The Patriots continue to take a "day-by-day" approach to their quarterback situation ahead of Sunday's matchup with the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium.
Asked if there was an update on Sunday's starting quarterback for the Patriots, head coach Bill Belichick said, "we'll see. I don't know. We'll just take it day-to-day."
With starter Mac Jones (ankle) limited and top backup Brian Hoyer (concussion) listed as a non-participant in Wednesday's practice, an early projection is that rookie Bailey Zappe might start.
Since he's no longer a game-day inactive as the three-string quarterback, Zappe was asked if his approach has changed now that he's in line to make his first career start in the NFL.
"The same way I've approached the last four weeks. Just taking it day by day and continuing to get better. Have the mindset of just one percent better every day. Going to practice with the mindset of taking every rep like a game rep," Zappe told reporters on Wednesday.
After Hoyer's head injury in the first quarter, Zappe entered last week's loss to the Packers on New England's third offensive possession. The fourth-round pick led the Pats offense to two touchdown drives in the second half, helped push the game into overtime, and proved that the hostile environment at Lambeau Field wasn't too much for the first-year quarterback to handle.
Last season at Western Kentucky, Zappe broke the FBS single-season passing yardage (5,940) and touchdown (62) records, leading the Hilltoppers to a 9-5 record and a victory over Appalachian State in the Boca Raton Bowl, where the Western Kentucky offense scored 56 points.
Despite having video game-like numbers in college, Zappe fell to the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, where the Patriots selected the 23-year-old with the 137th overall selection.
The biggest knocks on Zappe entering the draft were that he appears to have limited physical tools, operated in an air raid offense, and would need to adjust to handling pressure in an NFL pocket.
Although the playbook was limited in his first regular-season action, Zappe answered one of those concerns by proving that he could operate smoothly from under center. Under-center snaps are few and far between in an air raid system and almost non-existent at Western Kentucky.
Zappe's first career touchdown pass came on an under-center play-action throw where he connected for a 25-yard score with DeVante Parker in the third quarter. The Pats ran a post-crosser concept that led to a blown coverage assignment in the Green Bay secondary, and Zappe lofted the pass to Parker for a walk-in touchdown. Zappe completed three of his four passes for 62 yards on under-center throws.
"A lot more comfortable than I was about a year ago [dropping back from under center]," Zappe joked. "That goes a lot with working with my teammates, working with my coaches, continuing to get a comfortability with it, and continuing to get reps before and after practice."
The next area where Zappe will work to improve is poise in the pocket while under pressure, and the blitz-happy Lions under defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn will likely test that. In college, Zappe was only under pressure on 12.9% of his drop-backs in 2021, meaning he had time and space to operate in massive pockets, while his grade under pressure was only 55.8 (via Pro Football Focus).
In Sunday's loss, there were instances where Zappe seemed flustered by the collapsing pocket and allowed that to delay his decision-making into sacks or throwing too late to open receivers.
"There are some things I'm going to fix and continue to work on fundamental-wise. That's why we have practice, and I'm going to continue to do that throughout this week," the rookie quarterback said about learning from last week's game. "I'm sure there will be a little bit more comfortability with it [playing in an NFL game]. I'm going to lean on my teammates a lot, they helped a lot against the Packers, and I will continue to lean on them."
Zappe also said the experience of playing in last week's game helped him learn some new things about playing in an NFL regular season game.
"There are a lot of things. There are some things I've learned from my fundamentals and being able to calm myself down. Continue to focus on my job and what my job is at hand."
After nearly pulling off the upset over the Packers last Sunday, Zappe wisely turned the notifications off on his cell phone to avoid all the attention he was getting from outside the organization.
"I have all my notifications turned off, so I didn't really pay attention to it," Zappe said. "Text messages to family, that's about it. My parents have made a lot of sacrifices for me to get here and for that to happen is a dream come true for us," said Zappe.
According to reports, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones is pushing to return to the lineup against the Lions after suffering a high-ankle sprain in the loss to the Ravens in Week 3. On Wednesday, Jones was upgraded to a limited participant after not participating in practice last week in the lead-up to the team's trip to Green Bay and was ruled out on Friday prior to the game.
But if called upon to start in Sunday's game versus the Lions, Zappe will be ready to go.