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Why is there such an infatuation with Patriots rookie Bailey Zappe?

Fans love an underdog. They also love finding out about the unknown.

Welcome to Bailey Zappe Fever.

The rookie quarterback whet everyone’s appetite with his relief appearance against the Packers last week, and now people are dying to see more.

Backup quarterbacks do tend to be popular, and Zappe is having his 15 minutes of fame in Foxboro. But let’s pump the brakes a little.

In the end, he might turn out to be nothing more than a decent backup, if that. Right now, he’s just a young quarterback with possibilities. He’s still a mystery, the shiny new toy that’s fresh out of the box. And that’s all good. But let’s not make him out to be any more than that.

That was part of the appeal of Mac Jones last year. The difference is he was a first-round draft pick who was expected to be good. And he delivered with a rookie season that was better than all the rest.

Zappe was taken in the fourth round. That’s where the underdog scenario fits in, along with the possibility of him doing the unexpected and turning out to be a star.

But let’s see him do it first, let’s see how he plays against the Lions, and perhaps beyond, before anointing him.

Listening to sports talk radio, there’s already a contingent of fans who want Zappe to be the man going forward.

The Patriots aren’t there yet. In reality, it’s not even close. And chances are, they’ll never be at that point.

While all of the calm and poise Zappe showed in Green Bay was admirable, there’s much more to playing the position. So there are more questions than answers with this kid.

What do we know right now?

He did well being completely managed by Bill Belichick, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge after coming on in relief against the Packers. He wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment, or the circumstances he was put in. That’s a great starting point for the rookie. But let’s see where it goes from here if it gets beyond having him hand the ball off and make basic plays, which is what he did in Green Bay.

To be clear, he’s not the No. 1. That’s Jones. If anything, he’s pushing to be the No. 2 with Brian Hoyer now on IR, and out for at least four weeks. That’s Zappe’s reality at the moment.

Once Jones is healthy enough, he’s the starter. Period.

This week, Jones was once again pushing the limits, and doing his best to try and play, according to a source. Whether he advances to the point where Belichick would actually let him play against the Lions is another matter.

Sitting at 1-3, it’s a very important game for the Patriots in the big picture scheme of things. That’s why Jones is pushing the envelope. And that’s why the Patriots have left the door open, listing him as “doubtful” on the injury report Friday.

Jones is maniacally tough, like most football players. Tom Brady never missed games, except when he tore an ACL. He’s played with broken ribs, a sprained AC joint, sprained MCL, busted fingers, a large gash that needed more than 10 stitches on the inside of his throwing hand and, yes, high ankle sprains.

Brady, however, is the exception. Most players need at least four weeks before even considering to play with a high ankle sprain.

While Jones looked better during the short media viewing window from Wednesday on, he still had a noticeable limp. So while he the Patriots haven’t ruled him out, it remains a longshot for him to play.

One report on Friday had Zappe starting against the Lions. That’s how it should be. Unless Jones is able to move to avoid a rush, there’s no sense playing him. He’d be a sitting duck in the pocket and risk further injury to the ankle, or other body parts.

That’s the risk the team has to weigh. What good is it if he comes back too soon on an unstable ankle, and then suffer further injury and be done for the season?

The hope here is that common sense prevails, which appears to be the course of action. Jones’ job right now is to get healthy, then assume his rightful spot at the helm.

Beyond that, there’s some thought that the emergence of Zappe might be pushing or motivating Jones, who hasn’t gotten off to the most productive start.

Maybe there’s something to that, but Jones seems like a pretty self-motivated guy. He probably doesn’t need the push.

Still, it will be interesting to see if Zappe is indeed the man under center against the Lions.

Of course, the Zappe dynamic makes it all a little more interesting.

In Dallas, Cooper Rush has already won three games in Dak Prescott’s absence with a thumb injury. Now there’s polls to see the fans view on whether or not Prescott should keep his starter’s job, or if “Cooper Clutch” should continue to lead the Cowboys.

Former NFL journeyman quarterback Jim Miller, who along with Rohan Davey was a backup to Brady in 2004, certainly understands the clamor for Zappe by the fans.

“When I was in Jacksonville with Mark Brunell, everyone wanted Rob Johnson (to play). About the only place I was where they didn’t want the backup was New England,” cracked Miller, who was a backup for eight different NFL teams during his career along. “Then Neil O’Donnell took his shots when I was in Pittsburgh. They wanted to turn the page there. I think it happens in a lot of cities where the position isn’t solidified.”

Added Miller: “But I do think it’s solidified in New England. Once Mac Jones gets healthy, he’ll be playing. It’s just about getting him healthy.”

If Zappe does well on Sunday against the Lions, assuming he starts, and helps produce a win, the fascination will grow.

But the top job still belongs to Jones. Make no mistake about that.

“Mac is the guy. There’s no question about it,” said Miller. “Bill knows that. That coaching staff knows that, the whole team knows it quite frankly.”

