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Knee Jerk Reactions to Week 7: Patriots vs. Bears

Things to consider while realizing the Bailey Zappe regime might outlast the British Prime Minister's:

--The Mac Jones-Bailey Zappe dynamic will suck up most of the oxygen after this one. Which I'm sure will be just fine with the putrid defense and repulsive special teams, who'd prefer to go unnoticed as much as possible. But let's not lose sight of the fact that this was, as they'd put it on the Food Network, a symphony of flavors, all of them rancid. This was a smorgasbord of failure. An all-you-can eat buffet of gawdawfulness. A defiled dining experience where everything on the menu was unfit for human consumption, the chef was a notorious war criminal, and security camera video of the waiter shoving you off a subway platform on your way home is currently running 25 times an hour on Fox News. There is not a Yelp review bad enough for this game. Considering the Bears came in ranked 30th in offense and 30th in defense, one of the worst performances in the otherwise proud history of Bill Belichick teams. 

--As far as the quarterbacks, I had some people reaching out to me wondering what being benched will do to Jones. But frankly, when we found ourselves down 10-0, starting 3 & out, 3 & out, interception, with one passing yard to N'Keal freaking Harry's eight yards receiving, I would've gladly swapped him out for the aforementioned genocidal warmonger if I thought said monster could put points on the board against a Bears defense that was supposed to be terrible. 

--Then again, whichever of the quarterbacks you prefer, I don't know how you make a campaign ad to support your candidate:

"Bailey Zappe is only 6'1", which puts him in the pocket of Big Defensive End. His passes constantly being batted down at the line of scrimmage only to be picked off are bad for you, bad for working families, and bad for America. Mac Jones is the tall, steady, experienced, Pro Bowl, playoff quarterback New England needs. Paid for by the Committee to Keep Mac Jones QB1 and not affiliated with any party."

"High ankle sprains. 3 & outs. Interceptions. Negative reports about 'attitude.' Goofy 'Griddy' dances. Mac Jones' leadership has failed New England in 2022. I came into the Green Bay game and have been putting together scoring drives ever since because I believe the Patriots can have a bright future for us and our kids. I'm Bailey Zappe, and I approved this message." 

Good luck drumming up any grassroots support from anyone who watched Monday Night Football

--Jones looked completely out of sync. Not just like someone who hadn't played since Week 3, but like he hadn't practiced, either. And I don't mean recently. I mean as in, not ever. He was like a regular guy who found himself Quantum Leaped into an NFL quarterback's body in the middle of a huddle and was as confused as any of us would be. I'm exaggerating, but only slightly. On every down he looked surprised by the snap, unaware of the play call, surprised by the route combinations, and only vaguely aware that the Bears pass rush was coming for him. 

--OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a lot. But I've supported this guy since the Pats lost three straight in 2020, putting him within their reach in the draft. I wanted him to be the starter throughout the 2021 training camp battle with Cam Newton. And never have I regretted being on Team McCorkle or thought he wasn't a legit NFL quarterback. But last night for the first time in his career, the moment seemed too big for him. Where he seemed to lack confidence, timing, instinct, situational awareness, or understanding of the defensive concepts he was facing. So you'll have to excuse my hyperbole. But frankly that performance has me pretty shook. And I spent the better part of the night staring into the abyss. I'm sleep deprived and reserve the right to deny ever saying any of this. 

--Maybe I can excuse away a stat line of 3-for-6, 13 yards, 2.2 YPA and 1 INT by saying he was rusty. But while looking into the blackness all night, I concluded it was something much worse. Jones was unprepared. The entire team was, on every level. That's a far worse indictment than just saying one guy looked bad after missing three games. That's system-wide failure, and a much harder fix. It's enough to make you think that maybe there's something to this talk of Jones and the offensive staff butting heads. Like maybe what he could really use in his helmet is a pair of Matt Patricia-Canceling Headphones and just go by what had him winning seven straight games last year and outplaying Tom Brady in Week 4 with the weight of the world on his shoulders. But that rookie season seems like a peyote-induced fever dream right now. 

