What happened to Mac Jones? Explaining the Patriots’ benching, QB1 drama with Bailey Zappe

The Patriots are four years removed from losing legendary QB Tom Brady to free agency. Yet, New England is still on the hunt for its quarterback of the future. 

Mac Jones was thought to be the potential answer under center. Taken in the first round of the 2021 draft, the Alabama product had a promising rookie campaign, followed by a sophomore slump with one of the worst offensive coordinators in the league. 

There were plenty who thought 2023 would be the year that Jones found his footing. The Patriots brought back Bill O’Brien to replace Matt Patricia for play-calling duties on offense. Yet, Jones has been even worse this year, ranking as one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. 

In 2023 alone, Jones has been benched four times for backup Bailey Zappe. Eventually, Bill Belichick and the coaching staff said enough was enough, giving Zappe the starting nod in Week 13 against the Chargers. While Jones was still active for the contest, he did not see any playing time, even as the Patriots went on to lose 6-0. 

Given the short turnaround for the Patriots’ “Thursday Night Football” content against the Steelers, it’s likely that it will be Zappe under center again for Belichick and Co. New England enters the game 2-10, owning the worst record in the AFC and only trailing Carolina (1-11) for the lowest mark in the NFL. 

MORE: Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jimmy Garoppolo lead Patriots QB options for 2024

Here is more information on why Jones was benched in favor of Zappe. 

Why was Mac Jones benched?

Turnovers were the ultimate demise for Jones. The interceptions have been an issue all year, but Belichick and Co. reached their breaking point in Week 12. 

During the Patriots’ 10-6 loss to the Giants, Jones was benched after throwing a pair of interceptions in the first half. The first came when Jones made an ill-advised throw in the direction of rookie wideout Demario Douglas. With Douglas in triple coverage, Jones’ pass sailed over the first-year player’s head and into the awaiting arms of Giants cornerback Deonte Banks. 

Deonte Banks grabs his second career INT

📺: #NEvsNYG on FOX
📱: Stream on #NFLPlus https://t.co/1dOevJjoZZ pic.twitter.com/be7VQars9z

— NFL (@NFL) November 26, 2023

Think that one was bad? Think again. Jones’ second interception was putrid, as a pass in the direction of Douglas was picked off with ease by linebacker Bobby Okereke. He undercut Douglas’ route and took it 55 yards, eventually leading to a touchdown by Isaiah Hodgins. 

Bobby Okereke has the @Giants second INT of the half

📺: #NEvsNYG on FOX
📱: Stream on #NFLPlus https://t.co/1dOevJjoZZ pic.twitter.com/5y1Ytmcgvr

— NFL (@NFL) November 26, 2023

Jones has an awful touchdown to interception ratio, throwing more picks (12) than scores (10) so far in 2023. His touchdown totals have decreased year after year, while his interceptions were on pace to break his previous career-high of 13 before the benching. 

Entering Week 14, Jones is tied for the fourth-most turnovers in the league with 14. He has two lost fumbles and 12 interceptions. Josh Allen and Sam Howell — two gunslingers who have the trust of the coaching staff to air the ball out consistently — are the only quarterbacks with more interceptions this year. 

Not all of it falls on Jones’ shoulders. With Kendrick Bourne done for the year, the Patriots may very well have the worst wide receiver room in the league. The offensive line has been shaky, at best. There are only a few quarterbacks in the league who could excel with what New England is working with on offense. 

With that said, Jones has done himself no favors when it comes to the starting role with the Patriots. The season isn’t over yet, and it’s not as though Zappe has looked any better running the offense. But Jones needs to prove he can still be relied upon as a starter — otherwise, he’ll find himself fighting for a spot elsewhere. 

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