The debate surrounding the Patriots' quarterback situation has taken on a mind of its own recently, as the team returned to Foxboro for the start of training camp last week.
Despite the fact he hasn't lost the starting job, many are calling for Mac Jones to be cast aside for his backup, Bailey Zappe, to lead the offense this upcoming season. It's odd, really, considering New England has only completed a handful of practices this summer, and no team in the league will look season-ready at the end of July.
So how does it make sense to have Zappe take over under center over Jones?
The short answer is it doesn't. So let's look back to how we got to this point.
After a rough 2020 season with Cam Newton as the first quarterback to start for New England since Tom Brady left, the Patriots were in prime position to get one of the top signal callers in the 2021 draft. Although several teams ahead of them were in the mix looking to do the same thing, Bill Belichick got lucky as Jones fell into their lap at the 15th overall pick.
It was a shocking turn of events because Jones was projected to go much higher, with many rumored connections to the San Francisco 49ers, who had traded everything but the kitchen sink to move from the 12th overall pick to the third.
Because of their apparent dissatisfaction with Jimmy Garoppolo, it was widely known they made the move to ensure they got the best chance to draft a quarterback they liked.
Speculation suggested they were interested in Jones and Trey Lance, two of the top quarterbacks of the class, making it seem like Jones would be well out of the Patriots' reach. But the Niners decided to take a chance on Lance, allowing Jones to slip in the first round.
Since that draft, there has been talk regarding Belichick's lack of excitement in choosing him as their next quarterback. Some have suggested that the head coach was never intrigued by Jones and didn't want to draft him if he had the option. But given the team's circumstances, he was forced to take him since he was available by the time they were on the clock.
How accurate that theory is is unclear; we'll likely never know the answer. However, because of the up-and-down relationship between Belichick and Jones, many believe that validates the rumor without confirmation from the head coach or quarterback.
Fast forward to the start of Jones' rookie season; things looked like a match made in heaven. Other than the quarterback confirming on draft night that he hoped New England would take him, the chemistry between him and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was immediately apparent and translated on the field throughout the season.
Jones was the boost to the offense that had been lacking, and he helped lead the team to the postseason after missing it the season before. Although some say his rookie season wasn't all that special, despite being selected to the Pro Bowl, his performance was considered impressive and one of the best by a first-year quarterback in quite some time.
He started all 17 games that year, totaling 352/521 completions (67.6%) for 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. It certainly wasn't perfect, but it looked like the Patriots made the right decision in taking Jones, and he looked every bit the part of becoming the quarterback of the future.
Expectations were extremely high coming into the following season, with the assumption that Jones would build upon what he accomplished as a rookie and all the notable offseason work he had reportedly dedicated to would pay off.
But that's when things went downhill.
Without diving too deep into the 2022 season and all its problems, the Joe Judge and Matt Patricia experiment significantly impacted Jones' performance, confidence, and stability on the team, not only within himself but with Belichick and the fans.
Of course, some of the criticism for his lackluster performance is warranted because all blame cannot be placed on the coaches for lousy decision-making, poorly thrown footballs, etc. At the same time, however, there's a reason coaching matters so much in sports and why there are several interviews for candidates when a team decides to add to their staff.
Patricia's inexperience working with an offense and inability to draw up unique and successful plays set Jones up for failure. On top of that, he was also the offensive line coach, another failing unit that directly affected Jones' performance.
But apparently, the evidence proving that Belichick made a massive mistake putting Patricia into those positions isn't enough since so many media members and fans continue to put sole blame on Jones and Jones alone for the offense's struggles last season.
It certainly doesn't help that many times during the offseason, Belichick refused to support him publicly as the starting quarterback, even hinting at a quarterback competition come training camp this summer.
Now that training camp is well underway, some have come to the conclusion that Zappe has, in fact, outshined Jones thus far. But it's actually been the opposite.
The offense overall hasn't looked too great since the start of camp, and the defense has once again dominated in nearly every aspect. However, the context missing from most of those with Zappe fever is the type of drills the Patriots have had the offense working on so far; they are some of the most difficult red zone drills given to an offense in practice, some of which are meant to favor the defense.
Plus, remember how good the defense is? It would be shocking if they weren't the more dominant side of the team. Perhaps that's one reason Jones hasn't amazed onlookers so far.
Things were changed up on Sunday as the offense moved away from working strictly in the red zone and got back into the groove working through other drills. And this is when Jones looked like his old self again, proving those doubting his status as the QB1.
The offense, in total, was impressive, with all three quarterbacks having their best performance of training camp so far. Jones led the charge by ending practice with 10/14 completions, with the first eight throws occurring in a row.
Some struggles were noted, as there would be with any quarterback on any team, but Jones was noticeably more composed in handling the disappointing moments than just one year ago.
Mark Daniels of MassLive detailed those more difficult moments of the practice, noting why some plays ended unsuccessfully and crediting Jones with continuing a play with his legs.
"That final period saw Jones run six plays and he was sacked three times and pressured on another, which he threw the ball away. The first two sacks were coverage sacks as no one got open. The third sack came from Matthew Judon.
Jones did a solid job responding to pressure. One snap, he left the pocket and ran in for a touchdown. When Jones did throw the ball in this period, he was 2-of-4 with two touchdowns to Mike Gesicki."
So not all was extraordinary for Jones on Sunday, and Zappe had his standout moments as well, which shouldn't be ignored. But there still hasn't been any indication that Jones will be benched for the second-year quarterback.
In reality, it's Jones' job to lose. He deservedly has received a "fresh start" from Belichick and O'Brien, and his incredible work ethic continues to make an impression on his teammates. It's clear he's motivated and dedicated to becoming a better version of himself on the field and hopefully building upon his performance from his rookie season.
As things ramp up at training camp this coming week, we'll surely better understand where the offense and quarterbacks are at.
Some may still be coming down with Zappe fever since it appears the only prescription to cure it is more Zappe time on the field. But Jones has been receiving all the treatment of the starting quarterback and has been performing as such.
So don't let the hot takes confuse you; Jones is and will be the Patriots' starting quarterback in 2023.