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SI:AM | Do the Patriots Have a Quarterback Controversy?

Plus, does Joe Mazzulla have what it takes to win a title with the Celtics?

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. As a Giants fan, I feel bad for teams who don’t have their quarterback situation figured out.

In today’s SI:AM:

🤔 The Patriots’ big question mark

☘️ The Celtics’ unproven leader

🏈 A football star still going strong after losing a foot

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This isn’t Brady vs. Bledsoe

For a brief window last night, it looked like Mac Jones had surely been Wally Pipped by Bailey Zappe. But now? The Patriots’ quarterback situation is a little murkier.

Zappe, a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft, led New England to two straight wins as a starter. But Jones made his return to the field last night against the Bears after missing three games with a high ankle sprain and was ineffective. On their first two drives, the Patriots gained a total of 10 yards. On his third series, Jones threw an interception.

Zappe entered the game after the pick and made an immediate impact, throwing a 30-yard touchdown pass to Jakobi Meyers on his first series and a 43-yard completion to DeVante Parker on the next drive to set up another touchdown. Thanks to the two touchdowns under Zappe’s direction, the Patriots took a 14–10 lead in short order.

Case closed, right? Nope. Zappe wilted after that. He lost a fumble and threw two interceptions as the Patriots failed to score another point. They lost 33–14 to fall to 3–4.

After the game, Bill Belichick declined to name a starter moving forward.

“We just finished the game,” he said tersely.

Belichick’s decision-making here is frankly bewildering. He said that he always planned to play both quarterbacks in the game but I’m having a hard time making sense of his explanation. Belichick told reporters after the game that Jones’s health was a factor in the decision to also give Zappe some snaps. Asked if removing Jones after the third series was a medical decision, Belichick gave a one-word answer: “No.” Belichick also said Jones being pulled had nothing to do with the interception he threw.

So why was Jones benched? His ankle looked just fine when he scrambled three times for 24 yards. He’s the Pro Bowl quarterback of a team that went 10–7 last season. Hasn’t he done enough to keep his job?

Perhaps the question we should be asking is why Jones was in the game in the first place if Belichick wasn’t going to let him finish it. By deciding ahead of time to have Jones and Zappe split time, Belichick has engineered his own quarterback controversy. He could have kept Jones sidelined last night, allowed his ankle to get closer to 100% and started him on Sunday against the Jets. Instead, he’s created an environment of uncertainty that has rubbed at least one player the wrong way.

“Not even as a football player, it’s tough as a man to see somebody who worked so hard, get that kind of treatment,” Meyers told reporters.

It wasn’t just the benching that bothered Meyers but also the way the fans in Foxborough chanted Zappe’s name after he led the first touchdown drive.

“Not even the coaches, just everybody. The crowd, all of it,” Meyers told the Boston Herald. “It was an ugly situation, in my opinion.”

The best of Sports Illustrated


In today’s Daily Cover, Chris Mannix profiles Joe Mazzulla, the 34-year-old suddenly thrust into the role of interim coach of the Celtics:

On paper, Boston is loaded. Tatum is an MVP candidate. Brown, after missing the All-Star team last season, looks poised to return. Marcus Smart spearheads a stingy defense while Malcolm Brogdon has beefed up the bench. The unknown is Mazzulla. Can the former back-bencher make the rare jump to the head coach’s chair? Can a coach with three years of NBA experience outmaneuver Erik Spoelstra, Doc Rivers and Mike Budenholzer in the playoffs? Can he hold up under the withering media spotlight? For the Celtics, a championship could hinge on those answers.

Brandon Thomas has his sights set on college football and beyond, even after losing part of his right leg to cancer, Greg Bishop writes. … For the second year in a row, the Colts are throwing in the towel on a quarterback they paid a high price to acquire, Conor Orr writes. … As the World Cup creeps closer, Avi Creditor has another update on how USMNT players are playing abroad. … Kevin Sweeney has a list of 10 men’s basketball coaches on the rise.

Around the sports world

Impressive Jets rookie running back Breece Hall has a torn ACL but the team has acquired James Robinson from the Jaguars to try to replace him. … The NFL is looking into a video that showed two game officials apparently asking a player for autographs. … The Dodgers are reportedly willing to have Mookie Betts change positions in order to pursue Aaron Judge. … Stanford is literally giving tickets away to its final two football games of the season. … The upcoming men’s Final Four will be Jim Nantz’s last behind the microphone, the New York Post reports.

