The Bailey Zappe Hype Train

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.

The Best NFL Divisional Round Ever, Hands Down

After a mostly boring wild card round with 4 of 6 games resulting in blowouts, NFL fans were desperate for some strong, competitive football and the divisional round this weekend more than delivered. The 4 games were all decided by 1 score and each game was won on the final possession as time ran out or in OT. Of the 4 matchups, 3 were upsets by road teams and the only home win was the best game of the weekend, and one of the best games of all time, with a Kansas City win in OT. There was a huge Tom Brady comeback, a 13-second drive to tie a game and send it to OT, a blocked-punt TD to tie a game, and an interception with 20 seconds left that led to a game-winning FG, to name a few. I’m not even close to an NFL historian, but I can’t imagine a more compelling weekend of football in the history of the game than the 2022 divisional round this past weekend.

The weekend kicked off with the Cincinnati Bengals fresh off their first playoff victory in 21 years looking to upset the #1 Tennessee Titans on the road and make their first AFC Championship game since 1988. The Mike Vrabel led Titans had time to rest and prepare for the insanely young and impressive talent of the Bengals and got great news that workhorse RB Derrick Henry would be off IR and ready to roll. It was a low-scoring game led by the defenses and it’s only appropriate that a defensive play, a Logan Wilson interception with 20 seconds left, set up the game-winning 52-yard FG for the Bengals. This is likely the beginning of a strong run for the Bengals, because the main weapons in Cincy are all 25 and under, QB Joe Burrow, RB Joe Mixon, WR Ja’Marr Chase, and WR Tee Higgins and they are led by a 38-year old head coach Zac Taylor. The road walk-off FG was just the beginning.

Saturday’s game #2 was the vaunted 49ers vs Packers matchup that was the 72nd overall time they have met and 9th time in the playoffs. Everyone knows what the weather will be like in a night game at Lambeau Field in January and it didn’t disappoint with temperatures in the teens, wind chill in the single digits and below and snow flurries. Green Bay set the tone early with an opening drive TD capped off by New London, CT native and former Boston College star RB AJ Dillon. It seemed like we would see more offense than the first game, but the game slowed to a crawl. Neither team scored again until a FG from the 49ers with 8:31 left in the 3rd quarter. A Packers FG early in the 4th pushed their lead back to 7 points and it remained that way until the 49ers blocked a punt and ran it in for a TD with just under 5 minutes to go, tying the game at 10. After a 3-and-out for the Packers, Jimmy Garoppolo was able to give K Robbie Gould a 45-yard FG try, which he nailed as time ran out to win 13-10. Saturday recap: 2 games, 2 walkoff FGs, 2 upsets on the road.

As the Los Angeles Rams vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers game began on Sunday, it felt like the close-game magic had worn off. For the Bucs, the first half drives consisted of a punt, punt, FG, punt, missed FG, and interception, while the Rams were able to score on their first 3 drives and go into halftime up 20-3. It could have been an even larger lead if it wasn’t for the Rams 1st of 4 lost fumbles in the game. After exchanging punts to start the 2nd half, the Rams added another TD and took a commanding 27-3 lead, but with Tom Brady on the other side of the field, there was too much time left. Aided by 3 more lost fumbles, the Bucs scored 24 unanswered points and tied the game at 27 with 1:43 seconds left to play. The collective NFL fanbase was thinking, “Are you f*$king kidding me?” The Brady magic was still alive somehow, but Matthew Stafford had other plans. The Rams went 63-yards on 5 plays to setup a 30-yard Matt Gay walkoff FG for Los Angeles. The road-team, FG walkoff streak was still on with 1 game to go. 3 games down, 3 walkoff road upsets.

The final game was the QB matchup I was most excited for: Josh Allen vs Patrick Mahomes. Both QBs can beat you with their arm or legs, which instantly makes the game a must-see and boy oh boy it did NOT disappoint. From kickoff, both teams looked aggressive and ready to lay it all on the line for the W. The Bills converted 2 4th downs on their opening 13 play, 71 yard TD drive and made a statement. Mahomes and KC returned the favor with an 11 play 74 yard TD of their own on their first drive and it was time to buckle-up and enjoy the ride. The teams were tied 7-7 after 1, 14-14 at half and KC took a 2 point lead after 3, 23-21. Then came one of the greatest quarters I’ve ever seen, well, actually 2 of the best minutes I’ve ever seen. KC was up 26-21 at the 2 minute warning and little did we know there would still be 4 lead changes/ties and 25 points left to be scored BEFORE the game headed to OT. Let’s break down the final 2 minutes…

1:54 – Bills have a 4th and 13 on the KC 27 – Josh Allen throws a TD to Gabriel Davis and completes the 2-pt conversion attempt (29-26 Bills)

1:02 – KC scores a TD after a 5 play, 75 yard drive in 52 seconds (33-29 KC)

0:13 – Bills score a TD after a 6 play, 75 yard drive in 49 seconds (36-33 Bills)

0:00 – KC kicks a 49-yard FG to tie the game after a 3 play, 44 yard drive in 13 seconds (36-36)

I’ve never seen a more impressive QB display from both teams in a 2 minute stretch at any level. For both teams to have a 75 yard drive in under 1 minute and for Mahomes to drive 44 yards in 13 seconds to setup the game-tying FG was incredible. Some of the throws and scrambles on both sides were unreal. As it always is, overtime was awful thanks to the NFL rules, but I’ll leave that argument for another day. The Bills never had a chance to touch the ball again thanks to the coin toss going KC’s way and the Chiefs won in OT, preventing the road team from winning all the divisional round games for the first time in history. It was, however, the 4th of 4 games to have the lead change and the game end on the final possession, which is phenomenal to watch and not for the weak of heart.

The regulation time of the final game of the weekend was the best of the NFL. The refs weren’t involved in every play, stupid ticky-tack fouls weren’t being called every other down (4 penalties for 25 yards combined), and the teams and their good (or bad) decisions are what resulted in the tie to send it to OT. The discipline of both the players and the refs produced a much more interesting product for everyone, from the casual fan to the diehard maniac. It’s a shame that the NFL had to muck-up the end result with the still ridiculous overtime rules. The idea that a coin toss decided the winner of that QB match-up is the worst of the NFL. Yes, if you are a fan of KC it benefited you (and hurt you against the Patriots in the 2019 AFC Championship), but don’t you think the Bills and Josh Allen deserved a chance to touch the football in OT? Even KC lobbied to have the rule change after their Patriots OT loss in 2019 (although they aren’t complaining this year).

With a combination of some fresh and some familiar faces in the championship games, next weekend should be fun to watch. Grab some cold beverages and a lot of snacks, because beginning at 3pm next Sunday you won’t want to miss the back-to-back action.