Patriots’ Mac Jones suddenly has real QB competition from Bailey Zappe

It is easy to understand why Mac Jones is so eager to get back in the saddle Monday night against the Bears. 

For one, he is a fierce competitor, and for two, he led Bill Belichick, the GOAT who drafted him 15th overall, back to the playoffs as a rookie last season. 

And, for three, Bailey Zappe. 

New England has been gripped by Zappe Fever the past three weeks, because the fourth-round rookie by way of Western Kentucky has played so well that fans and media have harkened back to the time when Belichick decided to chase his first Super Bowl crown with a second-year quarterback named Tom Brady instead of a Wally-Pipped Drew Bledsoe. 

Anyone who knows Belichick knows he will play the players he believes give his team its best chance to win, and to hell with draft status or anything else. Always has, always will. 

Jones does not deserve to lose his job following a high left ankle sprain any more than Zach Wilson did after Mike White titillated Jets fans last season, but Zappe showed uncommon poise, polish and command in beating the Lions and Browns. 

But after losing two of his first three starts this season, it should have been plenty obvious to Jones how intoxicated with winning Belichick seemed during Zappe Hour. 

It would be a good idea for Jones (64-for-97, 786 yards, two touchdowns, five interceptions) to forget Josh McDaniels is no longer his offensive coordinator and begin orchestrating the offense under Matt Patricia the way Zappe (51-for-70, 596 yards, four touchdowns, one interception) has done. 

Mac Jones
Mac Jones is set to return Monday night.

Better watch your back, Mac. 

It’s quite possible that your leash will be shorter than it used to be. 

“Whenever he got picked up by the Patriots, I was kind of curious as to why, because they’d drafted Mac the year before,” Texas Tech offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Zach Kittley told Serby Says. “But now the more I watch, and I dove in a lot more to the Patriots and their organization and some of Coach Belichick’s philosophies since April when he got picked up, and I actually think it’s a perfect match. To me he really fits the organization that I read about and qualities of people and that players they want in that organization. 

“I think he’s the exact kind of Bill Belichick guy — the Julian Edelmans, the Danny Amendolas, the Tom Brady’s, those type of players — I think he really fit that mold. If it’s me, I’m rolling the Bailey Zappe train all the way down the tracks for a long time to come.” 

Kittley was coordinator and QBs coach under head coach Tyson Helton last season at Western Kentucky and previously and coached Zappe at Houston Baptist (now Houston Christian) University. Kittley admits he’s biased. So is everyone who coached Zappe. 

Bill Belichick, left, and Bailey Zappe
Bill Belichick, left, and Bailey Zappe
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“We call him the Great American Quarterback,” Helton told Serby Says. “When you think of like a Drew Brees- or a Tom Brady-type, they have a certain air about ’em, a certain mystique and quality that when they’re on the field they exude confidence, and they make people relax. When they walk in the huddle and they look in his eyes they see a confident person, and that is the key to having really good offenses, when you look in a quarterback’s eyes you feel like, ‘Man, this guy’s gonna get it done for us.’ And that’s probably the biggest attribute that he has. 

“And then he also makes coaches feel very comfortable. A coach feels like, ‘OK, this person knows what he’s doing.’ I think he puts coaches at ease that says, ‘Hey, we’ve given the guy the keys to the Ferrari, and he knows how to drive it.’ ” 

Helton was in the process of studying Kittley and his Air Raid offense at Houston Baptist when he was blown away by the quarterback, who had entered the transfer portal. Bingo! A twofer for Helton. 

