Another week, another uncertain quarterback situation for the Patriots as they prepare for their first primetime matchup at home against the Chicago Bears on Monday night.
With an extra day to prepare for the Bears, the Patriots won't hit the practice field for the first time this week until Thursday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, while the first injury report of the week will wait until Thursday evening since the game is on Monday night.
"We're not practicing today. We're going to get a jump on the Bears on some meetings and film work and things like that. Then we'll practice tomorrow, so we'll give you the injury report tomorrow, let you know how things are then, but really there's nothing to talk about today," head coach Bill Belichick told reporters on Wednesday morning.
After landing on the injury report as limited throughout the week due to his high-ankle sprain, second-year QB Mac Jones made the trip to Cleveland but was inactive for the third-straight game. Although there are rumblings that Jones is close to returning, rookie Bailey Zappe has also improved each week and was excellent in a 38-15 win over the Browns in Week 6.
The buzz about Zappe potentially supplanting Jones as the starter is coming from external sources, but it's impossible to deny how well Zappe played in Cleveland.
Although Jones's status is still unknown, the fourth-round pick out of Western Kentucky is sticking to the same routine he has relied on all season regardless of his place on the depth chart.
"As far as preparation, nothing is going to change. I'm going to keep doing the same thing I've been doing over the last seven weeks now," Zappe said on Wednesday. "We get an extra day to get onto the Bears, just this week working on some things we saw on the film fundamentals-wise at practice, but other than that, nothing is going to change at all."
With the door opening for Zappe due to Jones's injury, the Pats first-year quarterback is focused on taking advantage of an opportunity to showcase his talents to the team and the NFL.
"That's 100 percent my goal, and that's very important because you don't know when that next opportunity is going to come. Once you get that opportunity, you have to take advantage of it and hope to get another one," Zappe said.
The two biggest areas of growth that have allowed Zappe to succeed as a pro are his improved comfortability with operating under center and trust in his receivers.
In both college and high school, Zappe was in offensive systems where the quarterback was primarily in the shotgun. But in his 173 offensive snaps this season, the rookie has been under center on 48.8% of his plays and 21% of his throws. In comparison, Jones was only under center on 28.1% of his offensive plays in the first three weeks. Zappe is also attempting significantly more play-action passes (31.6%) compared to Mac (10.8%).
With Zappe taking snaps from under center, he leads all quarterbacks by averaging over 15 yards per play-action pass attempt, as those play fakes have been highly successful.
"I've definitely learned a lot in that aspect. That's something that I never really did in college or high school, so when I came here, it was a little bit of a new world for me," Zappe said of playing under center. "Getting with the centers before and after practice, working with the running backs before and after practice, getting that extra work in outside of how many hours we have practice-wise. I think it's just taking it day by day, every day. Getting better, getting more comfortable, understanding the plays, and understanding the concepts."
Along with learning how to take snaps from under center effectively, Zappe is beginning to trust his receivers to make plays downfield. Although he's still near the bottom of the league in air yards and deep pass attempts, Zappe connected on both passes of 20-plus yards on Sunday.
One of those completions was a 29-yard jump ball to wide receiver DeVante Parker on third-and-long, which was a good indication that Zappe's trust in his teammates is growing.
"I think that just goes into the receivers we have on this team, giving those guys a chance. If you give those guys a chance, it's more than likely that they will come down with the ball. With everybody we have in the receiving core, we have great confidence in every one of those guys. That throw to DP [DeVante Parker], that was one of those that I'm going to throw it up there and let him do what he does," Zappe told Patriots.com.
Zappe's priority is preparing for the Bears, but he did take a minute to reflect on his football journey from Houston Baptist, to Western Kentucky, to quarterback for the Patriots.
"I had a little confidence that I'd be able to make it in myself. For me, it's still surreal to be in this position, to be in the NFL, to be a quarterback in the NFL. I don't think it will ever come to me that I'm playing in the NFL. I think I'll still always take advantage of every day and keep living this dream that I had since I was five."
Although his opportunity could end with Jones nearing a return, Zappe is certainly making the most of his time as the Patriots starting quarterback.