FOXBORO — The Patriots have not publicly fully explained why they made a quarterback change in Week 6, but Bailey Zappe was demoted.
The second-year pro had been Mac Jones’ backup quarterback through the first five weeks of the season before being made inactive as the team’s emergency third QB against the Raiders with hybrid quarterback/wide receiver Malik Cunningham serving as the backup.
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Head coach Bill Belichick would only say after the game that “there’s a lot of people that are hurt” when asked why Cunningham was signed to the 53-man roster and made the backup.
“They had an idea,” Zappe told the Herald this week. “They told me about it. That’s between me and the coaches. So, I’m sure if anything happens this week, we’ll talk about it. I’m not sure what’s going on. I’ll leave that up to the coaches, and they’ll let me know like they always do.”
A source told the Herald that the Patriots viewed Cunningham as having more upside based on his athleticism and that the biggest risk was the rookie turning the ball over, which the team has already had issues with anyway.
“I prepare like I usually do, but of course, it’s a lot different from being an emergency and being a 2,” Zappe said. “Because I don’t know how the rules are stated. It’s something like the No. 1 and 2 both have to get injured for the 3 to go in. And then if the 1 or 2 is able to go back into the game, 3 has to come out. I don’t know.
“I don’t know if it’s just for that one week or whatever, but I’m still preparing like I’m getting an opportunity to go out there and play, and then do my job.”
Zappe has struggled in new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s system since the offseason. There was expected to be a competition between Zappe and Jones for the starting role, but that never materialized.
Zappe was cut out of training camp and signed to the team’s practice squad before being called up to the 53-man roster before Week 1.
Zappe said he was informed that would be the No. 2 at some point last week.
“They talked about it,” Zappe said. “Told me it was a possibility. Do whatever I can for the team, whatever I can to help the team win. I’ve been preparing like I’m the starter. Everybody does that. That doesn’t really change my mind of how I prepare during the week.”
Jones was benched for Zappe in two straight weeks in blowout losses to the Cowboys and Saints that saw the starter turn the ball over three times in each game. Zappe did not provide a spark off of the bench, however, completing just 38.9 percent of his passes.
Jones threw another interception in Sunday’s loss to the Raiders. So, does Zappe believe there’s a greater chance for a competition?
“That’s up to the coaches,” Zappe said. “Whenever I get my opportunities in practice or the game, I try to take advantage of it, make the throws, try to do my job. Whenever the opportunities come again, I’m going to try to take advantage of it.”
Belichick has talked multiple times now about how difficult it is for a player, especially a quarterback, to move up the depth chart with a lack of reps in practice. The Patriots also have Will Grier, but it’s hard for him to compete with Jones or Zappe with four quarterbacks on the roster.
Zappe wasn’t complaining about a lack of reps in practice.
“Whatever reps I get, I try to take advantage of it, whether it’s with the first-team offense or with the scout team,” Zappe said. “I feel like every rep for me is like an audition. I go out there and make the throws that sometimes in the game I’m not truly wanting to make. Scrambling around, just doing stuff like that. Just doing stuff that you don’t usually get to do. For me, I try to take every rep whether it’s scout or with the first-team offense like a game rep and choose it as an opportunity for me to show Coach Belichick and OB (O’Brien) what I can do.”
Zappe started and won two games last season in reserve of Jones. He mounted a comeback in his first NFL action while backing up Brian Hoyer last season against the Packers and then struggled while relieving Jones against the Bears.
But there seemed to be a legitimate competition between Zappe and Jones. This year has been a lot different for Zappe from struggling in camp and the preseason, getting cut and being demoted. So, how has he viewed the last six months?
“I mean, just like every other year. Just trying to get better,” Zappe would only say.