FOXBOROUGH Now what?
After a game that washed away all of the positive energy the Patriots created the last three weeks, the New England players looked stunned in the postgame and find themselves heading into a surprisingly important game against an unexpectedly good Jets game with little to build off of.
The outside narrative heading into their Monday Night Football appearance against a lousy Chicago team was a referendum on who should be the New England quarterback Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe. The debate filled talk show air time on TV and radio, locally and nationally.
That was unusually little talk about who might win the game. Either quarterback figured to be good enough to beat Chicago, who arrived at 2-4. Enter your email address here to receive MassLive’s Patriots newsletter every Monday and Friday.
Instead, the Patriots didnt just lose, they got embarrassed. On a miserable, rainy night, they gave up 33 points to a Bears team that scored just seven points against the Washington Commanders last week.
The quarterback picture got even murkier.
Jones returned to the lineup, struggled and got yanked faster than a starting pitcher without good stuff in a Game 7. Bill Belichick said it was all preplanned. But after three weeks off, Jones threw six passes and including a bad interception. He took another step further away from the player who looked like a potential franchise quarterback last year.
For a moment, Zappe looked like the savior that legions of Patriots fans have built him up to be in their hopeful imaginations. He replaced Jones with New England down 10-0 and led his team on back-to-back touchdown drives to quickly put the Patriots up 14-10. Gillette Stadium chanted his name and celebrated in the rain. Zappe Fever reached its peak at that moment.
But then it crashed. The whole team came apart after taking its brief lead. It was almost like they thought the Bears would fold. Instead, it was New England who came unglued as Chicago scored 23 straight points.
After those first two drives, Zappe exposed more than hes been at any other time in his short career. The offense was out of sync throughout the second half. The rookie threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. His height (6-foot-1) seemed to hinder him as several of his passes were batted down at the line.
Both quarterbacks leave with their confidence dented. All of last weeks quarterback talk was fun because it was choosing between two seemingly good options. Now they have to hope one of them rebounds next week. Playing both guys was a disaster, but neither one of them earned a start next week leaving Bill Belichick with an unenviable decision.
It wasnt just the quarterbacks. Neither passer was good, but they had plenty of co-conspirators. The offensive line, which had started to come together, was flagged for five penalties and couldnt get the run game going. The defense which dominated the Browns and Lions missed tackles at every level. Athletic quarterbacks continued to be a problem as Justin Fields had one of his best days as a pro, a fact that should scare New England with two games still coming against Josh Allen.
I cant even really sit here and make excuses. They just played better than us, defensive lineman Davon Godchaux said. We played terrible in all three phases of the game. It was really embarrassing.
The success of the last two weeks now looks less about the Patriots success and more about the annual ineptitude of Detroit and Cleveland.
Suddenly an October game on a short week against the Jets feels like a must-win just to steady a suddenly very rocky ship and keep the season from slipping away.
We dont have time to worry about this one. We dont have time to sulk or feel sorry for ourselves, Devin McCourty said. We need to turn the page and start preparing. We go down to New Jersey, we could easily come back with another loss. That team is a good football team. Theyre rolling right now. We need to get ahead and focus on next week. We need to let tonight be what tonight is.