It appears that Bailey Zappe will start at quarterback for the Patriots on Sunday. There is a barrage of Tweets and comments about how the Patriots ruined Mac Jones. Rarely have I seen an athlete whose play has been explained away with so many excuses.
First of all, Mac Jones is a third year player. He's not "ruined." I'm in a situation that's worse than hell--I choose those words very carefully--and that I endure every day. There is nothing else but this right now. Am I ruined? And it's gone on for a long time. Having read these pages, and seeing what is what, can you imagine living like this? And totally alone? How long would you last? I get better every day. Spare me the ruined nonsense. If he's actually ruined, he deserves to be. Because that's pretty weak.
But here is what has been his undoing, and will always be his undoing, in my view: His lack of physical ability--namely, arm strength; a low level of football intelligence; his attitude; a lack of mental toughness.
I saw people saying he had one of the best rookie seasons for a QB in league history. He didn't. He wasn't good then either. He was asked to do very little. He threw the ball sideways and a few yards past the line of scrimmage. There was COVID, and the positive stretch of the Patriots' season happened because they caught diminished teams--it was one after another, lining up perfectly to be beaten--on account of COVID absences and injuries. Those wins were easy pickings. His stats were underwhelming. He didn't win you games. He was, at best, average. I'm being generous with the average. Things had to be a certain way for him to be successful in a limited manner; he was managed, and he subsequently played, not to lose the game. "Don't fuck this up," is what the Patriots said. "We can beat these crap teams, or these compromised teams, if you don't throw two pics." You can play very conservatively as a quarterback and throw for 3600 yards in today's league. Well, maybe not this year--defenses have come back up some.
I don't know how people could watch those games in 2021 and not see that this guy was nothing special, and that he wasn't doing anything special. Well, I do know--at this point, I don't really believe people can tell much of anything, no matter how obvious it is. I think they need to be told what to think. They need to see a group say things, then they say those things. I don't think they can look at hardly anything and process what it is, no matter how basic. Then I think all details and specifics and pieces of evidence are obscured. They don't recall watching Mac Jones feebly go 18 for 29 for 197 passing yards, but rather that there the Patriots sat, at one point, as the number one-seed in the conference, and "We're still awesome!" and all of that nonsense. The nonsense got ascribed to Jones, or associated with him. Blindly. Not because of what anyone actually saw and recognized. I'm talking about sports in this example, but I believe this is an everything thing in today's world.
What I expect to happen is this: Jones will leave New England. He will fail wherever he goes. Won't matter what's around him, who his coach is, though he also may very well not be as bad as he's been here. That won't be enough. Then he'll either be a back-up or he'll be out of the league if he doesn't want to do that or can't blend in as a back-up. But this man has made a lot of money--he's set for life. He can do whatever else with his life. He can do something else in football. But he is not, and never will be, a viable NFL starting quarterback.
When he does go somewhere else and fail, it'll be like this subtle disappearing act. The people who say the Patriots (and believe me, I understand that the whole operation in New England is a disaster and I've been saying so since 2020, and it was already coming undone in 2019, when Brady was here) ruined Mac Jones and he just needs better receivers or not Bill Belichick won't say a word. They'll have forgotten. That's how these things work. No one will take note of this true thing having played out. Meaning no one will learn from it. They'll all be out there saying new stupid things.
What is Mac Jones's ceiling? He can be a back-up quarterback that helps you not lose a game. There's value in that and it's more than I could have ever said about Brian Hoyer. There's value for a team and a very lucrative career to be had, too. Something that was never discussed that much was Jones's arm in New England weather. If the Patriots are good, they play in January in Foxborough. Mac Jones's arm would have been even more of a problem when it mattered most. The best place for him would be a dome environment.
As for Bailey Zappe: I have the sense that he is not as good as Jones. I don't think Jones is twenty percent better. I think out of ten times, Jones would be better than Zappe six times, and Zappe would be better than Jones four times. Maybe it's even closer. But: the team will fare better with Zappe, because Jones was bringing down the whole thing. The whole vibe, if you want.
They'll play harder and more enthusiastically for Zappe. What's that worth? I don't know--a win. Four wins instead of three when it's all over. Or three instead of two. Starting Zappe Sunday doesn't mean he becomes the starter. It's just a game, and for Mac Jones it might really be a mental health day. But you need to be tougher. Mentally tougher. Can't crack like this, over this.
The Patriots have two primetime national TV games coming up. It was supposed to be three, but they were flexed yesterday out of their Monday night game against the Chiefs. I didn't even know that was possible. I knew you could be flexed out of, say, the Sunday night primetime spot, but not that you could be removed from Monday night.
The Chiefs are the league's marquee team, so think about what it says that the NFL thinks the Patriots are so bad that its willing to scrap a Monday night Chiefs game. But even with two primetime national TV games--including Christmas Eve in Denver against the Broncos--this is going to get ugly for the Patriots. Uglier. Well, you never know. But it certainly could get awfully ropey and risible, which a lot of people outside of New England will enjoy.