Rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe replaced Mac Jones on Monday to cheers from the New England Patriots crowd. It was hysteria when Zappe led the Patriots to a 14-10 lead with touchdowns on his first two drives. Just about everyone with a social media account proclaimed that Jones would never play over Zappe again.
That lasted for about an hour. Maybe less. The sugar high from Zappe's first two drives wore off fast, and all that was left at the end was a surprising and disappointing 33-14 loss at home to the Chicago Bears.
The Bears blew out the Patriots. Zappe started hot and then cooled off. New England didn't score in the second half. Chicago scored the final 23 points of the game. The Bears' season high for points in a game this season was 23. They were averaging 15.5 points a game and more than doubled that on Monday.
The Patriots are 3-4. Now they have a quarterback controversy that Bill Belichick didn't clarify postgame. The Patriots head coach declined to name a starter moving forward and said that Jones' interception that preceded his benching didn't play a role in his decision.
“I told the quarterbacks that we were gonna play both of them," Belichick told reporters. "So we did."
Pressed on whether Jones' benching was performance-related, Belichick said this:
"That’s not what it was," he continued. "You can write whatever you want to write. That's not what it was."
What a roller coaster of a night for Patriots fans.
Mac Jones benched in second quarter
Jones returned from a high ankle sprain after missing three games. The Patriots made sure to leak to the media that there was no quarterback controversy. Jones would start when he was ready. Jones got the start on Monday.
Jones didn't look ready though. He was 3-of-6 for 13 yards after a little more than a quarter. He threw a miserable interception, floating a pass into coverage that safety Jaquan Brisker picked off. That's when Zappe came in and the crowd roared.
It looked for a bit like we were watching something big happen on Monday Night Football. Zappe immediately threw a 30-yard touchdown to Jakobi Meyers after a busted coverage by the Bears. A 43-yard pass to DeVante Parker set up another touchdown. If you were on social media, you heard a lot about how this was another Drew Bledsoe/Tom Brady moment. Patience isn't a strong suit of social media.
The Patriots didn't score again. The offensive line couldn't protect Zappe. Zappe didn't make anything else happen. Meanwhile, the Patriots defense let the Bears pile up points.
By about 10:45 p.m. Eastern time, about an hour-and-a-half after the world was convinced Zappe was never giving up the Patriots' quarterback job, the Bears took a 33-14 lead. The rout was on.
Jones struggled. Zappe didn't do much. The Patriots fell below .500 with a bad loss. Now what?
Bears dominate in win
Give the Bears credit for ruining the Zappe party.
Chicago came in 2-4, and had just been dealt an unspeakably ugly home loss to the Washington Commanders on Thursday night in Week 6. When the Patriots had the momentum with a 14-10 lead, it felt like the Bears were going to get rolled.
That didn't happen. Justin Fields kept making plays, especially with his legs. His 25-yard touchdown pass to Khalil Herbert, when he delivered the ball sidearm right as he was about to get crushed by two Patriots defenders, changed the tone of the game. A fumble on a jet sweep handoff right before the half was recovered by the Bears. Chicago got a gift field goal and led 20-14. The Patriots never recovered.
Zappe wasn't awful but after his hot start he didn't make much happen. Zappe finished 14-of-22 for 185 yards. He threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter after the Bears took a 19-point lead. It wasn't the kind of performance that definitively ends the quarterback question, though Jones' struggles might factor in the decision.
New England was doing pretty well in getting back to 3-3. Things really looked up when they took a lead on Monday night. That all changed fast.