--None of which is meant to sound like I'm letting Zappe off the hook. I am not, by any means. The Bears are credited with seven passes defended. At least four of which were at the line of scrimmage. There were swell throws mixed in there, one through several tight windows to DeVante Parker late in the game. Which he then immediately followed up by hitting Dominique Robinson in his meaty, outstretched palm to get picked off. And the soft change up he threw behind Tyquan Thornton, who had two steps on Kyler Gordon, is the first throw they teach toddler quarterbacks not to try. For reals. The Wiggles have a catchy song my boys loved called "Be Sure to Lead Your Receiver Coming Open in the Flat."

And since I'm going all in on the Negative Nellyism, I'll steer into the skid and say the two best offensive plays the Pats made all night were not good throws. Parker did a nice job getting an outside release on Jaylon Johnson, but struggled to shake him on the Cover-1 beater 9-route. And while Jaquan Brisker was a half-step late coming over from his Post safety spot, it was still a risky pass, slightly underthrown. Parker did what Parker was brought here to do, which is win contested catches and turn 50/50 balls into 75/25s. But that was very much to the catcher's credit, not the thrower's:

Same with the one touchdown pass. It was a beautiful play design. Off play action, with Hunter Henry coming across to take the backside edge rusher, Al-Quadin Muhammad, who had crashed down on the run fake. Jakobi Meyers ran what I think (don't @ me, bro) a Hoss Seam Juke, in which he runs a shallow cross off the weakside under a Hitch-Seam combination, and was left wide open in the Bears zone coverage. The one thing that didn't go perfectly was the pass itself:

I'll take the six points. Believe me. But when everything goes according to the plan, the open man shouldn't have to play the ball like Dustin Pedroia chasing down a shallow flare to right field. Meyers continues to emerge as one of the best slot receivers in the league. And this was all him. 

--I won't even bother to look at Zappe's stat line. Instead I'll just focus on the 2nd half drive chart. A little minimalist bit of existential angst you can use for your next Poetry Slam that goes like this: "Three plays. Punt. Three plays. Punt. Interception. Interception. End of game. Pain. Sorrow. Death." Consider this my gift to you. (If you win, buy me a latte.) I watched until the end, so I know that whatever Zappe's numbers are, they were padded by a heavy reliance on checkdowns to Rhamondre Stevenson. While trailing by 19 points in the 4th quarter. So the equivalent of laying down a bunt while down 10 runs in the 9th to up your OBP. (I do hear myself, and I realize that is a lot of baseball metaphors for one column. So it must be October. Expect some quality Pumpkin Spice and fleece references as we go along.) I can respect playing it conservative. But you're trying to get your team back in the game, not running for state rep in Alaska.

--Isaiah Wynn was mercifully not activated for this one. But thanks to Trent Brown, the Workplace Safety Coordinator at Patriots Place has to reset the "IT HAS BEEN __ DAYS SINCE A TACKLE COMMITTED WAY TOO MANY PENALTIES" sign back to "0." 

--I mentioned the defense, but not nearly enough. If the officials shut off the clock and just kept playing, the Patriots would not have made another stop until the Heat Death of the universe. Chicago would've just gone on and on, one successful scoring drive after another, until the scoreboard showed that sideways "8" symbol for infinity. (Though as some point we would've used up Earth's resources replacing all the flags that wore out from being thrown at Trent Brown.) 

--They were utterly helpless. If you'll pardon the lazy wordplay, they were defenseless. If I didn't survive the night, the corner's report would've read, "Cause of Death: Conversions on 3rd & long." Officially the Bears got credit for converting 11-of-18. Which includes the one inside the Patriots 5 when they committed the ultimate insult by taking their foot off the gas. Of those 11 1st downs they did pick up, it felt like at least five of them were 3rd & double digits. It was excruciating to watch. They'd maKe a stop. Create a negative play. Set up a 3rd & long. And then cede vast amounts of territory after peaceful negotiations without firing a shot. 

--The pisser of it is, they were set up to stop Justin Fields and the running game. They went big up front, particularly on early downs. According to unconfirmed rumors, Jamie Collins was in the lineup. But whether it was the fog of war or the literal fog, I missed him. So did the box score as he left no sign of his existence. What we could see was an emphasis on size. Lawrence Guy was back and took a lot of snaps in the interior. Deatrich Wise Jr. was kicked inside as Anfernee Jennings, Jahlani Tavai, and occasionally Ju'Whaun Bentley rotated through the Will linebacker spot on the line in hopes of shoring up the edge. And Matthew Judon was used in more of a situational pass rusher role. What we got for that was one Fields keeper after another, breaking containment and producing chunk plays, either on the ground or through the air once the coverage broke down. 

