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Patriots, Rookie QB ‘Zappe Together’ in Win Over Lions

Patriots rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe led the team to a 29-0 victory over the Detroit Lions in his first NFL start.

FOXBORO — As New England Patriots rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe fell into his victory formation kneel with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter of the team’s dominant 29-0 Week 5 victory over the Detroit Lions, chants of “Zappe … Zappe … Zappe” could be heard from the highest levels of Gillette Stadium.

In addition to improving their record to 2-3 on the season, it meant a win in Zappe’s first start as a NFL quarterback.

Those who enjoy a bit of fate mixed in with their sports fandom may see Zappe’s early autumn afternoon in Foxboro as a bit of ‘stars aligning.’ The 23-year-old earned the victory in his first snaps before his hometown crowd. The Patriots also moved to 7-0 at home when wearing their popular red throwback uniforms featuring the ‘Pat Patriot’ logo.

As The Turtles so eloquently said in 1967, ‘No matter how they toss the dice, it had to be.

Yet, if you ask the Pats fourth-round rookie, he would tell you that it was nothing more than a team effort. In fact, it was exactly how he described it when speaking with reporters on Sunday afternoon.

“It's like I've always been told … taking advantage of your opportunity,” Zappe said with a bright postgame grin. “We had an opportunity today as a team to go out there and get a win, and we played really well … played team football. The defense played well; offense played well; special teams played well. To be able to play like that as a team, it was amazing to get the win.”

In the interest of maintaining proper perspective, Zappe’s Week 5 stat sheet will not be immortalized in the annals of gridiron history. He completed 17 of 21 for 188 yards with one touchdown and one hard-luck interception. Still, the Western Kentucky product once again demonstrated the poise and competitive spirit which impressed the fans and media during the Pats Week 4 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Above all, Zappe looked significantly more confident and comfortable in his temporarily anointed role this time around. Despite the attempts of incumbent starter Mac Jones to make his return just two weeks after suffering a high ankle sprain, Zappe took the majority of the week’s practice snaps assuming he would be New England’s Week 5 starter. As such, he developed a synergy with his teammates which was evident throughout the game.

“I think I felt comfortable in almost everything,” Zappe said. “Being able to practice with those guys, before and after practice, during practice, taking those reps with those guys. To be honest, I couldn't really pick out one distinct thing, but I think I felt more comfortable with everything. To have my teammates around me, they helped prepare me a lot this week into Sunday.”

Much like Jones, Zappe is a strong logistical fit within New England’s offensive style. He has a quick release and is an accurate, short-to-intermediate passer when throwing in rhythm. In both of his outings to date, he has moved well within the pocket and demonstrated both confidence and competitiveness in pressure situations.

Still, there are moments when he has looked the part of a rookie who is still finding his identity as a pro quarterback. In addition to the occasional struggle with recognizing pressure, he also had some difficulty in finishing drives. Though trials like this are to be expected from a rookie quarterback, Zappe’s in-game intuition is already making an impression at the highest level.

“He was confident out there,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick when asked for his assessment on Zappe’s performance. “He does a good job of seeing the game and can come off and identify and articulate what he saw, what happened. That's usually right. What he saw is usually what I saw … maybe there's something that's a little gray in there, but his explanation is actually good. It was the way he saw it. Maybe he might not have done the right thing, but he saw the game.”

For Zappe, seeing the game as Belichick sees it may be a compliment of the highest order. After all, Sunday marked his first start on the gridiron since his final collegiate season in 2021. The Pats rookie had an overwhelmingly successful statistical season at Western Kentucky in 2021. He set FBS single-season records with 62 passing touchdowns and 5,967 passing yards. While Zappe did not quite dominate the football field in such fashion in Week 5, he clearly displayed the skill set that will undoubtedly make him a successful NFL quarterback.

While his performance was not enough to spark a quarterback controversy in New England, Zappe believes that he is in the right spot to cultivate his pro-level repertoire.

“I love playing football,” Zappe said with a smile. “I love learning football. To be a part of this organization and learn from these coaches and players, I think has really helped me continue to grow my game. I know there's a lot of things that I could continue to work on and continue to get better at, but I have a great team around me to help me out.”

Though Jones is almost certain to assume the duties upon his return, Zappe was the right fit at the right time for a team which desperately needed a spark. 

In short, the Patriots and Bailey Zappe seem to be … dare we say … ‘Happy Together’ for the time being. 

Perhaps the only question left to ask is …How is the weather?

Follow Mike D’Abate on Twitter @mdabateNFL and Listen/Subscribe to his daily podcast: Locked On Patriots

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