Going into Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, the New England Patriots had a steep hill to climb. Their QB1 was out with a high-ankle sprain and the reigns of the offense were handed off to career backup QB2 Brian Hoyer. Generating any offensive movement was likely to be a challenge, especially at Lambeau, one of the toughest places to play in all of football. Then came another blow, when Hoyer went down with a head injury (believed to be a concussion) on the Pats 2nd offensive drive in the 1st quarter thanks to Packers LB Rashan Gary absolutely owning DT Isaiah Wynn and getting a clean hit on the QB. In a flash, 2022 4th round draft pick, rookie QB3 Bailey Zappe was forced into an incredibly difficult spot for his first NFL snaps under center. The 23-year old took his first official snap of his NFL career in the shadow of his own endzone, the loudest area of Lambeau Field. Being thrown into the fire doesn’t even begin to capture the situation for the young QB.
Zappe ultimately performed about as well as one can expect for a QB who has likely had very few reps with the starting offense and was playing in a hostile environment. The offensive play-calling clearly leaned more conservative with Zappe under center and several of his first throws were on the run, off-balance, and in the ground short. He was strip-sacked right before halftime thanks to holding the ball a bit too long but regrouped in the 2nd half and did a solid job of stabilizing the offense and not making any game-altering mistakes. He made a nice 25-yard throw to WR DeVante Parker towards the end of the 3rd quarter for a TD to give the Pats the lead 17-14. The officials missed a delay of game on the play, but frankly the officials missed so many calls throughout that it was hard to keep track of all their mistakes. After a Green Bay game-tying FG, Zappe led the Patriots down the field for a 7-play, 66-yard drive ending in a RB Damien Harris 5-yr TD run to give them a 24-17 advantage. He made another nice throw for 21 yards to WR Nelson Agholor on that drive that set the team up inside the 10.
After Green Bay tied the game at 24, the Patriots offense went incredible conservative while the Pats defense stepped up and shutdown the Packers offense. In his first game as an NFL QB, Zappe had led the Pats to OT on the road against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. After exchanging punts thanks to 3-and-outs for both teams, Rodgers did what he’s done his whole career and marched the Packers down the field, setting up a game-winning FG as time ran out in OT for K Mason Crosby. It resulted in the 3rd loss of the season for the Patriots and an abysmal 1-3 record, but if there is ever a time for moral victories in football, this was it.
The fact the Patriots were even competitive in this game is huge for Zappe’s confidence. The Packers were favored by 9.5 points prior to the game with Hoyer as their starter and I’m guessing would have been 12-15 point favorites if the odds makers knew Hoyer would go down in the 1st quarter. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t always pretty, but Zappe finished 10-15 for 99 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs and a QB rating of 107.4. Other than the L, that’s more than you can ask for from a young QB who was thrown into the lion’s den. Regardless of how this week transpires for Hoyer and if he remains in concussion protocol or not, Bailey Zappe should have another chance to prove himself on the biggest stage against the Detroit Lions at home this Sunday. This time, with a week of preparation and taking snaps with the starters in practice.
Zappe was reportedly on the Patriots radar during the entire draft this past year, with hopes he would be available in the 4th round when they picked. The Western Kentucky product transferred from Houston Baptist for his senior year and was the 2021 Conference USA MVP and ranked 2nd in the NCAA in pass completions and 1st in pass attempts last season. He finished with the 9th highest completion percentage in 2021 (69.2%) and led the country in passing yards (5,967) and TDs (62). Zappe led the Hilltoppers to a 59-38 victory in the 2021 Boca Raton Bowl over Appalachian State and took home the MVP trophy thanks to a 6 TD, 422 yard performance (33 for 47). While his competition wasn’t nearly the level of many of the top QBs drafted last year, he was able to produce at the FBS level with insane regularity. At 6’1″, 220lbs, Zappe isn’t the tallest QB and has plenty of room to grow his game, but that’s to be expected this early in his career.
From the Patriots perspective, they have to be happy with how Zappe handled himself in the game but also in the post game. He was calm and steady as he took questions from the media, giving credit to his teammates and owning a few things he could have done better. He talked about the game, but also seemed to be turning the page to the next opportunity which felt like the perfect fit in the Bill Belichick system of handling the media.
The future is uncertain for Bailey Zappe with QB1 Mac Jones on the road to recovery, but this was a really nice debut for the young kid. The more time he gets to prepare and learn behind veterans like Hoyer, the more he will continue to improve and perhaps get himself ready to be an NFL starter, whether in New England or elsewhere. For now, he’s taking it week-by-week and is focused on the Lions.