--None would make your brains ooze out of your nostrils like this 3rd & 7. This was when the game officially got away from us. Wise and Mack Wilson ran a tackle-end stunt (a "TEX"). Wilson had the red dot on his scope right in Fields' 10-ring, but missed the target. Adrian Phillips came in, but Fields got rid of the ball. And falling away, with a face full of safety, still managed to deliver a perfect strike (more baseball) to Cole Kmet over Devin McCourty. That was the real demoralizer. One of very, very many.

--Though I don't know how we had any morale left after that Bears touchdown that gave them back the lead for good. Steve Belichick went Zero Blitz, rushing six with man coverage behind them, including McCourty out wide on Khalil Herbert. Wise and Judon met each other at the corner of Justin and Fields just as he released the ball on a perfectly timed, perfectly executed screen. McCourty got taken out by Harry (as I typed that, a piece of my soul died). And Braxton Jones drilled Jalen Mills so far into the turf that if the game was played on Oak Island, he would've found that Vikings treasure they're looking for, instead of old Anglo-Saxon subway tokens and souvenirs from the 1153 A.D. Knights Templar Spring Fling they keep finding.

--The thing is, for as long as I can remember the Patriots defense has struggled against quality rushing quarterbacks. Not always to the point where they could control a game and match the Pats score-for-score, but they've long had a hard time containing an elusive QB. Now though, it's gotten to the point where they can't stop one. Or outscore one. The problems they had with Fields were the same ones they've been having with Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen, and it only seems to be getting worse. They could've built WWI style defenses on the edge, with trenches, barriers, barbed wire, pillboxes, and interlocking fields of fire, and Fields would've invented the tank.

--Which finally brings me to the special teams. A term I'm only using in a sarcastic, derisive, judgmental way.

Giphy Images.

Simply put, what's eating Jake Bailey? This guy was All Pro two years ago. Got the coveted, almost unheard of second contract out of the GM who loves to spend his draft capital on speciaaalll teamers the way a Mississippi politician spends welfare funds on Brett Favre's daughter's volleyball. But now he's punting like a guy kicking tires at a car dealership. He came into the game 31st in distance, and then brought his average down. And his hang time, that used to be so impressive there were reporters at camp keeping track of it, now has to be measured with instruments from the Hadron Particle Collider. I mean, how often do you see him give Matthew Slater time to be right in the returner's grill when the ball arrives? It used to be every kick, but it's getting rarer by the week. And that's not because Slater is slowing down or getting less hard to block. If there are any unemployed punters who don't have a history of treating women awfully, it might be time to hold auditions. 

--On a similar note, I appreciate Marcus Jones trying to bust one and give his offense a spark. But by the third or fourth time you're getting taken down at the 20, you need to realize the nice, reliable, dependable touchback is always at your disposal. And will never let you down.

--This Week's Applicable Movie Quote: "The bears have descended on the News Team, and it's NOT going well. [Bear tears his arm off.] Ugh! Now it's getting re-goddamned-diculous!" - Frank Vitchard, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

--I've put this off long enough. I clapped at Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones. And I have to own it. 

Tl;dr: I said he's one of the worst D-linemen in football, and the Patriots superior running game was going to go right through him. All he did was recover a fumble, knock down two passes and make two tackles. Whether he feels like that fumbled ball had air taken out of it, I don't know as I'm writing this. I just know he has every right to crow. And I have no doubt he will. And I will have to eat that crow.

--I can't guarantee what we'll see going forward. The quarterback situation is a mess. The idea Belichick floated that Jones wasn't pulled for performance reasons, but was instead the plan all along makes no sense to my feeble mind. Dual quarterbacks has never worked out save for having  a gadget play guy to run the Wildcat or whatever. So I suspect that this week he's going to make a full commitment back to Jones, shut up the people who were screaming for Zappe, resolve whatever problems there were on every drive but those two in the 2nd quarter, and dump this whole regrettable mess on the ash heap of history where it belongs. I can't take any more of this. 

--But then again, maybe all this stems from the silver pants. Maybe dressing like a suburban wine mom on a Girl's Night Out just takes the fight out of team. 

Retire them, please.