BOSTON -- The Patriots, quite improbably, got worse at the most important position in sports by benching the quarterback who ranks as one of the worst in the NFL.
Suffice it to say: Bailey Zappe is not the answer.
The Patriots' coaching staff surely have known that all year. The team released Zappe at the end of training camp, with zero teams claiming the second-year passer on waivers, and then spent parts of the season experimenting with Ian Book, Matt Corral, Will Grier and Malik Cunningham. Along the way, Zappe got some chances in spots without ever looking like he belongs.
Yet on Sunday, he had a chance. This time, he'd be getting the start, after taking the starter's reps all week in practice. This time, he'd be facing one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL. This time, the pieces were in place for Zappe to replicate the success that allowed him to win his only two career starts, which came in back-to-back weeks in October of last year.
This time ... well, this time ended up being no different. Bailey Zappe was not good.
Clearly, the Patriots' offensive issues extend beyond their quarterback. But Zappe looked every bit like the quarterback who was released in August while making the third start of his career and ninth overall appearance.
At halftime, he was just 5-for-12 for 39 yards. His biggest play came on an inaccurate screen pass to Ezekiel Elliott.
He threw behind DeVante Parker on his first pass of the game, he threw behind Hunter Henry while rolling to his right later in the first quarter, and he threw behind Elliott in the left flat while standing in a clean pocket in the second quarter. He also floated a pass to the left flat to Rhamondre Stevenson, which didn't allow the running back to pick up a first down on a second-and-1, and he spiked a pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster on a third down.
Seizing the moment, it was not.
Zappe appeared to be a little more comfortable in the second half, delivering a 27-yard completion to Parker on an impressive pass from the Patriots' end zone and then throwing a near-perfect deep ball to Tyquan Thornton. Yet the second-year wideout, who entered the league with Zappe in last year's draft, couldn't haul it in.
That positive drive stalled when Zappe took an 11-yard sack by Khalil Mack on a second-and-5 near midfield, and the Patriots punted.
With a chance to win the game in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Zappe again put forth some positives. He fired a dart to DeVante Parker on the driver opener for a gain of 14. Five plays later, after benefiting from a questionable replay decision that resulted in New England getting a first down via penalty, Zappe once again put a deep ball on the money.
This time, it was caught. But Parker's foot was out of bounds, so it went down as an incompletion.
Zappe's next pass was incomplete, when he tried to fit a pass into a non-existent window on a well-covered Parker, and his fourth-down pass to Henry was, likewise, an incompletion.
The final numbers were ugly: 13-for-25, 141 yards, zero touchdowns, zero interceptions, five sacks, 68.9 rating.
Of course, we know that if Thornton or Parker -- or both -- had made better plays on Zappe's deep passes, the numbers would have looked a whole lot better. The latter play could have been enough to put the Patriots in position to win the game with a handful of red-zone runs. And if that happened, well, the narrative on Zappe would surely be different.
Yet even accepting that, the limitations of Zappe were clearly on display. While his internal clock could improve with more playing time, he lacks an arm that can consistently deliver accurate passes from sideline to sideline. His lack of height makes it difficult at times for him to throw out of even the cleanest of pockets. And while he's certainly more mobile and elusive than Mac Jones, he's not able to change a game with his legs by any stretch of the imagination.
After Sunday's showing, Zappe has now completed exactly half of his passes, averaging just 4.7 yards per attempt. He's yet to throw a touchdown, he has thrown two interceptions, and he's taken seven sacks for a loss of 46 yards.
Zappe has never had an issue taking accountability, and that remained the case on Sunday.
"There were some good things, some bad things. We had a chance there at the end. Defense, they played great. Offense, you know, it starts with me. I've gotta plays toward the end, I've gotta throw better balls, I've gotta make the balls catchable, especially in conditions like today with a wet ball, wet hands," Zappe said at the postgame podium. "I've gotta throw the ball better. It starts with me on the offensive side of getting things going."
Zappe was asked if the performance felt more like a missed opportunity or a learning experience.
"I would consider it both. I mean, we didn't win, so I would technically clarify that as a missed opportunity. And then of course, it's always a learning experience, no matter win or lose, there's things you can look back on good or bad that you can learn from and grow on. So I think that's what I'm going to use today as, and grow with it. And whatever the decision is next week, then I'll get ready to play the Steelers."
The Patriots turned to Zappe because they were desperate for something, anything different than their starting quarterback who continued to make the same critical mistakes on a weekly basis. It was worth a try, and Zappe may well get another start on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. But Sunday's showing made it clear that the team still has no answer at the quarterback position.
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