NFL insider wonders if Patriots players quit on Mac Jones earlier this season

Patriots

The Patriots are 2-2 this season with Bailey Zappe as the team’s starting QB.

Mac Jones lost New England’s QB1 position after a 2-9 start this season. (AP Photo/Geneva Heffernan)

It remains to be seen if Bailey Zappe is a viable QB1 option for the Patriots in 2024 and beyond.

But it’s hard to ignore how New England’s listless offense finally started to show some signs of life after the second-year QB took the reins in early December.

After starting the year 2-9 with Mac Jones under center, New England opted to make a switch at QB starting in Week 13, with Zappe leapfrogging Jones on the depth chart.Since then, New England has gone 2-2 during Zappe’s four games as a starter.

And while New England’s playoff hopes were dashed weeks prior, the case can be made that the Patriots’ fortunes might have shifted had the team turned to Zappe earlier this year.

Bill Belichick and the Patriots opted to give Mac Jones a long leash this season before finally deciding to bench him for Zappe. But did New England’s roster wave the white flag on the former first-round pick before the coaches decided to finally pull the plug?

Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer speculated about such a scenario during his latest NFL notebook posted on Tuesday.  

“The Patriots most certainly haven’t quit on Bill Belichick. But given the way Bailey Zappe has sparked the offense, it’s certainly fair to wonder whether the players had given up on Mac Jones,” Breer wrote. “Jones’ string of bleep-ups in games coincided with similar plays showing up in practice. 

“And while Zappe’s no world-beater, the players at least know what to expect when he’s in there. It really showed in Sunday night’s win in Denver, particularly on the third-and-3, back-shoulder throw to DeVante Parker that put the Patriots’ game-winning drive in motion with less than a minute left.”

Even though Jones’ struggles in 2023 (10 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) have loomed large over a woeful season in Foxborough, there’s a valid argument that most of the blame for this year’s letdown falls on Belichick and the Patriots’ coaching staff.

Despite opening his NFL career with a Pro Bowl campaign in 2021, Jones has significantly regressed over the last two seasons — with a coaching carousel on Belichick’s staff and a reluctance to invest heavily in weapons on offense hampering Jones’ development.

Speaking on his “4th & 1” show earlier this week, Cam Newton made the case that NFL front office should draw more scrutiny when a young quarterback struggles under their watch.

“When guys really start feeling themselves and say, ‘I belong here,’ that’s where they get better,” Newton said. “For every quarterback that we’ve felt or seen come into their own right before our eyes, there’s other quarterbacks that we’ve seen shrink because of bad development, bad coaching, bad management. They never feel like they belong.”

Newton added: “When I see this, (it’s) a perfect situation where I’m saying (to) start holding these front office people accountable to developing these players the right way.”