Updated: Jun 16
Patriots Quarterback Battle for 2023
Written by: Wayne G
Spring breathes new life into the air. The grass and trees become more green, and rivers run more rapid. In the NFL it is the birth of a new season. With free agency come and gone, and the NFL Draft about to commence, the practice fields and team facilities are filled with players participating in voluntary mini camps. There are no pads bouncing, or helmets clacking. The league prohibits pads during these workouts, as it's meant to be running and lifting workouts. The players arrive with questions surrounding them and the teams alike. Who has gotten bigger, stronger, or faster. In the region of New England, the biggest and most important question, looming unanswered for the time being, is "Who will be the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots in 2023?"
The region rejoiced when commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the Patriots had selected Alabama quarterback Mac Jones with the 15th pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Cam Newton nightmare was over, and fans from Limestone, Maine to Greenwich, Connecticut slept not with sugar plums dancing around their heads, but rather visions of Tom Brady 2.0 leading the team to 6 more Lombardi trophies.
The young signal caller was coming off a national championship, and a season where he completed almost 80% of his passes. His rookie year confirmed that those dreams were a reality, and fueled astronomical expectations, not just for him, but for the whole team as well. He continued to display an incredible completion percentage, connecting on 74.4% of his passes. He led the team to the playoffs in just his first year, and hopes were high going into 2022.
The new season and the new Mac Jones took on a completely different feel. While defensive coordinator turned offensive coordinator Matt Patricia has been the scapegoat of Mac's step backwards, it was more than play calling that led to his demise. He played scared, and frequently throw wobbly passes off his back foot. He made poor decisions on where to go with the ball, and navigated the pocket like a sailor would a map with no training and no compass. There was a collective sigh of relief around Gillette stadium when he went down with a high ankle sprain after 3 games. Enter, a new savior.
To some, Bailey Zappe may have come out of nowhere, but that was not the case to those who follow college football. Zappe did not lead an SEC power to a national championship, but he did set NCAA passing records while commanding the offense at Western Kentucky. He passed number one overall pick Joe Burrow, when he tossed 62 touchdown passes. He broke an 18 year old record, also throwing for 5,967 yards. Draft analyst Jonah Anderson of draftdive.com called him the best quarterback in the draft. And yet despite outperforming every college quarterback in history, he was not met with the same excitement, fanfare, and expectations as the previous years selection at quarterback, when he was taken in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft (137th overall).
He was scheduled to be the third string quarterback all season, but when Mac Jones went down, and backup Brian Hoyer suffered a concussion in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers in week 4, Zappe was called on, and eased into position with a simplistic, run-heavy offense. The same offense that allegedly did in Mac Jones, did not affect Zappe negatively in any way. He only attempted 15 passes that first game, but completed 10, with a touchdown. He finished the game with a passer rating of 107.4.
In a blowout win against the Lions, he went 17 of 21 with 188 yards and another touchdown. Fans now started to imagine a Bledsoe/Brady situation repeating itself. He stepped up even more the following week against Cleveland, completing 24 of 34 passes for 309 yards and 2 more touchdowns. Fans started hoping Mac Jones would take even more time coming back, but much to their dismay, he started the following week against the Bears. After 2 dismal drives, the last one ending in an interception, he was booed off the field, and Zappe got a standing ovation coming out, and lead the team to 2 consecutive scores. He finished the game 14 of 22, for 188 yards, but that would be the last time he would see the field in 2022.
What happens next will not be up to the fans, who seem split 50/50 between the two quarterbacks. It will not be up to the media, who seems to be taking its messages from Mac Jones PR team. It will not even come down to the other players in the locker room, that will share the field with whoever wins the quarterback battle. The decision rests solely on the shoulders of the head coach, and arguably the best to ever coach the sport, Bill Belichick.
At the owners meetings in March, when asked about the starting QB, Bill said, "Everyone will get a chance to play....we will play the best player." New, but previous offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien said, "It's a clean slate. We are all moving forward."
And so the football world will wait. The fans in New England will be waiting on pins and needles. Will they go with the first round pick or the college record setter? Only time will tell. While this writer is hoping that Bailey Zappe wins the competition this summer, I will root for whoever the choice is, because I know our coach will make the right call. In Bill We Trust.