Four starting with the 2023-24 season. (Does anyone remember how shocking it was when CBS fired Brent Musberger — Nantz’s predecessor — on the eve of the 1990 tournament final between Duke and UNLV?) Eagle, whose style and sense of humor are reminiscent of Marv Albert in his heyday, might have the highest approval rating from fans of just about any national play-by-play voice.
Then there’s Joe Davis. He doesn’t have the gravitas of Burkhardt or Eagle — he’s just 34 years old, and might still be somewhat unfamiliar to casual fans — but he’s seizing his opportunity to replace Buck in Fox’s World Series booth. Davis’s call of Phillies slugger Bryce Harper’s go-ahead home run in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series was a gem, punctuating the call with, “Harper, the swing of his life!” Davis is the first play-by-play voice other than Buck to call the Fall Classic on network television since Bob Costas did it for NBC in 1999.
A remnant from the Nielsen Audio summer ratings that came out a few weeks back: It was no surprise that “Felger and Massarotti,” the Sports Hub’s long-dominant afternoon drive program, finished first in sports radio’s desired men 25-54 demographic, with a 17.2 share. Here’s some perspective on how extraordinarily successful that show has been, as annoying as it can be: It hasn’t had a share in a three-month ratings period below 10 since summer 2019, when it finished with a 9.2. And it hasn’t finished anything but first in that demo since spring 2012, when it finished third, behind WZLX’s afternoon show and WEEI’s “Dale and Holley” program with a 6.2. WEEI got something of a boost that period from the Celtics’ deep playoff run, back when the station was the rights-holder … Quick update on last week’s column on ESPN’s weird and unnecessary vagueness in answering why Patriots-Bears Monday night was carried locally by NBC 10 rather than Ch. 5, the ABC affiliate in the market. As it turns out, it’s pretty much what everyone suspected. ESPN auctions off home market broadcast rights for their cable-only games, and NBC 10 won the bidding for Monday’s game, as well as the Patriots’ Week 14 “Monday Night Football” matchup with the Cardinals.