Patriots praise Bailey Zappé’s poise after rookie gets win in first career start

FOXBORO — There were very few times Bailey Zappé looked like a rookie quarterback making his first career start Sunday. The 24-year-old, who started in place of injured Mack Jones and Brian Hoyer for New England, showed an incredible amount of poise during the Patriots’ 29-0 victory over the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium.

While Zappe was impressive with a very rudimentary level of offense when he took over for Hoyer last week in Green Bay, he was even better after getting a full week of practice as New England’s starter against the Lions. He completed 17 of his 21 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown Sunday. One of those incompletions — an interception — wasn’t even his fault, as it bounced off the hands of Nelson Aholor before landing in the diving hands of DeSean Elliott.

To make up for it, Zappe made a veteran-like read on his 24-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Myers late in the third quarter, acknowledging the coverage the Patriots coaches had prepared him for in practice all week. After reading the defense, all he had to do was make a good throw to Myers to put six points on the board.

With the defense suffocating the Lions all day, Zappe’s life was much easier. The rookie praised the entire team for the win and made it a point to name the offensive line as the MVP of the day. Zappe wasn’t sacked once, and even when he felt some pressure, he had a big enough cushion to reach into his pocket and work through his readings before finding the open man. (The offensive line also opened holes for Rhamondre Stevenson to rush for 161 yards, which always makes life easier for the quarterback.)

Zappe made it clear after the game that this victory was not just about him. From the teammates who took the field to the coaches who were fully prepared for what Detroit had to offer, it was a complete team victory for the Patriots on Sunday.

“It’s always better to win.” We played team football today,” said Zappe after the win. “The defense had a shutout, the O-line played really well, the receivers played really well. It was a team effort today and I’m glad we won.”

His comfort level was expected to improve given that Zappe took all of the team’s best snaps in practices leading up to the game. But his poise was beyond what anyone expected on Sunday, and his teammates noticed.

“It’s hard to be there. It gets loud and people get excited, but he was pretty smooth out there,” Myers said of his quarterback. “I remember my first year as a rookie I was panicking; making up words in my head. “I could have sworn you called that” — If you know what I mean. I thought he did a good job communicating what he was looking for, what the play was, what the count was. So shout out to Bailey.

“I felt comfortable in almost everything,” Zappe said. “I can’t pick one clear thing, but I felt more comfortable with everything. I had my teammates around to help me a lot this week and this Sunday.”

Bill Belichick praised Zappe’s decision-making and accuracy Sunday: “He was confident out there.”

The quarterback’s confidence should be high right now after picking up the first win of his young NFL career. He did so with his parents and girlfriend in the stands and nearly 66,000 fans at Gillette chanting his name throughout the game.

All that praise is nice, but it’s just an afterthought for Zappe.

“I liked the support, but I was just more excited about the win, to win with my team,” he said. “That was the focus for this week and it will be the focus for the rest of the season.”

It’s unclear how much longer Zappe will have that opportunity, with Jones’ high ankle sprain seemingly getting better by the week. But he’ll be ready whenever the Patriots call his number, and the team will feel confident he can answer the call based on the poise and comfort he’s shown in his six-plus quarters as a pro quarterback.

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