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Bill Belichick Really Brain Genius’d That One

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 24: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts during the first half against the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium on October 24, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

There are two lenses through which to view post-Brady Bill Belichick, and I do not think they're necessarily mutually exclusive, but they are illuminating in different ways. One is that he's accomplished all there is to accomplish in the NFL and then some, and now in his career twilight, he's just having fun. He knows the Patriots aren't very good this season, and aren't supposed to be, so he's messing around and creating new challenges for himself and experimenting within the sport's parameters just for experimentation's sake. Doesn't this look like the face of a man who's having a laugh puncturing the self-seriousness of a game?

The other lens through which one can view Monday night's quarterback experiment is that Bill got lucky in a draft once, 22 years ago, and is still extremely high off the smell of his own farts.

Either prism goes a long way toward, if not justifying, then at least explaining why the Patriots played both Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe in last night's loss to the Bears, and more specifically intended to play both of them. Jones may or may not have been at 100 percent upon returning from an ankle sprain—we'll never, ever know, given the Patriots' goofy secrecy about these things—and the unheralded Zappe impressed in his two starts, winning both. It was not an immediately obvious choice who to start. What Belichick did was split the baby. And both ends of the bisected baby stunk.

Jones was more concentrated doodoo, getting just three series and tossing for 13 yards and one pick. With the crowd chanting "Zappe! Zappe!", Belichick made the switch—which he said was planned and not because of the interception—and the fourth-round rookie Zappe came on and immediately led two touchdown drives. But he turned into a pumpkin in the second half, failing to score again and throwing two interceptions of his own, finishing the night with a QBR of 36.6, not much better than Jones's 30.1. Belichick said after the game the initial plan had been to bring Jones back in at some point, but the game was already out of hand.

So: What happened here? Did Belichick, who gassed up the Bears earlier in the week in an uncharacteristically wordy monologue, actually treat them like a preseason matchup where you can just bring in multiple QBs to get them all some game action? If so, then he fell to his own hubris. Did he think he was pulling one over on Chicago by forcing them to prepare for one quarterback or the other, and expected them to be caught off-guard when he played both? If so, then why didn't he tell his own team that he was going to do that, and why did he tell Adam Schefter? "There was no lack of communication," Belichick insisted, despite multiple Patriots saying they had been surprised by the QB change.

Whatever Belichick hoped to accomplish, he's earned a quarterback controversy. Maybe this doesn't bother him—treating players like human beings has never really crossed his mind—but I felt really bad for Jones last night! Imagine being locally loved and cherished and then you get hurt and come back less than a month later and you get six snaps before the crowd is chanting for the other guy, and then they bench your ass. I'd be ruined. "It's tough," said New England WR Jakobi Meyers, "as a man, to see someone who works so hard get that kind of treatment."

If you are seeking clarity, you will not find it this morning, as Belichick is back at the lectern.

If you're sputtering that that's not what "hypothetical" means, you've already lost and Bill's won. The smartest man in football has outsmarted everyone again, this time including himself.

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