Patriots: Zappe forced into first NFL game; Pats hang tough, but lose to Green Bay in overtime

Image courtesy of Mike Roemer/AP

The 2022 season just keeps getting weirder.

After a week of Brian Hoyer and endless backup quarterback talk, the veteran QB didn’t make it out of the first quarter when the Patriots traveled to Green Bay to face the Packers on Sunday.

Hoyer was taken out of the game with a possible concussion after a big sack early on, thrusting rookie fourth round draft pick Bailey Zappe into the spotlight and his first NFL action. The rookie QB and the defense did their best to battle, but in the end, a Mason Crosby 31 yard field goal capped an impressive drive led by Aaron Rodgers in overtime, giving Green Bay a 27-24 win.

New England is now 1-3 for the second straight season and in last place in the AFC East. Still, while there are no moral victories in football, it’s hard to find much wrong with the way the Patriots competed on Sunday, given the circumstances.

“In the end, Rodgers (Aaron) was too good,” said Bill Belichick. “He made some throws that only Rodgers can make. We had pretty good coverage on some of those and he was just too smart, too good, too accurate. In the end, he got us. We couldn’t quite do enough in the other areas to quite offset it. But I thought we really competed well. A lot of guys competed well. Obviously, we just came up a little bit short. In the end, Aaron got us on too many things. I thought we did a pretty good job on him, but there was just enough for him to take advantage of or make a couple of great throws that we couldn’t quite cover.

“Back to work here this week and see if we can continue to build on some of the things we have done. Obviously we need to play better in some of the critical situations. It’s obvious.”  

To truly appreciate the topsy turvy nature of this game, you’ve got to start from the beginning.

On the game’s very first drive after Green Bay deferred the opening coin toss, Hoyer looked comfortable, getting the team in and out of multiple formations quickly and smoothly, and the play calling kept Green Bay off balance. A mix of mostly run and timely passing eventually stalled and the Patriots settled for a Nick Folk field goal, but the drive took just under five minutes off the clock.

Just two play later, Rodgers threw a low screen pass that was caught around the shoe strings by receiver Romeo Doubs, who took two steps and was stripped by Jack Jones. Jones recovered the ball and the offense was immediately back in business at the Green Bay 49, but the Packers defense quickly forced a punt and a golden opportunity was wasted early.

Not only was an opportunity wasted, but a sack of Hoyer on third down ended up resulting in a visit to the blue medical tent and then the locker room for a concussion evaluation, meaning Bailey Zappe (10/15, 99, 1 TD) was suddenly thrust into the action for the remainder of the day. Matthew Judon got a sack on third down while all of this was going on and the Zappe era began at New England’s eight yard line.

Isaiah Wynn not only got Hoyer drilled, but penalties by Wyn quickly pushed the rookie QB back to the five and New England soon punted. A booming 59 yard ball by Jake Bailey and fantastic tackle by Brendan Schooler at the 35 appeared to flip the field, but Schooler was called for a questionable horse collar tackle and the Packers’ offense was back out at the 50, but the Pats led 3-0 after one.

Two minutes into the second quarter after Aaron Jones led the Packers deep into New England territory with some impressive runs, Christian Watson took a jet sweep handoff and cruised into the end zone around the right side from 15 yards out to give Green Bay its first lead at 7-3.

The teams traded two punts each until Marcus Jones set the Patriots up near midfield with 3:22 to go in the half on a nice return down the right sideline. Rhamondre Stevenson almost single handedly carried New England down field with his legs and as a safety valve for Zappe with a few dump offs. Unfortunately, Wynn got turnstile’d again and Zappe was strip sacked at the Green Bay 30 with just under a minute remaining.

Stunningly, Rodgers threw a horrific ball with less than 30 seconds to go and Jones read it the entire way, picking the pass off and sprinting 40 yards down the Green Bay sideline for an easy pick-six to give the Pats a mind blowing 10-7 lead at halftime.

