The start of the 2023 season was confusing for the Patriots, as they looked to be much improved from last year but could not avoid getting in their own way to close out games. They hung in there with the reigning NFC Champion Eagles in Week 1 and followed that up with another good performance against the Dolphins.
Of course, they finally got their first win against the Jets, and then it all went downhill.
What started bringing some optimism quickly vanished after New England fell victim to back-to-back blowout losses to the Cowboys and Saints. They looked like a dramatically different team than the one who hung in there with two of the top teams in the league to begin the season, and after a few more losses, Mac Jones was ultimately benched for his consistent turnovers and costly decision-making.
Bailey Zappe then took over under center and although his first start didn't go so well, he led the team to two wins over the next three games. Although there was nothing incredible about his performances, there did appear to be a noticeable shift with the offense.
It was clear they were disjointed for most of the season leading up to Zappe's elevation. The free agents that were signed to improve the offense weren't living up to the hype and the offensive line was among the most significant problems overall. But once Zappe took over, things started to look like they clicked.
Whether it was wins that rejuvinated the team, a difference in morale or a unanimous support of a quarterback change, something was different and the team was benefitting from it.
Maybe the offense had quit on Mac Jones by the time he was officially benched
Because of the apparent shift, NFL insider Albert Breer suggests the team had quit on Jones prior to his benching. He had already been taken out of four games before Bill Belichick made the decision, so perhaps the change came at the right time to reignite the offense under the direction of Zappe.
“The Patriots most certainly haven’t quit on Bill Belichick. But given the way Bailey Zappe has sparked the offense, it’s certainly fair to wonder whether the players had given up on Mac Jones. Jones’ string of bleep-ups in games coincided with similar plays showing up in practice. And while Zappe’s no world-beater, the players at least know what to expect when he’s in there. It really showed in Sunday night’s win in Denver, particularly on the third-and-3, back-shoulder throw to DeVante Parker that put the Patriots’ game-winning drive in motion with less than a minute left.”
It's certainly possible that Zappe's opportunity was all it took to change the offense around, even if he really isn't that much of an upgrade over Jones at the end of the day.
However, players had been vocalizing their support of Jones for weeks before he was benched, which didn't give the impression they had all grown tired of him to that point.
Of course, we don't know what goes on behind the scenes, so maybe there's more to the story than what meets the eye. Maybe Zappe is in a better headspace and has more motivation to prove he is worthy of remaining the quarterback, and Jones had just checked out after having another disappointing season.