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Bailey Zappe may be the Patriots’ savior after all

Bailey+Zappe%2C+quarterback+of+the+New+England+Patriots%2C+throws+a+football.
Bailey Zappe
Bailey Zappe, quarterback of the New England Patriots, throws a football. Illustration by Bianca Oppedisano / Mass Media Staff

In sports, there’s always a winner and a loser, but one of the biggest things that comes out of losses is moral victories. Even though it’s not really the “Patriot way” to coincide defeat with moral victories, Sunday’s overtime loss to the Green Bay Packers makes the case that the Patriots came out of the game with several. The Patriots were seen as underdogs throughout the entire week leading up to the game, and likely would have still been seen as such if quarterback Mac Jones was healthy, too.
As 9.5 point underdogs, the Patriots were expected to be beaten fairly easily by a team led by NFL great, Aaron Rodgers. Sportsbook writers believed the most fair spread to put down was for the Patriots to lose by 10 points. However, even with Rodgers throwing for career touchdown pass number 500, the Patriots’ resilient performance throughout the entirety of the game was talked about as if it was on par with Rodgers’ larger-than-life feat.
Much of this praise came from the thought that, given the Patriots entered the game as underdogs, it would be fair to assume that the Packers would have been favored by 20—especially since rookie Bailey Zappe was making his NFL debut in front of 80,000 Green Bay fans. However, the outcome of the game, to the surprise of many, saw the Patriots take a gut wrenching 27–24 loss in overtime against the Packers. Despite being seen as losers from the get go,  this game showed just how gritty of a team the New England Patriots are.
In the first quarter of the game, the Patriots looked sharp, with Hoyer driving the team downfield to take a quick 3–0 lead on a Nick Folk 37-yard field goal. However, Hoyer’s start was short lived, as he was taken out of the game midway through the first quarter, after suffering a head injury, requiring the inexperienced rookie quarterback, Bailey Zappe, to make an appearance.
From there on out, the Patriots played conservatively, running the ball on most plays, with Zappe throwing a total of 15 times in the span of three quarters, connecting on 10 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown was controversial, though, as his 25-yard pass to wideout Devante Parker should have been called for a delay of game penalty—the play clock blatantly hit zero seconds prior to the ball being snapped. (1)
Nonetheless, it gave the Patriots a 17–14 lead with just under five minutes to go in the third quarter of a game that had seven lead changes. The game saw the Patriots sweat it out on both offense and defense, with rookie cornerback Jack Jones putting on a show. He forced and recovered a fumble by Packers’ rookie wide receiver, Romeo Doubs, on Green Bay’s opening drive, while also returning an interception for a pick-six with 13 seconds remaining in the first half.
It was Jones’ first career start—after an injury to cornerback Jalen Mills saw him move up in the depth chart—and he made the most out of it. Jones’ touchdown was only the second pick-six for Rodgers on his home turf at Lambeau field, and the fourth of his illustrious career (2). In an interview, Jones’ demeanor displayed an all-time high in confidence.
“Personally, [I] feel like it’s disrespectful to throw an out route on me,” said Jones (3).
As for the defense as a whole, the passing defense was phenomenal in the first half, after limiting Rodgers to just 44 yards through the air. What the Patriots flaunted against Aaron Rodgers’ arm, however, they lacked in the run game against Green Bay’s one-two punch pair of running backs. The Packers ended up rushing for 199 yards, with their two-headed-monster tandem of Aaron Jones and former Boston College standout A.J. Dillon (4).
On offense the Patriots displayed their run game as well, and Zappe showed flashes of potential when he completed two 25-yard passes on play action plays. However, the faith that the coaching staff had in Zappe during the game proved costly, as offensive play calls were more run-oriented due to Zappe having no prior experience other than preseason snaps. But even with Zappe’s lack of experience, some fans may agree that the game should have been in the rookie’s hands when the Patriots had possession in overtime with a chance to complete a monumental upset.
Being in a 24–24 tie on the plus side of the field, past the 50 yard line—in overtime—with the chance to win the game on a field goal, most would agree that it was basically do or die for the Patriots—especially knowing how capable Aaron Rodgers is at driving down the field. Using all four downs and passing with Zappe on either the first or second down would have been ideal to most, but offensive “guru,” Matt Patricia, decided to run on both the first and second down.