“I was just reading my keys,” said Jones. “He threw it outside, I had a chance to make a play on the ball, by the blessing of God I made the play and took it to the house. I couldn’t believe it, usually it’s hard to score on defense. Just to get a pick is hard on defense. When I got the pick, I seen nothing but open field, I just ran, I just kept going.

“Personally, I feel like it’s disrespectful to throw an out rout on me. if you can throw the ball past me to get to the receiver, I’m no good.”

Aaron Jones converted fourth-and-inches with a 17 yard run on a toss during the opening drive of the third quarter, putting the Packers at the Patriots’ 11. A hold on second down pushed Green Bay back to the 21, but it didn’t matter as Rodgers hit tight end Robert Tonyan on the very next play with a touchdown dart up the seam, putting the Packers back in front 14-10.

A 16 yard comeback to Bourne and a personal foul on the Packers quickly put the Patriots at midfield following the score. Damien Harris ripped off a 14 yard run down to the 31. Two more Harris runs followed and after a delay of game, Zappe hit DeVante Parker for his first NFL touchdown, a 25 yard beautiful touch pass, putting the Patriots back up 17-14.

“It felt good, in that moment. But once that moment was over, I was ready for the next play and get going,” Zappe said. “Of course, it was exciting at first. It was a dream come true to play in an NFL game. It’s obviously not the outcome we wanted at all. First, I give credit to my teammates. They kept me calm, they kept me…getting the nerves out of me. They kept me in my space; cool, calm and collected. And everyone played well tonight. O-line played well. We ran the ball well. It really just comes down to me. I need to make more plays and the outcome’s different.”

The Packers quickly moved down to the Patriots’ 20, but a big third down tackle by Adrian Philips led to a Green Bay field goal, knotting things up at 17 in the final seconds of the third. Stevenson again carried the Pats down the field on the ensuing drive until Zappe hit Nelson Agholor for a big play to set up first-and-goal at the nine. Harris punched it in from five yards out two carries later to cap the seven-play march and make it a 24-17 game with 11:14 to go.

Moments later, a huge throw from Rodgers to Randall Cobb on third-and-six for 24 yards put the Packers at the New England 47. Six plays later, Rodgers found Doubs with 6:14 remaining on a perfect back shoulder throw for a 13 yard TD and tying the game again.

The Green Bay defense quickly forced a punt and Bailey shanked the punt, giving Rodgers and the offense the ball at the Packers’ 43. A massive pass interference penalty called on Myles Bryant on third down with 2:56 left pushed Green Bay to the Patriots’ 42. It appeared that Doubs hauled in a long TD pass on third-and-eight, grabbing a dime from Rodgers, but once he hit the ground the ball came loose. The play was reviewed and confirmed and Green Bay was shockingly forced to punt at the two minute warning,  pinning New England at the two.

The field position ultimately left the Patriots little choice but to run the ball three times and have Bailey punt the ball away with 14 seconds left. Green Bay ended up with the ball in Patriots territory and four seconds on the clock, but an illegal block in the back backed it up to the Green Bay 42, eliminating a Hail Mary threat and sending the teams headed to overtime.

The Packers won the toss after Matthew Slater called heads and began at their own 25. Pressure from Judon and Christian Barmore on third-and-seven forced a punt and set the offense up at the New England 49 after another great return from Marcus Jones. Green Bay’s D held strong though, and Bailey punted it back to the Packers’ nine.

A methodical 12-play march ensued until Crosby drilled the easy game-winning field goal with zeros on the clock. The loss and current record isn’t what the Patriots want. The team expects to win no matter who is on the field, but Zappe provided a glimmer of hope with his efforts on Sunday that didn’t go unnoticed.

“There ain’t no moral victories,” said Matthew Judon. “We’ll see what we did good and well (on film) and then we’re going to see what we need to improve. We want to win. We don’t want to take something good away from the game. The only good comes with a W.

“Honestly, I want to just give a huge shoutout to Zappe. The way he stepped up in that game, I don’t even believe he took that many reps with the one’s. The way he played and the poise he had, that’s amazing for a rookie. That’s good for our team, but just big shouts out to him for being ready.”