Patriots: Pats defense shines; Zappe cool, calm & collected in first career start

FOXBOROUGH – A fun Zappe Hour was had by all at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

Bailey Zappe’s first career start on throwback day – which also happened to be Bill Belichick’s 400th game as head coach – couldn’t have gone much better as the Patriots cruised to a 29-0 win over the Lions with a true team effort in support of the rookie.

The defense completely shut down the high scoring Lions offense, returning a fumble for a touchdown while also holding the Lions to 0-for-6 on fourth down attempts, which made NFL history in the process. Meanwhile, Nick Folk booted five field goals, Rhamondre Stevenson had a career high 161 yards and Zappe was solid, completing 17 of 21 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown.

“I think I felt comfortable in almost really everything,” said Zappe. “Being able to practice with those guys, before and after practice, during practice, taking those reps with those guys. To be honest, I couldn’t really pick out one distinct thing, but I think really I felt more comfortable with really everything. To have my teammates around me, they helped prepare me a lot this week into Sunday.”

“He was confident out there,” said Bill Belichick of his rookie QB. “He does a good job. He does a good job of seeing the game and can come off and identify and articulate what he saw, what happened. That’s usually right. What he saw is usually what I saw or maybe when you look at the film, maybe there’s something that’s a little gray in there that his explanation is actually good. It was the way he saw it. Maybe he might not have done the right thing, but he saw the game. That goes all the way back to preseason.

“He played a lot in preseason. I think those snaps were good for him. He learned a lot. We learned a lot. I think there’s definitely some benefit to the playing time that he had in preseason in the games that he has played the last two weeks.”

Zappe couldn’t have asked for better field position for his first snaps as a starter after the Patriots’ defense came up with a fourth and inches stop at the Lions 45 on the opening possession of the game.

Zappe quickly hit Hunter Henry for a 23 yard gain, but after a lengthy injury delay for Detroit’s Saivion Smith where he had to be taken out in an ambulance following the Henry play, the drive stalled and New England settled for a 37 yard field goal from Nick Folk, his 59th straight make from inside 50 yards.

Detroit waltzed down field on its second possession, but Jack Jones – the new Mr. INT – made a fantastic play, sprinting across half the field and leaping to intercept a pass on the right sideline, keeping both feet in bounds and giving the offense the ball back at the New England three. Thanks in large part to a 49 yard run by Stevenson, the Patriots moved deep into Lions’ territory, but once again stalled out after being stuffed on third and one. Folk booted a 32 yard field goal 46 seconds into the quarter for a 6-0 lead.

A Matthew Judon sack on third down the next drive after Detroit threatened field goal position made him the first player in franchise history with five sacks in the first five games of the year.

“Today we just executed,” said Judon of the stout defensive performance. “We went out there and every man was one-11 and did his job.”

New England took over at its 13 and quickly moved out towards midfield, but another turnover by Nelson Agholor – this time on a catch, bobble and fumble that was recovered/picked off in the air by Detroit halted the drive with 7:32 left in the half. Moments later facing a fourth and nine situation, the Lions went for it and paid for the decision dearly as Judon chased down Goff, forced a strip sack to add to his franchise leading total through five games and Kyle Dugger picked up the loose ball before scampering 59 yards for a touchdown, diving into the end zone to make it 13-0 with 3:32 left in the half.

After a Lions punt, the Patriots took over at their own 13 with 1:46 to go. Zappe quickly moved the team down field, but another Isaiah Wynn penalty – a common occurrence these days – ultimately stalled the drive and another Folk field goal from 44 yards out as time expired put New England up 16-0 heading into the break.

The Patriots embarked on a nine play, 56 yard drive that chewed up the first 4:51 of the third quarter, but again needed Mr. Automatic to boot his fourth field goal, this time from 37 yards out for a 19-0 lead. The Pats’ defense continued its dominating day on the Lions’ ensuing possession, forcing another turnover on downs at their own 34. Zappe proceeded to lead a methodical eight play drive and capped it with a 24 yard dart to Jakobi Meyers to put New England up 26-0 late in the quarter.

“Nick is so consistent,” Belichick said. “You kind of start to take it for granted, and then you realize how difficult it was. Today it was not an easy day to kick. The wind gusted, and it was blowing straight across the field really from our bench to their bench. When you kick straight into it, you can’t kick it as far, but it goes straight. If you kick with it, it goes further, and it pushes the ball. The crosswind, especially when it gusts, is tough.

“Nick makes it look so easy. Honestly, it’s kind of what it’s like in practice. We’ve got some wind out there, some crazy wind, and the ball goes in between the uprights all the time. Yeah, I mean, I can’t say enough about Nick Folk. He is so professional, so consistent, so dependable. When you stop and think about how hard that job is over the amount of time we’re talking about, it’s really, really impressive.”

With 13:26 to go in the game, the defense made sure the shutout stayed in tact, forcing a turnover on downs inside its own five yard line, sending the crowd into party mode with a stadium-wide sing along of Every Little Thing’s Going To Be Alright. Another turnover on downs inside its own territory followed on the next Lions’ drive with under 10 minutes to go in what was a truly dominant display. Folk added one more 29 yard field goal late to make it 29-0.

“Great job out there, still some things to clean up, finish some drives in the red zone, try to get six on the board, but overall, great team win,” said David Andrews. “Defense played a hell of a game, Mondre’ played his tail off and so did Zap.”

As fans rained “Zappe! Zappe! Zappe!”” chants down on him in the final minutes, the rookie was more concerned with earning his first win than the sudden adulation of the fan base that undoubtedly has a thirst for more Zappe Hours now.

“I like the support, but to be honest with you, I was just more excited about the win,” he added. “To get a win with my team, that was really the focus point for this week. That was going to be the focus point for the rest of the season.”