The top five...

… things I saw last night:

5. Ja Morant’s deep three to ice the game against the Nets.

4. Jaquan Brisker’s one-handed interception (after Mac Jones inadvertently kicked him in the groin).

3. Leon Draisaitl’s stick-handling on this goal.

2. Rhea Ripley body slamming 300-pound Luke Gallows on Raw.

1. Bailey Zappe singing “Stacy’s Mom” on the bench.


After coach Frank Reich announced yesterday that 2021 sixth-round draft pick Sam Ehlinger will take over as the Colts’ starting quarterback, it sure looks like Matt Ryan will end his career in Indianapolis tied for 22nd on the franchise’s list of most starts for a quarterback with seven. After Peyton Manning and Johnny Unitas, who is third on that list?

Yesterday’s SIQ: This week in 1979, Yankees manager Billy Martin punched a man in a bar near Minneapolis, leading to his firing. What was the man’s memorable occupation?

  • Merry-go-round repairman
  • Marshmallow salesman
  • Rodeo clown
  • Elvis impersonator

Answer: Marshmallow salesman. Martin, who had also punched a reporter in a bar 11 months earlier, was fired by the Yankees a week after the incident.

The man Martin punched was Joseph Cooper, 52, of Lincolnshire, Ill., who gave his side of the story in an interview with the Associated Press. Cooper said he initially kept quiet about the incident because he didn’t want Martin to lose his job, but he spoke with the AP after Martin was fired.

Cooper said he was in Minneapolis on business and went to the bar at the L’Hotel de France in the suburb of Bloomington with an associate after dinner. The other man recognized Martin and struck up a conversation.

“Then I made a statement to Billy that I thought it was a good choice picking Dick Williams (of Montreal) as manager of the year, although I thought Earl Weaver of Baltimore did a good job too,” Cooper said. “Billy said, ‘They are both a--holes, and you’re an a--hole too for saying it.’

“Then he asked me what I did for a living, and he asked my business associate too. I told him I was in sales with marshmallows. [Martin and his friend Howard Wong] thought it was a big joke, as everybody does.”

What happened next wasn’t a joke. Martin, still upset that Cooper thought highly of Williams, challenged Cooper to a fight, saying, “here is $500 to your penny I can knock you on your ass.” Cooper took him up on the offer. As Cooper told it, he and Martin walked toward the hotel lobby to settle their bet.

“As we walked through the archway into the lobby, he abruptly turned and hit me in the mouth,” Cooper said. “I assume all of his fights have been sucker punches.”

Cooper received 15 stitches to close a cut on his lip. Martin denied having punched Cooper.

“I was going through the lobby and heard a noise,” Martin told United Press International. “I turned around and saw the guy on the floor. A security guard said the guy fell and cut his lip. I just left and went to my room.”

From the Vault: Oct. 25, 1976

Dave Cowens and Julius Erving on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1976

The ABA had been hoping to merge with the NBA basically from the moment it was launched. The headline for an August 1969 Sports Illustrated article, on the eve of the league’s third season, after NBA owners had voted to consider a merger, was “Don’t Beat Them—Absorb Them.”

NBA owners approved the merger in 1970 but it took until ’76 to be completed due to a protracted legal battle. When they finally did complete the merger, it marked the merciful end of the ABA’s tumultuous nine-year existence.

“It is estimated, by estimable official estimators, that the league lost $40 million, all told,” Frank Deford wrote when the merger was completed. “So the ABA could go to its grave smiling; at least it was big-league in red ink. Otherwise, it was bush.”

The ABA was widely considered to be far inferior to the NBA but still, the first season of the combined league, in 1976–77, was greeted with optimism. For one thing, it brought talented ABA players like Julius Erving and Moses Malone into the fold with the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. More generally, it marked the end of the instability that had characterized the previous decade of professional basketball as the two leagues fought to out-do each other. As Curry Kirkpatrick put it in his cover story:

Though the merger or the absorption or the surrender or whatever one wishes to call it does not affect the Dave Cowenses and Rick Barrys and Kareem Abdul-Jabbars in the same way it does ABA people (“All it means is two more trips to New York to see the folks,” says Abdul-Jabbar), the new 22-team league is a welcome conclusion to most of the game's thorny problems.

With the problems caused by competition behind it, the NBA was able to become stronger than ever in the 1980s. Imagine how much different the sport would be today if Magic Johnson or Larry Bird had signed with the ABA.

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