Bill Belichick has earned benefit of the doubt in nearly every football situation, thanks to his unimpeachable resume of six Super Bowl championships as a head coach, the most ever. He also had the opportunity to add another highlight to his CVS receipt-length list of football accomplishments Monday night against the Chicago Bears as a Patriots win would have broken a tie between Belichick and Pro Football Hall of Famer George Halas for the second-most wins as an NFL head coach, including playoffs.
However, Belichick's banner night against the team Halas founded, owned, and coached went awry, 33-14, in large part because of the team's shuffling of its quarterbacks between 2021 first round pick Mac Jones and 2022 fourth round pick Bailey Zappe. Jones started the game, but Zappe replaced him early in the second quarter after Jones threw an interception following consecutive drives stalling after only three plays. The Patriots faithful had begun "Zappe! Zappe!" chants prior to Jones' interception, and Belichick seemed to listen. The quarterback swap on the team's second drive of the second quarter initially confused the rest of the team.
Jakobi Meyers, the team's leader in catches, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns, said he was "shocked" by the abrupt pivot away from Jones in the first half.
"I would say it's a shock, but we don't really have time to focus on it too much," Meyers said, via Mass Live. "The bullets are already flying by the time we realized it. You have to go out there and keep making plays."
When asked about how the Patriots crowd seemed to encourage Belichick taking Jones out of the game, Meyers had a strong reaction, deeming the whole ordeal "an ugly situation."
"You hate to see one of your brothers treated like that," Meyers said about the chants and Jones getting replaced. "You want to see him [Jones] do well. You want to see everybody do well, including Zappe, but as far as getting caught up in it, you really don't have time to really focus on the decisions being made. It's tough as a man to see somebody [Jones] who works so hard get that kind of treatment. At the end of the day, we're all trying to feed our families. We have to go out there and make plays with whoever is throwing it."
Jones, the 15th overall pick of the 2021 draft, got the start after missing the last three weeks with an ankle injury, and he played like someone shaking off nearly a month of rust, completing three of his first six passes for 13 yards on three drives, the first two three-and-outs. His final throw of the night resulted in an interception and Belichick then inserted Zappe, who had completed 72.9% of his passes for 596 yards with four touchdowns and only one interception in New England's previous three games.
Belichick said he kept his quarterbacks themselves in the know about his gameplan to utilize both of them, but even Zappe was unsure of how that plan was going to play out on Monday night.
"I told the quarterbacks that we were going to play both of them, and that's what we did," Belichick said postgame when asked if the entire was in the dark about his quarterback rotation. "That's not what it was, but you can write whatever you want to write. That's not what it was."
Zappe noted there was a layer of a lack of awareness among the New England quarterbacks, saying that he found out that Jones was going to start pregame, "about the same time y'all did."
"You take mental reps whenever you're not in," Zappe said when asked if he felt he was prepared for the multi-quarterback plan in practice prior to the game. "That's another way that you can prepare throughout the week. It's not all physical. So whenever you're not in standing behind the quarterbacks taking mental reps, that's another way you can do it throughout the week."
Belichick clarified Jones' ankle injury "was a factor" in the initial plan to roll out both quarterbacks for this game, softening the idea that Jones, last season's runner-up for Offensive Rookie of the Year, was straight up benched.
"Coach Belichick was very good about communication," Jones said. "I knew what the plan was, and the timing is the timing, but we were on the same page, and there's no hard feelings or anything. I wish I played better while I was in there, but hopefully I'll have a chance to do that in practice and kind of earn that back and then apply it in the game."
Zappe started off on fire, completing his first four passes for 97 yards his first two drives, including a 30-yard touchdown to wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. Stevenson punctuated Zappe's second drive with a four-yard rushing score. The rest of the game, he cooled off, completing 10 of his final 18 throws for 88 yards while committing three turnovers, a lost fumble and two interceptions.
Belichick said he was going to put Jones back into the game, but with the lopsided scoreboard, he decided against it after the Bears scored 23 unanswered points.
"Obviously a poor performance tonight, we were badly out-coached and out-played," Belichick said in his postgame opening statement. "We didn't do anything well enough in the game to win or deserve to win. We obviously have a lot of work to do here... it's not one thing, we just all have to collectively perform better, simple as that."
After opting to not announce a starter at his postgame press conference, Belichick has plenty of work to do with his quarterback room this week ahead of the Patriots' Week 8 tilt against the rival New York Jets, winners of four in a row.