For what it’s worth, Miller was at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, earlier in the year, and watched Zappe play. He was impressed with the Western Kentucky quarterback.

“I like Zappe, I will say that. I thought he was a baller off the bench. He impressed me down at the Senior Bowl, and I think that’s why Bill took a flier on him,” said Miller. “There’s a lot to like about him. I thought he handled himself nicely on the road, in Green Bay, with how he performed.”

When Miller saw Zappe in Mobile, he came in during the fourth quarter, and performed well.

Zappe ran the Air Raid offense at Western Kentucky and amassed a whopping 62 touchdown passes along with 5,967 passing yards his final year. At the Senior Bowl, he went 8-13 passing for a game-high 103 yards.

“That’s what he does, he energizes a team,” said Miller. “I think it’s kind of his role, him coming off the bench like that, it’s perfect for him to make his mark. Because I think guys do believe in him. He provides a level of energy and spark to your team.”

Still, Zappe wasn’t one of the more highly-touted quarterbacks entering the draft. Some thought the Patriots overdrafted him in the fourth round.

But that hasn’t tamed the infatuation level with the kid. It remains to be seen if that level grows, or if Zappe comes back to earth.

Pats vs. elite QBs

Losing back-to-back games to Lamar Jackson and Aaron Rodgers merely served as more evidence the Patriots have been unable to beat better quarterbacks post-Brady.

Jackson and Rodgers are just the latest in the pack of elite quarterbacks to beat the Pats.

Since the start of the 2020 season, the Patriots are winless against a whole host of other studs, namely KC’s Patrick Mahomes, Dallas’ Dak Prescott, Denver’s Russell Wilson, Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson and Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady.

Buffalo star Josh Allen is 4-1 against them in that same time frame, with the lone loss coming in a monsoon in Buffalo.

The Patriots have had luck going up against Chargers stud Justin Herbert, winning twice, but that’s about it, as they’ve gone 4-11 overall against the best of the best under center, counting the losses to Jackson and Rodgers.

Part of the Patriots struggles are due to no longer having an elite quarterback themselves to match scores.

It wasn’t as much of an issue when Brady resided in Foxboro.

Sauce wants Tyreek

The Jets secondary is going to get its first crack at trying to ​​contain the Dolphins dynamic duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle when Miami heads to the Meadowlands. Rookie corner Sauce Gardner, who has played well for the Jets, is looking forward to dueling with the Dolphins receivers.

“It’s a big challenge,” Gardner said via the New York Daily News. “It’s a huge opportunity for the secondary to why we belong and why we are one of the best in the NFL. I’m looking forward to it and I know the rest of my guys are.”

During the first four games, Gardner, the fourth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, has lined up against Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase, Browns receiver Amari Cooper, Steelers receiver Diontae Johnson and Ravens tight end Mark Andrews.

Gardner seems to have his eyes set on Hill, who leads the NFL in receiving yards with 477. Hill, however, showed up on the injury report this week with a quad injury. The Dolphins were “hopeful” their star would be able to play.

“Some of my individual goals line up with me going up against guys that are great like Tyreek Hill and the other receivers that I’ve went against,” Gardner said.

With starter Tua Tagovailoa sidelined, Teddy Bridgewater will be at the helm testing out Gardner and the Jets secondary.

Is Jack Jones too cocky?

Speaking of cornerbacks with attitude, Patriots Hall of Famer Ty Law was critical of Patriots rookie Jack Jones for having a little too much swag following the loss in Green Bay.

Jones had a good game against the Packers last week with a pick-six of Aaron Rodgers along with a forced fumble and recovery. It wasn’t all good, however, as Jones noticeably missed some tackles.

After the game, when asked about his pick of Rodgers, Jones told reporters: “Personally, I feel like it’s disrespectful to throw an out route on me.”

Law, who never lacked for confidence when he played, expressed his displeasure during an appearance on “The Greg Hill Show” on WEEI.

“You make a couple plays, you get an interception, but to say something like that, you’ve got to have some swag, and go out there and make some plays,” said Law. “I don’t think anybody in that secondary, especially a rookie, can say something like that. You ain’t making enough plays to say something like that. Shut up.”

At his locker Wednesday, Jones was asked if his remarks had gotten him into any hot water.

“No, not really,” said Jones. “I mean, I’m just gonna keep stacking them week-to-week. That’s all I can do, play my role, do my assignment and just play hard.”

And that probably includes making sure teams don’t complete any out routes on him.

“Yeah, for sure,” Jones answered with a smile.

Jones also said it’s hard for him to change who he is. His confidence in his ability and belief in himself is part of the package. He’s always been that way.

“I don’t know what it is. Sometimes I ask myself why I’m like that,” Jones told the Herald last month. “I have no answer. That’s just who I am.”

For the most part, his teammates get a kick out of his braggadocio.

Asked if he’d ever met a cornerback who was more cocky than the rookie, Jonathan Jones laughed.

“Yeah, he’s confident,” said the veteran. “As a corner, you want that. You need that.”

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