Pa Henry McKenna
By FOX Sports AFC East

The Detroit Lions had no answer Bailey Zappe.

No, I’m not kidding.

It is obvious that New England Patriots the defense deserves credit for Bill Belichick’s team outscoring the Lions 29-0. The defense went 6-0 against the Lions on fourth down. The Patriots had two sacks, five quarterback hits and more pressure than I could count. But if there was one way for the Lions to get back into the game, it would be through a mistake or two (or three) by the Patriots’ rookie quarterback.

Surely he would have coughed up a few interceptions? Or some tricks? Or at least take bags?

But the 2022 fourth-round pick played better than anyone expected. He went 17 of 21 for 188 yards, one touchdown and one interception. If Detroit thought Zappé would be the key to their victory, the Lions were sorely mistaken. He was the perfect manager for New England in this must-win game. Offensive lineman Matt Patricia called the game a heck of a game for the young QB.

Even Cepe’s only statistical mistake – an interception – wasn’t his fault. If the receivers could take an interception on their stat line, then Nelson Agholor would have it. Zepe hit the tube sharply, but Aghalor could not hit the target. Instead of the Patriots gaining 20 yards, the ball went up in the air for Deshaun Elliott to intercept.

In the pocket, Zappé had poise beyond his NFL experience. Not only did he manage to evade the pass, but he repeatedly looked downfield to find a checkdown, often by a tight end Henry the Hunter, who finished with four catches for 54 yards. To help struggling rights cope, Isaiah WinThe Patriots signed the tackle Marcus Cannon to their 53-man roster and regularly used him as an additional offensive lineman on the Wine side. Zappé finished the game with zero sacks behind the line of scrimmage, which had averaged 2.25 so far this week.

New England’s game plan looked very similar to what it was during the quarterback’s time Mc Jones was a recruit. On third down, Zappé got the ball to a reliable pass catcher like Henry and Jacoby Meyers. Tzape made smart shots in the center of the field, with Devante Parker registering zero receiving yards but incurring a pair of defensive interference penalties. Zappe quickly got the ball. He didn’t press for third downs or trips to the red zone because his defense controlled the game for him. He never had to force the ball — he could nimbly get away from trips into the red zone by throwing the ball away. (Nick Faulk was 6 for 6 on Sunday.)

Zappé did exactly what he was supposed to do, including splitting the cornerback and guarding the zone coverage. That’s how Zappé made a pass to Meyers for a touchdown. Of course, again, Zepe assisted on that Myers touchdown. The receiver was wide open in part because of the game action. Ramond Stevenson customize the gaming action with sensational gameplay. He finished with 25 carries for 161 yards, a career high.

It also helped that the Patriots only needed one point to win. So let’s get back to defense, shall we? It was New England’s first win. Perhaps the Patriots’ win showed that the Lions aren’t as good as their stats indicated. But jeez, New England was stonewalling what was a sensational crime. The Patriots deserve a lot of respect. Don’t be surprised if this defense establishes itself as one of the best units in the NFL over the next few weeks.

New England is down, but not out. As is typical for the Patriots, they have had a rough start to the season. But they are still relevant, even if they do not occupy the third place.

Is there a quarterback dispute? No. Let’s get rid of it. If Jones recovers from his ankle injury, he will return to his starting role. And it will be in an offense that has a better sense of its identity.

The AFC is crowded and competitive, and New England will certainly face a huge challenge trying to earn a playoff spot. But Belichick is not giving up. He wins with Zappé and Jones and who else should he start at fullback. Belichick gets wins with his defense. And maybe, just maybe, the Patriots coach can stick to his recipe of starting slow and finishing strong over the next 13 weeks.

Before joining FOX Sports as an AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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