Patriots start Mac Jones but bench QB again for Bailey Zappe

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 of their 10-7 loss.

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.

He finished the game 9-of-14 for 54 yards and an interception. He helped to engineer a potential game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter, but rookie kicker Chad Ryland missed a 35-yard field goal with 6 seconds remaining.

"I thought both guys deserved to play," Belichick said of the quarterbacks, while declining to name a starter for next Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Of the loss to the Giants, Belichick said: "Too much poor ball security on offense, turned the ball over too many times and it got away from us ... not good enough. Too sloppy on the ball security."

Jones relayed that offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien told him at halftime that he was out of the game.

"I wasn't moving the ball and scoring points, I understand why that happened," Jones said. "Bad quarterback play. It wasn't good enough by me. If the quarterback doesn't play well, you got no chance."

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.