There was no quarterback debate in New England last season, according to Bill Belichick. Yet, if you polled some of the players, it would appear like there was a disagreement over who should play under center.
The players in the locker room legitimately disagreed last season about whether Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe should start at quarterback, according to Devin McCourty. Such information was disclosed by McCourty in a recent interview with Boston’s WEEI.
According to McCourty, “I think player-wise there was enough faith that we’re going to put the best person out there.” via ESPN.com. “But because of the offensive difficulties, I believe some players in the locker room suggested using Zappe. Instead, “Nah, Mac looked excellent today.” That was merely a back and forth, which in my opinion revealed more about our offensive strengths than the quarterback. We never really established ourselves as a set of attacking players who were completely confident in everything we did. True hope was never present.”
Such information rarely leaves the Patriots’ locker room, but since McCourty is already retired, he apparently felt at ease disclosing it.
The entirety of McCourty’s speech is an attack on the offensive strategy used by New England last season. Belichick’s decision to assign Matt Patricia as the offense’s coordinator in the preseason marked the beginning of the Patriots’ offensive decline. The lack of chemistry between Patricia and Jones led to some offensive dysfunction for New England.
The Patriots went 1-2 during Jones’ first three starts of the season, in large part due to their offensive difficulties. Zappe was chosen to start two games in October when Jones suffered an ankle injury in Week 3 and an injury to backup quarterback Brian Hoyer in Week 4. (Week 5 against the Lions and Week 6 against the Browns).
Both of those games were ultimately won by the Patriots thanks to Zappe’s three touchdown passes and lone interception. The Patriots averaged 33.5 points per game in the two victories, compared to just 18.5 in the first four weeks of the season.
Jones later made a comeback for a Monday night game in Week 7, but he was jeered before the opening frame had even been completed. Fans and possibly some of his teammates both desired to see Zappe.
Once Jones was eventually taken off the field in the second quarter, Zappe took over and led two early touchdown drives, but he struggled in the second half of the Bears’ 33-14 defeat. Yet, it appears that several players would have preferred to see Zappe have a chance. Jones eventually started the rest of the season.
As for McCourty, he believes Jones received excessive criticism for his performance during the previous season.
McCourty stated, “I don’t think he should be under as much criticism and scrutiny as he is. “We said, “Hey, I’m with this!” while sitting here during his first year. I enjoy the new era. As we get to the playoffs, everyone is excited. Finally, from the perspective of the coaching staff’s offensive scenario, what happened this year. He requires consistency from those around him.”
To be fair, McCourty seems to think Jones is the better choice. He stated that clearly on “Good Morning Football” on February 27.
He’s the future, in my opinion,” McCourty said. “He is working with men and conversing with men in that facility right now because that is what he wants to do. He aspires to play quarterback there.”
Bill O’Brien, the Patriots’ new offensive coordinator this season, is a vast improvement over Patricia. Having said that, given that we now know that some of the players wanted to see Zappe at quarterback, if Jones struggles in 2023, that might cause a minor rift in the Patriots’ locker room.