After 11 games it's pretty clear that Bill Belichick doesn't have any great options when it comes to quarterback. But after 11 games it's also apparent that the coach needs to pick one and live the consequences.
Last week's bizarre "I told everyone to be ready to go" approach clearly didn't work as neither Mac Jones (two interceptions) nor Bailey Zappe (one) looked prepared when they took the field against the Giants in another mind-numbing loss. Belichick has told us in the past that there aren't enough reps during the week to adequately prepare two quarterbacks to start, yet multiple reports told us that's exactly what he tried to do.
It didn't work, and now it's time to make a change. Zappe deserves the full week to prepare as the starter and the rest of the offense deserves the chance to work with him as well. No half-hearted attempts at disguising the intentions and no ambiguity when it comes to the plan.
Name the starter and prepare as best as you can to make it work.
Obviously, there is no ideal situation when you're 2-9. The team has been playing out the string for a while at this point, and Sunday's loss to a Giants team that has been racked with injuries – including to their top two quarterbacks – was the latest proof of that. The offense continues to sputter regardless of which quarterback is at the helm, but we haven't seen what it looks like with Zappe operating the attack for a full game with a full week to prepare.
With Jones, it hasn't been anywhere near good enough. NFL teams enter Week 13 with a 50-2 record when allowing 10 or fewer points. The Patriots represent both losses, and they came in each of the past two games. Jones continues to make the same kinds of mistakes each week, throwing off his back foot and into coverage while failing to muster any consistent production. His confidence appears to be gone, and Zappe deserves a shot.
There's a bigger picture element here when it comes to how the position has been handled, with the musical chairs approach to the backup spot and the reluctance to start someone other than Jones. But that's a story for a different day, one that will come soon enough when draft positions are set and the Patriots will have decisions to make about the position at that time.
But until then there are six games to play, and those games should be used to find out as much as possible about as many players as possible. Forget whether or not Zappe is a viable long-term answer as a starter. How about finding out if he can be a suitable backup, one who could be relied upon should he be thrust into action? Inserting him into blowouts or worse for a two-minute drill with the game on the line isn't the best way to make any determinations. Let him play and figure it out from there.
If the interceptions continue, then it's possible the Patriots will be in the market for multiple quarterbacks come the offseason. But running it back each week with Jones while waiting for something to change seems like the worst possible course of action at this point.
The entire season has been riddled with arguments wondering if the problems are on Jones or with everything else around him. The pass protection has been spotty, the receivers don't create a ton of separation or big plays and Jones has been mistake prone. Playing Zappe at least provides the chance to see if young receivers like Demario Douglas, Kayshon Boutte and Tyquan Thornton can be more productive with a different quarterback.
If it all looks the same, as it did for the most part during the first and second halves on Sunday, then nothing ventured nothing lost. But if there's any kind of consistent uptick in production, then maybe that would be an indication that the potential for improvement exists.
Again, not an ideal situation to be in regardless, but as the coach himself often says, it is what it is.
Anything but mediocre
The Bills and Eagles are two of the most talented teams in football and many of those stars were on full display Sunday, standing in stark contrast to Tom Brady's recent comments lamenting the mediocre state of the league. Buffalo travelled to Philly a desperate team badly in need of a win, and despite the fact that they were in control for most of the game, the Eagles escaped with the overtime victory.
Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen took turns carrying their clubs, and Hurts made the final play with his overtime touchdown run to end it. It was anything but mediocre and would be in the running for game of the year thus far.
However, it was not without its problems. The league is quickly developing an issue with officiating, and not just what is and isn't a penalty. This is the second big game the Eagles have won while benefiting greatly from a significant edge in penalties, and each time the opponents were left wondering about the lack of accountability from the league or the officials.
Last month the Dolphins were irate after getting called for 10 penalties while the Eagles weren't flagged a single time. The numbers were a bit better for Buffalo but the calls in fact may have been worse, particularly an absurd intentional grounding that came while Allen was being horse-collared by Philly's Haason Reddick. Instead of a possible first-and-goal from inside the 2, the Bills wound up with third-and-goal from the 16 as a result of the questionable call, which came despite the fact that Allen's errant toss actually landed close to Gabe Davis. It all added up to an 11-4 discrepancy in penalties against the visitors and those fortuitous whistles allowed the Eagles to remain within striking distance in a game in which they were thoroughly outplayed. Even with all that help the Eagles needed a miraculous 59-yard field goal from Jake Elliott in the waning seconds just to get to the extra session.
The Bills also contributed to their own demise, however. Tyler Bass missed two field goals, James Cook dropped what should have been an easy touchdown on a perfectly thrown wheel route and Allen and Davis missed a chance to end it in overtime when they failed to get on the same page in the end zone.
The loss left the 6-6 Bills scrapping just to remain in contention, and with games against Kansas City and Dallas on the horizon it won't be easy for Buffalo just to make the playoffs. But for one game at least, the NFL showed it still has plenty of great football to offer as the fourth quarter and overtime represented riveting theatre.
Every once in a while you watch these games and get to see something you've never seen before. That happened on Black Friday when Dolphins safety Jevon Holland intercepted Tim Boyle's Hail Mary attempt on the final play of the first half and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown. That represented pretty much the only noteworthy aspect of the league's first foray into the Black Friday market as the Dolphins downed the hapless Jets 34-13.
There was a tidal wave of Twitter memes related to Miami's 70-point explosion against the Broncos back in September, but suddenly Denver doesn't look so meme-worthy anymore. The Broncos have ripped off five straight wins and now sit at 6-5 following the disastrous start and sit very much in playoff contention in the minefield that is the AFC.
Russell Wilson is playing efficiently and starting to use his legs a bit more often to escape trouble. The Broncos defense bounced back from that 70-point embarrassment and now is creating turnovers in bunches. After forcing three turnovers in Sunday's win over Cleveland, Denver has taken the ball away 15 times over the last four weeks, which has spearheaded the team's resurgence.
Last week we talked about Buffalo's improved production after letting offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey go, a trend that continued in the loss to Philadelphia that saw the Bills put 34 points on the board against the defending NFC champs. Looks like Pittsburgh got a similar boost by finally making a move with Matt Canada and replacing him with Eddie Faulkner (offensive coordinator) and quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan (play caller).
While the Steelers managed only 16 points in their win over the Bengals, they did have 421 yards of total offense, marking the first time in 59 games they managed to crack the 400-yard mark. Also, quarterback Kenny Pickett enjoyed one of his best days as a pro, throwing for 278 yards in the victory to move Pittsburgh to 7-4. It was the first game this season where the Steelers outgained their opponent.
- Philadelphia (10-1) – The Eagles are extremely talented, but they've also been extremely fortunate recently.
- San Francisco (8-3) – That three-game losing streak seems like it happened three months ago.
- Baltimore (9-3) – The Ravens offense didn't look the same without Mark Andrews and that bears watching.
- Kansas City (8-3) – The Chiefs finally broke out of their second-half scoring slump in Vegas.
- Miami (8-3) – Still no signature wins but give the Dolphins credit for taking care of business.