The choice ultimately caused the drive to stall, due to a blitz on the third down that forced an incompletion (5). The outcome could have been different had Zappe thrown and completed a pass. Doing so could have generated either a first down for the Patriots, or a third and short situation where one of the running backs could have moved the chains. This would have easily brought the Patriots one step closer to victory.
Instead, the Patriots chose to punt on the Packers’ 46 yard line, which was another questionable call, since many would consider that play to be in “fourth down territory” (6). In the Patriots’ case, two straight stops against a Packers’ offense, which is led by one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, seemed unlikely. And rightfully so, as Rodgers was able to drive his team down the field for the game winning field goal as time expired. With that, the time winding down in overtime, and the possession likely being the best field position the Patriots would have in OT given the offensive struggle, it was time for the Patriots to risk it for the biscuit.
Head coach Bill Belichick believed that the team was in a better position to punt because of the confidence he had in his defense.  He also thought that backing Rodgers up near his own end zone would be better than not converting on a fourth down and giving him the ball near midfield instead. However, with a rookie quarterback that struggled to put consistent drives together, coinciding with a stagnant, run-heavy offensive approach, it seems as if the Patriots missed a golden opportunity with the field position they had to put the game on thin ice.
The field goal also gave the harsh truth that, above all else, unless a miracle happened with a blocked field goal return, the Patriots would not have walked out of Lambeau field with a win. Essentially, the end of the game favored one of two outcomes: Either the game ends in a tie with a missed field goal, or a loss with a made one, and as sure as Tom Brady has seven super bowl titles to his name, the latter happened.
Though the Patriots’ loss may be heartbreaking to say the least, there are still a lot of upsides in Foxboro.The run game finally found its footing, and, after a slow start to the season, Devante Parker once again proved he was a worthy acquisition this past offseason with his touchdown against Green Bay. On top of this, the rise of rookie Jack Jones in his first start shows improvement and promise in a secondary that is already considered to be one of the deepest in the league.
The real story within the team though, is the emergence of newcomer Bailey Zappe. With both Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer out, Zappe now has free reign to show Patriots nation what he is capable of. His 62 touchdowns in college last year paint a detailed picture of just how good he can be.
With an easier stretch of the schedule coming up, now would be the perfect time to implement new offensive strategies that revolve around Zappe’s strong suits as a quarterback, helping him learn the playbook in the process. With the Patriots playing the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets twice over the next six weeks—most of whom do not have high-powered offenses or defenses (7)—this stretch of games may be the easiest portion of their schedule. The team must take full advantage of that with a rookie QB at the helm.
As time goes on and Zappe gets more comfortable passing the ball and utilizing his weapons, he could become the x-factor that helps New England get back on track to winning crucial games until Mac Jones comes back from injury.
However, to get to that point, the Patriots must emphasize that he learns more schemes in the playbook and becomes more accustomed to NFL gameplay. This stretch of games against weaker opponents may be vital in achieving those goals. In doing so, the Patriots would not only be improving his skills, but helping themselves take leaps toward the end goal of making the playoffs and, once again, hoisting the Lombardi trophy. They might even give the former Alabama starter and 2021 pro bowler a run for his money.

  1. 5 takeaways from the Patriots’ overtime loss to the Packers (boston.com)
  2. Patriots rookie Jack Jones did something only three other players have done to Aaron Rodgers (msn.com)
  3. Patriots rookie Jack Jones on Aaron Rodgers INT: ‘It’s disrespectful to throw an out route at me’ (msn.com)
  4. 5 takeaways from the Patriots’ overtime loss to the Packers (boston.com)
  5. Packers beat Patriots, 27-24 on walk-off field goal in overtime
  6. Bill Belichick on the Patriots’ decision to punt in overtime vs. the Packers (boston.com)
  7. 2022 NFL Team Rankings – Offense Rankings (lineups.com)
About the Contributor
Nick Collins, Sports Editor