Patriots' Bailey Zappe likely to start with Mac Jones doubtful

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots starting quarterback Mac Jones is doubtful for Sunday's home game against the Detroit Lions with a left high ankle sprain, putting rookie Bailey Zappe in position to make his first career NFL start.

Jones was a limited participant in practices this week, and the team officially listed him as doubtful Friday afternoon. The Patriots define doubtful as "unlikely to play."

Jones sustained the injury on the team's final offensive play of a loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 25. The Patriots had veteran Brian Hoyer start the following week at Green Bay, but he was knocked out of the game with a concussion at the end of the second offensive series.

Hoyer has since been placed on injured reserve, with Zappe -- the fourth-round pick from Western Kentucky -- elevating to the No. 2 spot as the last-place Patriots (1-3) prepare to face the Lions (1-3).

"He's gotten a lot more snaps [in practice], which is always a good thing for a quarterback in timing and communication," coach Bill Belichick said Friday. "So he's definitely making progress with more experience and more opportunity."

Zappe would become just the third rookie quarterback to start in Belichick's 23-year tenure as coach, joining Jacoby Brissett (2016) and Jones (2021).

Prior to this week, no rookie quarterback had started in the first four weeks of the season, which was the first time that happened in the NFL since the 2000 season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Zappe would join Pittsburgh Steelers first-round pick Kenny Pickett as rookie quarterbacks to start in Week 5, as the Steelers announced that Pickett is replacing Mitch Trubisky for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills.

Zappe, who was 10-of-15 for 99 yards with one touchdown in relief of Hoyer, said earlier in the week that he was attempting to treat the days leading up to Sunday's game similarly to what he had previously.

"Just going to practice every day with the mindset of taking every rep like a game rep," he said, noting that he plans to lean on teammates who helped keep him calm during the game against Green Bay.

Zappe's fill-in work earned him respect from teammates in a 27-24 overtime loss to the Packers.

"Last week, it was pretty encouraging to see him. I know he was nervous -- especially that's a hard place to play, your first snap as a QB, in Lambeau Field. Credit for him coming in poised," starting left tackle Trent Brown said. "We went back and forth with Aaron Rodgers. I think that's a pretty good thing for him."

As for this week in practice, Brown said: "I think he feels like he can do this job and belongs. I think confidence is up some this week."