Bailey Zappe talks starting in 2024, embrace with Bill Belichick, and more on WEEI

Patriots

“I’m just trying to be where my feet are and focus on the Bills.”

Bailey Zappe is now 4-2 in his career as a starter with the Patriots. (AP Photo/Bart Young)

Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe appeared on WEEI’s “Jones & Mego” show Tuesday afternoon, touching on topics like his performance in Sunday’s comeback win over the Broncos, his postgame embrace with Bill Belichick, and much more.

Here are a few highlights from Jones’ extended radio interview:

Earning his spot?

For the fourth time in six career starts with the Patriots, Bailey Zappe walked off the gridiron with a win on Sunday night in Denver.

The second-year QB played a key role in New England’s back-and-forth upset victory against the Broncos, completing 25 of 33 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns.

After getting plagued by second-half woes in New England’s previous two games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers, Zappe managed to flip that script at Empower Field at Mile High, tossing both of his touchdowns in the third quarter while setting the stage for Chad Ryland’s 56-yard game-winner in the final minute of play.

With the score tied at 23-23, Zappe and New England got the ball back on the Patriots’ 19-yard line with 58 seconds left to play. Zappe then hit DeVante Parker, Ezekiel Elliott, and Mike Gesicki for 36 combined yards to put his team in field goal range.

Since dropping a 6-0 loss to the Chargers on Dec. 3, Zappe has gone 2-1 in his last three games, completing 72.8% of his passes for 676 yards, six touchdowns, two picks, and a 106.1 passer rating during those three games.

On Tuesday, Zappe was asked if he thinks he’s earned the right to enter the 2024 season as the team’s starting QB.

“Right now, I’m just trying to be where my feet are and focus on the Bills,” Zappe said. “I’m sure those conversations and things like that will happen in the offseason or after the Jets game, and I’ll talk about that then. But right now, I’m really focused on the Bills and just trying to get these guys down, because they’re a heck of a team. They’ve been rolling, so it’s going to be a challenge for us offensively to play against these guys.”

Of course, Zappe’s spot on the depth chart next season might be out of his control — especially if New England lands a blue-chip quarterback prospect via the 2024 NFL Draft. However, the Patriots could be on the outside looking in at a chance to snag a college QB like USC’s Caleb Williams or UNC’s Drake Maye in April, especially after hurting their draft odds with Sunday’s win.

Regardless of whatever moves New England makes as far as its QB depth is concerned, Zappe feels his confidence has continued to grow under center with each new start that he’s earned.

“The more reps and extra reps we get before and after practice, whether it’s the receivers, with the o-line, and the running backs and pass protection — the more I get with those guys, I think the more comfortable we’re all going to get together,” Zappe said. “The more comfortable I’m going to get with the system, over time, of course.

“The more we play in it, the better you are. As far as confidence and everything, that comes from my teammates and those guys. Speaking on the O-line, they played phenomenal this past game… It’s been a long year; excited to be where we’re at now. I know we’re playing a tough team in the Bills, but excited to play them.”

Defense steps up 

Despite Zappe’s strong finish on Sunday night, things could have gone off the rails in a hurry against the Broncos.

On New England’s first play on offense, Zappe fumbled the ball while dropping back — allowing Denver to take over at the Patriots’ six-yard line. Despite the costly miscue, the Patriots’ defense bailed Zappe out, stopping the Broncos on four straight plays to force a turnover on downs.

“It’s pretty awesome to be an offensive player and to watch your defense go out there and play the way they did,” Zappe said of New England’s defense. “Just speaking from the first play — have a fumble, they get the ball… I mean, they’re inside the 10-yard line or whatever it was. And for them to be able to stop them on four downs and turn the ball over on downs and really not have any points come off that turnover is pretty awesome.

“I mean, those guys have been great all year, no matter what offense, they’ve been able to play. They always come to play and they always show up and for an offense to have a defense like that, it kind of lifts a weight off your shoulder because you know those guys are gonna go out there and they’re gonna play their butts off. And they’re gonna do everything they can to help us win those games.”

A postgame hug 

After helping New England come away with a road victory over the Steelers on Dec. 7, Zappe earned a firm handshake from Bill Belichick in the visiting locker room

The postgame reaction following New England’s Christmas Eve triumph in Denver was a bit more jovial between Zappe and his head coach, with Zappe giving Belichick a hug after making his way into the locker room. 

“The handshake thing, I told him when I walked in after the Broncos game, he reached out for the handshake, and I was like, ‘Coach, no more handshakes. Let’s go for a hug,’” Zappe said Tuesday of his embrace with Belichick. “So that’s kind of how that all happened.”

It’s been an up-and-down season for Zappe in New England, especially after the team opted to release him at the end of training camp.

But Zappe stressed on Tuesday that he’s always maintained a “great relationship” with Belichick and New England’s coaching staff.

“I’ve always been able to walk into his office, ask him questions, and he’s always been very open to answering anything that I had questions about,” Zappe said of Belichick, adding: “I come into the building every day happy to be able to learn from him and kind of just be a sponge and listen to everything he has to say about the entirety of the game of football.”

A Christmas gift

As is tradition across the NFL, quarterbacks usually fork over a hefty chunk of change every Christmas season to get some sought-after gifts for their offensive linemen.

In the past, Tom Brady gifted the big men tasked with protecting him UGG boots, Canada Goose winter jackets, iPads, and watches. Ravens QB Lamar Jackson gave his O-line Rolex watches in 2019, while Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes gave his grouping custom golf carts last week. 

So what did Zappe give New England’s O-line this holiday season?

“It’s nothing crazy,” Zappe began. “I got each one a pack of four Davidoff cigars. From what I’ve heard, everybody has enjoyed them. I don’t think anybody has smoked them yet, but they have before. And everybody loved the gift. But you know, it’s nothing big. I told them it was short notice, so I wasn’t able to get nothing too big. But they all said it was the thought that counts.”

“It was awesome to treat those guys,” he added. “They’ve been working their butts off all year to keep us clean. And they’ve been doing a phenomenal job.”