Where the 2-8 New England Patriots go under center for the rest of 2023 will ultimately be up to head coach Bill Belichick.
But offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien believes that practice will have a heavy hand in the quarterback decision, too.
Team captain Mac Jones continued take starting reps during the lone session before the bye week. The third-year pro did so after being benched for the third time this season with 1:52 remaining in a 10-6 game against the Indianapolis Colts. After his interception down at the goal line in Frankfurt, Germany, backup Bailey Zappe stepped in for the final drive and threw one of his own on a fake spike into heavy downfield coverage.
“For me, I basically get everybody ready to play,” O’Brien told reporters during his Monday video conference. “So, what we try to do is — every week, regardless of this week, two weeks ago, three weeks ago — get Mac ready to play, get Bailey ready to play, and that’s what we do. At the end of the day, Bill will make that decision at some point, and we’ll go from there. But I do believe that we have to continue like we do all the time: to earn it on the practice field.”
Currently standing at the bottom of AFC and No. 3 overall in the 2024 NFL draft order, a week’s worth of practices are in the immediate future for the Patriots. Then comes a visit with the 3-8 New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. No announcement has been made on whether Jones, taken No. 15 overall back in 2021, will get another chance there.
“The other day in practice, Mac took the first-team reps,” O’Brien said. “Bailey rotated in there. Will Grier rotated in there.”
The 25-year-old Alabama product has completed 65.4% of passes for 2,031 yards this campaign while accounting for ten touchdowns, ten interceptions and two lost fumbles.
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“Everything’s fixable. I think at times, Mac’s played really well,” O’Brien said. “I think that’s what we have to remember. At times this year, Mac has played really well. I also think that it’s really important to point out that there’s ten other guys on the field and everybody’s got to play better. Then there’s coaches on the sideline — we all have to coach better. That’s the truth. I don’t believe in yips or anything like that. Mac has played well. Mac will play well again.”
Zappe, the 2022 fourth-round selection out of Houston Baptist and Western Kentucky, started twice for an injured Jones as a rookie. He then cleared waivers at the league’s 53-man roster deadline in August before being promoted from the practice squad. A 10-of-25 passing line with 104 yards and the aforementioned interception have followed in relief.
Behind them as the emergency third quarterback looms Grier, who made previous stops with the Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals. The 2019 third-rounder by way of Florida and West Virginia started two games as a rookie and hasn’t logged a snap beyond the preseason since then. He signed to the active roster midway through September.
Undrafted rookie Malik Cunningham resides on the practice squad after an October promotion.
“One of the reasons why I really enjoy coaching here is you have to earn it on the practice field,” added O’Brien. “And you earn it on the practice field by quality reps. Really, you have to strive for perfection on the practice field. You’re not going to reach perfection on the practice field, but you’re going to strive for it and try to execute at a high level, and then hopefully that leads to good execution in the games. Right now, we haven’t had consistent enough execution in the games, obviously.
“We’ll see what happens down the road here, but we’ve got to have a good meeting, walkthrough today, practice tomorrow, practice Wednesday. We have to have good practices, and then we can all determine at every position who should play the most.”
Sunday’s kickoff is set for 1 p.m. ET.