After Mac Jones was benched for the fourth time this season against the Giants last Sunday, there was an assumption that he would be officially benched for the rest of the year.
Although the quarterback roster outside of Jones appears less than impressive, it looked like Bill Belichick had decided to go with one of them for their Week 13 game against the Chargers, as Malik Cunningham and Bailey Zappe split reps at practice on Wednesday.
Jones appeared to be the scout quarterback during the media-viewed portion of practice, which heightened speculation that he will be benched for at least the upcoming game. But later in the evening, The Athletic's Jeff Howe revealed he was told by sources connected to the situation that Zappe will get the nod to start on Sunday.
It essentially became the final clue of the day that the second-year player would be taking over under center. Other than getting first-team reps, he also told reporters he would speak to them from the podium on Thursday, indicating that he would be QB1 this week.
It's quite a statement by Belichick to make such a move since he has kept Jones in for every game this season despite his clear struggles. But his latest outing against the very beatable Giants appears to be the final straw, creating a massive opportunity for Zappe to prove whether or not he can be the one to lead the team to success.
He looked the part last season while Jones was out with a high ankle sprain, as Zappe led the team to a 2-1 record in his place. He impressed against the Packers at Lambeau Field, hanging in until the final second of overtime with Aaron Rodgers before ultimately losing and helping the team beat the Lions and Browns the following two weeks.
The last time he would take the field as a rookie came in Week 7 against the Bears, the game Jones returned from injury and was replaced by Zappe after a few drives. Since then, he has taken over for the QB1 four times in 2023, but not looking nearly as impressive as he had just one year ago.
It seemed that was the case for most of this season, as Belichick continued putting Jones out there regardless of how poorly he played. The assumption became that Cunningham and Zappe were not looking like better options in practice, but that appears to have changed as they prepare for the Chargers this weekend.
So if Zappe does end up taking the reigns on Sunday, it then questions Jones' future even more. Would this mean the official end of his career in New England, despite the apparent support from Robert Kraft? Or does Belichick feel a change is needed, and testing out Zappe with a possible mix of Cunningham is the right move at the moment?
Because the head coach declined to answer any questions about who the starter would be, it's unlikely we will get any clarity or explanation into his decision-making or what it could mean for Jones for the rest of the year. But since the season is all but done, as they enter Week 13 with a 2-9 record, there's no harm in looking at what the backups can do.