“He plays the game …I don’t know, I think kind of like Brett Favre. You know how Brett Favre would get mad at the defense and say something to ’em, he was not intimidated in the least by anything going on in that field, Bailey was that way,” Helton said. “Bailey didn’t mind flipping the switch if something happened with a defensive player that he didn’t like. He was gonna let him know it, he was gonna let him have it. Many times I had an official come over to me and be like, ‘Coach, you gotta tell your quarterback not to say that to the defense.’ ” 

Asked for an example, Helton said: “We go so fast with our tempo, that a lot of times defenses would try to slow us down by faking injuries. And if you were a fan in the stands, you would see Bailey like walk over to the defender, and it would look like he’s going to check on him, like he would lean over, and like you’d see him tapping his helmet, and you would think to yourself, ‘He’s telling that guy, hey man, how you doing, are you OK?’, that kind of thing. But what he’s really saying is, ‘Hey get your butt up, we all know you’re faking it. You’re slowing me down.’ ” 

Kittley recalls how Zappe suffered a high ankle sprain in 2019 against Texas Wesleyan, was limited and hobbled in practice before throwing for 513 yards and five TDs in a 53-52 upset of South Dakota. 

Bailey Zappe throws a touchdown pass.
Bailey Zappe throws a touchdown pass.

“A big part of his strength is his mental capacity, and the way he can see the game, and the way I run my offense I put a lot on the quarterback, let those guys have a lot of leeway, the ability to check plays at the line of scrimmage and some of that stuff, and he really flourished in being able to do that,” Kittley said. 

Zappe topped all quarterbacks with a 35 Wonderlic score. 

“It doesn’t matter if he’s running Air Raid or Run-n-Shoot or pro style or West Coast, he can function and excel at a high level,” Helton said. 

Helton cites one particular throw against Appalachian State. 

Mac Jones
Mac Jones
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“We had an RPO on, and he hit the boundary X receiver on like a skinny post that takes tremendous timing,” Helton recalled. “And the safety had come down but not very low, and he put the ball on the back shoulder of the safety, and threw it before the X had even made the break on the post portion of it. And the safety thought, ‘Well I’m gonna get a nice easy pick,’ and all of a sudden that X crosses his face on the back side, and he’s off and running for a touchdown. 

“Well, that’s an NFL throw if there’s ever an NFL throw. I think that throw right there showed the NFL scouts and GMs that, OK, yeah, this kid has the anticipation, this kid understands what is going to happen before the ball’s ever snapped. And I think that kind of put an exclamation point on all the body of work that he had done over the season that says, OK, he has full command of the passing game when it’s time to throw the football.” 

Kittley describes Zappe as a tough, blue-collar kid who loves the game. Helton describes him as genuine and laid back. 

“Within the first week of the program, our [Western Kentucky strength coach there [Jason Veltkamp] came in and said, ‘This guy’s already set a new standard of what it’s supposed to look like in the weight room,’ ” Kittley said. “He’s not a yell-and-scream-at-you kind of leader, he does lead by example, but also he’s more of the guy that wants to come up to you and talk you through things maybe if someone makes a mistake instead of ripping you or blaming somebody. He’s more of your positive leader.” 

Bailey Zappe
Bailey Zappe

Kittley disputes knocks on Zappe’s arm strength and when asked why he lasted until the fourth round, he said: “People saw him as a 6-foot-half-inch, 215-pound guy that ran a 4.78 or 4.82, whatever it was, 40. I think if Bailey Zappe would have been 6-2, I think Bailey Zappe would have been a first-round draft pick hands down. I can promise you I’ve heard from a million scouts that I’ve talked to since last spring saying that I was spot on and that they missed out on a great player.” 

No one riding the Zappe Train has been surprised. The Victoria, Texas, community is buzzing with pride. 

“He’s always had that “it” factor. … Bailey was always well-liked by his peers. He was the kind of guy that took the load from everybody. He kept it all on his shoulders, he never pointed the finger at anybody. That really commanded respect from all of his teammates,” Victoria East High School coach Roland Gonzalez told Serby Says. 

“It’s not surprising by any means,” Helton said. “When he got drafted by the Patriots, we all kind of joked, not really seriously but were like, ‘Hey watch him find a way early in the season to get on that field and play,’ ” Helton said. “Sure enough it came true. He’s a guy that exudes confidence, he makes people believe that when he’s in the game that they got a good chance to win, and that’s what you want in a quarterback.” 

That’s what Belichick wants in a quarterback. Always has. Always will. 

Watch your back, Mac.