If you ask Bill Belichick, there was no quarterback controversy in New England last season. But if you were to ask some of the players, it seems there was a debate about who should be under center.
According to Devin McCourty, the players in the locker room were actually split last year on whether Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe should be the starting quarterback. McCourty revealed that information during a recent interview with WEEI in Boston.
“I think player-wise there was enough trust that we’re going to put the best guy out there,” McCourty said, via ESPN.com. “But the struggles on offense, I think there were some guys in the locker room that were like ‘Let’s go with Zappe.’ Or ‘No, Mac looked good today.’ It was just a back and forth, which to me, spoke more about what we had on offense than the quarterback. We never were solidified as an offensive group that guys had full confidence in anything we were doing. There was never true hope.”
It’s not often you hear details like that leak out of the Patriots locker room, but with McCourty now retired, he obviously felt comfortable sharing the information.
McCourty’s entire statement is an indictment on everything New England did on offense last year. The Patriots’ offensive downfall started in the preseason when Belichick decided to put Matt Patricia in charge of the offense. Patricia and Jones didn’t seem to get along too well, which caused some offensive dysfunction for New England.
During Jones’ first three starts of the season, the Patriots went 1-2, and a big reason for that is because they struggled on offense. After Jones injured his ankle in Week 3 — and after backup QB Brian Hoyer was injured in Week 4 — Zappe was tabbed to start two games in October (Week 5 against the Lions and Week 6 against the Browns).
The Patriots ended up winning both of those games with Zappe throwing three touchdowns compared to just one interception. In the two wins, the Pats averaged 33.5 points per game after averaging just 18.5 points per game during the first four weeks of the season.
Jones then returned for a Monday night game in Week 7, but he got booed before the first quarter even came to an end. Fans wanted to see Zappe, and apparently, so did some of his teammates.
Jones was eventually benched in the second quarter, and at that point, Zappe came in and led two quick touchdown drives, but he had a rough second half during a 33-14 loss to the Bears. Jones ended up starting the rest of the season, but it seems that some players would have preferred to see Zappe get a chance.
As for McCourty, he thinks Jones had an unfair amount of criticism pinned on him for last season’s struggles.
“I don’t think he should be subjected to as much displeasure and scrutiny as he gets,” McCourty said. “We sat here his rookie year and said, ‘Hey, I’m with this! I like this new era.’ We go to the playoffs and it’s like ‘Here we go!’ Then what happened this year from an offensive situation coaching-staff-wise. … He needs to have some consistency [around him].”
For what it’s worth, McCourty seems to believe Jones is the better option. He made that clear during a Feb. 27 talk on “Good Morning Football.”
“I think he’s the future,” McCourty said. “He’s in that building right now, doing different things, working with guys, talking to guys, that’s what he wants. He wants to be that quarterback.”
The Patriots have a new offensive coordinator this year in Bill O’Brien, which is a huge upgrade over Patricia. That being said, if Jones struggles in 2023, that could create a small rift in the Patriots’ locker room since we now know that some of the players wanted to see Zappe under center.