NFL Insiders Say Mac Jones Needs To Be 'Humbled' And His Relationship With The Patriots Has 'Gotten Sideways'
Being a quarterback is unique of all the jobs in the world in that when you're out sick or have to step aside for any period of time, people tend to fall in love with your replacement. Not in every case, obviously. But more often than in any other line of work. When Jim Halpert or Dwight Schrute were filling in for Michael Scott, only their girfriends were happy about it. When Selina Meyers became President for a while, America hated her even more than when she was Veep. The few times Spock was in command of the Enterprise because Kirk had been teleported away by some superior being or in Sick Bay because he caught the space clap from some hot green alien, he learned that all the logic in the universe won't make the crew respond to your leadership.
But again, QBs are a different breed of cat. We get a little sample of the backup and tend to become smitten. My brother Jack watched 2001 Tom Brady go 12-for-23 for 168 yards and no touchdowns in his first start and that was enough for him to declare his love and say he's done with Drew Bledsoe for good.
So it's not the least bit unusual for Pats fans to start swooning for Bailey Zappe. To be clear, I think if you'd rather see him starting once Mac Jones is cleared to play, I think you're being wrongheaded to the point you might need a loved one to call Visiting Angels, America's Choice in Home Care [tm] to come look after you. But I understand how you make the illogical leap. It's human nature. We make it a short step from "Gee, Zappe's been a pleasant surprise," to "He's better than the guy who won 10 games as a rookie, took is to the playoffs, and went to the Pro Bowl. Make the switch NOW!!!" Even while I'm embarrassed for anyone who's making that jump, I've seen it before.
Which brings us to the next step on his journey. The inevitable reports about Jones state of mind in all this. Because it's not enough that we worry about his high ankle, we now have to concern ourselves with whether he's high on his own gas.
First, it's Ben Volin of The Globe:
Then Albert Breer of NBC Sports:
NBC Sports Boston - "I think things did get a little sideways really over the last couple of months," Breer said Sunday on Patriots Pregame Live. "I think it's going back to the change from Josh McDaniels. 'Why are we bringing in Joe Judge and Matt Patricia when Bill O'Brien's sitting out there and potentially we could have made a run at him? Why does it make sense to have a defensive guy and a special teams guy here? Why are we changing the offense? Why are we streamlining after all the success I had?' …
"I think that bled over into the injury now and I think this has sort of given the coaches an opportunity to send a message to Mac. I don't think Mac was ever in jeopardy of losing his job, but I don't think that they told Mac that either. I don't think they said to Mac, 'Listen, you're good, don't worry about how Bailey Zappe plays.' …
"This is a chance for them to sort of send the message to Mac that you have to do things better," Breer added. "Like, if you trust the offense, look what the offense is doing for this fourth-round pick out of Western Kentucky. We saw early in the year he freelanced some, he took shots downfield, we saw the turnover issue. I think part of the message here is, watch what Bailey Zappe is doing. He's doing what we're telling him to, and watch how the offense works for him."
I'll say first that I have no problems - and I cannot stress this enough - with Mac Jones attitude, his mental approach, his work ethic, none of it. If you could measure immeasurables, his would be off the charts. I also don't think he needs to be "humbled." What Volin is saying here is right out of the pamphlet in the waiting room when you go to interview for a Boston media job, "So You Want to be a New England Sports Journo?" They love to see a new, fresh face come along, so they can blast pepper spray into it. They're doing it with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Now it's Jones' turn. It's part of the gig.
That said, I don't doubt that he was frustrated at times over the new offense that was being installed. It was visible at times during camp. He's an intense dude when things aren't going right. Nick Saban has talked about his efforts to coach that out of him. Though a lot of your greatest athletes were the same way. The stories about Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Brady being hyper-competitive even if they're just shooting pool, playing cards or shotgunning beers are legendary. The whole Pats offense was showing signs of strain as they worked through the early Babbel lessons on how to speak conversational McVay-Shanahan.
But if there's any truth to this notion that Jones was questioning Belichick's choice of coaches - which I highly doubt, that the media's take - he was getting way out over his skis. You can like Josh McDaniels, but no one appointed him the permanent Offensive Coordinator, like Caesar declaring himself Dictator for Life. (You saw how that worked out for him.) He's not indispensible. If McDaniels stepped off the field in Buffalo last January and got crushed to death by a falling drunk, it's still the quarterback's job to score points and win games. Besides, with the Raiders 1-4, let's slow our roll on how McDaniels is an "offensive" coach and remind ourselves that Matt Patricia and Joe Judge have each been on Belichick's staff long enough to know how things work. And each was able to demonstrate that well enough in the interview process to convince teams to make them head coaches.
I do however agree that Zappe's pleasant surprisiness will be good for Jones. I disagree with Breer's point that he was "freelancing" in those early games. I think Patricia and Judge were going through a learning process, the same as Jones. And all three erred on the side of being overly aggressive. They fell too much in love with the "take shots downfield" approach like all of a sudden they were 1970s Al Davis. Since then, they've fed Zappe the low hanging fruit of working the short and intermediate throws, and let the deeper stuff open up, like it did on Jonnu Smith's 53-yard catch and run and Hunter Henry's 31-yard touchdown. One was a sit route, the other a second-level seam route in which the defender ended up on his ass. That's worked around here for 22-plus years (minus the Cam Newton season). It helped Matt Cassel win 11 games in his 15 starts. It got Jimmy Garroppolo and Jacoby Brissett to 3-1 when Brady was in the NFL's Time Out Chair. It won Jones 10 games as a rookie.
According to Pro Football Focus so far on the season:
--Jones average depth of target is 10.4 yards. Zappe's ADoT is 6.7 yards.
--Jones rate of passes of 20+ yards is 20.6%. Zappe's is 8.6%.
--Jones rate of Big Time Throws (defined as "a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window") is 22.7%. Zappe's is 0.0%.
So there's your problem, lady. The reliance on risky deep balls. Now the lesson has been learned, by coaches and quarterbacks. When Jones gets back, he'll go immediately back to the QB1 role that belongs to him. And will be running the offense Zappe has, and that he mastered so well as a rookie. Then all this QB Non-troversy stuff will be behind us at last. Can't come soon enough.