Bailey Zappe takes reps as Bill Belichick mum on Patriots' QB situation

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he wasn't announcing a starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers, but if the portion of practice open to reporters Wednesday is any indication, he's turning to backup Bailey Zappe as the top option.

Zappe took multiple repetitions at the full-pads practice, then was followed by undrafted rookie Malik Cunningham, who is on the practice squad.

Starter Mac Jones didn't take any throws in the time that reporters were present, nor did practice squad quarterback Will Grier.

"I'm not going to make any announcements on our lineup at any position," Belichick had said earlier in the day. "See how practice goes, see if everybody is ready to go, see what the injury situation is, and we'll go with what we think is best Sunday."

Jones hasn't been on the injury report this season but did undergo X-rays after a Nov. 12 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Frankfurt, Germany. He was hit nine times in that game; the X-rays were on his right shoulder/arm, a source told ESPN.

Jones has been pulled from four games in the Patriots' 2-9 season, most recently at halftime of Sunday's 10-7 loss to the New York Giants after throwing two interceptions and having a fumble recovered by a teammate.

Shaky offensive line play and a receiving corps that has struggled to consistently get open haven't helped, but Jones has acknowledged his own shortcomings after the team was held scoreless in the first half against the Giants.

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

Offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, who returned to the franchise in 2023 after having previously coached under Belichick from 2007 to 2011, has stood behind Jones all season.

"He's a very bright guy. He works very hard, he's passionate about the game," O'Brien said Tuesday. "Things haven't gone great for him this year. I don't think he's the No. 1 guy to blame. If you want to blame anybody, blame me. I'm the one that designs it and it's not going very well. So can he execute better? Are there things he can do better? Sure. But there's things all of us have to do better to put a winning product on the field."

Jones is 224 of 345 for 2,120 yards, with 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on the season. He has been sacked 22 times.

Zappe, a 2022 fourth-round draft choice from Western Kentucky, is 19 of 39 for 158 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was complimentary of both Zappe and Cunningham after practice, while saying of Jones, "He's been great. That dude, I'll tell you one thing, his attitude with everything going on, he's a very positive dude. A professional. Very supportive of everyone."