February 28, 2024

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones was given the start in Sunday’s road game against the New York Giants — coming off a game in which he was benched following a late fourth-quarter interception — but coach Bill Belichick turned to backup Bailey Zappe to begin the second half.

Jones threw two interceptions in the first half as the Patriots trailed 7-0 when Belichick made the switch. Jones was 12-of-21 for 89 yards in the half, with the Giants ultimately turning his second interception into the lone touchdown.

Zappe helped the Patriots right away, with the team driving 60 yards over 11 plays for a touchdown to tie the game at 7. Mostly operating with a shorter passing game, he was 6-of-6 for 38 yards.

As for starting the game, Belichick hadn’t told Jones and Zappe of his plans throughout the week of practice. His message was that everybody, at every position, needed to be ready.

Sources said practice repetitions during the week had been split about 50-50 between Jones and Zappe, with Jones usually getting the initial nod. The complexity of the Giants’ blitz schemes under coordinator Wink Martindale, and Jones’ aptitude at sorting through them, led some in the locker room to believe that he had the edge during the week.

The Patriots entered Sunday at 2-8, the worst record in the AFC, and shaky quarterback play is among the myriad issues that have contributed to them averaging 14.1 points per game.

Jones was pulled from three games earlier this season, beginning with blowout losses to the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints in the fourth and fifth weeks.

Then, in a Week 10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Frankfurt, Germany, with the Patriots on the cusp of a go-ahead touchdown with 4:25 remaining in the fourth quarter, Jones badly underthrew tight end Mike Gesicki in the end zone for a backbreaking interception.

Belichick benched him in favor of Zappe with the Patriots trailing 10-6 in that game and a chance for a potential touchdown drive when they got the ball back with 1:52 remaining at their own 14-yard line. After gaining 26 yards over the first seven plays of the drive, Zappe threw an interception into heavy traffic over the middle to extinguish those hopes.

Jones was 212-of-324 for 2,031 yards with 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the season entering Sunday. He had been sacked 21 times.

Zappe was 10-of-25 for 104 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in 2023.

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