Patriots quarterback Mac Jones will officially return to the lineup on Monday night against the Bears following a three-game absence due to an ankle injury.
With Jones active for the Patriots in Week 7, he will likely start, but several reports indicate that rookie Bailey Zappe could also take snaps. The second-year quarterback suffered a severe high-ankle sprain in New England's loss to the Ravens in Week 3, causing him to miss the last three games where Zappe led the Patriots to a 2-1 record.
Although the offense was very efficient with Zappe, there was never a doubt internally about who was the starting quarterback once Jones was fully healthy. However, Mac is not yet fully healed from his injury, and how the Pats divvy up QB responsibilities remains a mystery.
Assuming Jones starts, New England's coaching staff is focused on finding a middle ground between the aggressive approach the offense had in the first three games of the season and the play-calling script the Pats ran with Zappe over the last two games.
The goal is for the Patriots to still incorporate more play-action passing and shorter passes, as they did with Zappe while recapturing the downfield element they had with Jones. By making the system more QB-friendly, the hope is that the Mac-led offense will still have an explosive gear as it did to start the season but cut down on the high number of turnovers.
Clearly, turning the ball over eight times in three games wasn't a winning formula for the Patriots before Jones's injury, so the schemes that made the offense less turnover-prone with the rookie will remain. But so should the deep passing success they had with Mac under center.
If the Pats can find the right balance between the two styles, the offense has immense potential.
Although Jones is active and is expected to play on Monday night, the Patriots are missing several key pieces due to injury against the Bears. Top interior pass-rusher Christian Barmore (knee), wide receiver Kendrick Bourne (toe), edge rusher Josh Uche (hamstring), and starting right tackle Isaiah Wynn (shoulder) are all inactive for tonight's game.
Wynn's injury is the main reason he's inactive, but a subplot is that he might've been replaced in the starting lineup by veteran Marcus Cannon. Wynn has allowed a team-high 13 quarterback pressures and has been called for eight penalties this season. Even if he were healthy, the fifth-year tackle would've liked split time with Cannon. The Patriots will have G/C James Ferentz, rookie G Chasen Hines, and practice squad elevation Bill Murray as backups along the offensive line.
Without Barmore, expect rookie interior rusher Sam Roberts to step into the second-year standouts role in the third-down pass-rush package. Daniel Ekuale will be a bigger contributor as well. Plus, the team gets run-stopper Lawrence Guy back after a three-week absence due to a shoulder injury.
New England's wide receiver depth takes a hit without Bourne. However, Nelson Agholor (hamstring) returns to the lineup after missing last week's game. Rookie speedster Tyquan Thornton will also play a significant role alongside DeVante Parker and Jakobi Meyers.
The Patriots and Bears will kick off at 8:15 pm ET on Monday night at Gillette Stadium.