What’s next for Mack Jones, Bill Belichick and the Patriots?

The New England Patriots have a quarterback controversy during the season for the first time since 2001. Bill Belichick in the past wouldn’t tolerate questions about the team’s starting quarterback when it was Tom Brady.

And for obvious reasons.

In 2016, when Brady missed time with his Deflategate suspension and Jimmy Garoppolo stepped in as a capable replacement, Belichick silenced speculation and stuck with Brady as the starting quarterback.

Maybe Belichick isn’t up to speed with these types of questions.

Technically, Belichick does something similar. But his comments lead to an entirely different result. After Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe took turns in a Week 7 game on primetime television, Belichick refused to answer hypothetical questions. But this week — instead of sticking with his starter, as he did in 2016 — Belichick dismissed speculation to avoid naming a starter.

Will Jones start when healthy?

“It’s a hypothetical question, so let’s see where that is and what that is,” Belichick said Tuesday in a video conference call.

Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe?

Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe?

Bill Belichick seems unwilling to commit to either QB, leaving Craig Carton and Greg Jennings to weigh the two against each other. Watch as they decide which quarterback is the answer in New England.

Belichick won’t let the public know who will start at quarterback for Week 8 — at least not yet.

He has time, especially since he’s starting to split practices this week. Wednesday’s practice should be a strong indicator of which quarterback will play.

But it seems clear that Belichick needs to do a better job of keeping the team on track. Little did many players know last week that the plan was to remove Jones from the game — and possibly — bring him back into the lineup for the end of the game. (Belichick said Jones’ ankle was a consideration when developing the platoon idea.)

“It’s tough as a man to see somebody who’s worked so hard get this treatment, but at the end of the day we’re all trying to feed our families,” wide receiver Jacoby Myers said in the locker room after the game. game. “We’ve got to play no matter who’s pitching [the ball].”

There were reports before the game that both defenders would play. Belichick questioned why he didn’t take the time to brief all of his players.

“I talked to the quarterbacks. I talked to the leaders of the team,” Belichick said during an appearance on WEEI Sports Radio on Tuesday. “Everybody knew what the plan was. I mean, not every single person, obviously. I wouldn’t talk to every person about another player’s role in the game. Everyone has their work to do. There was no lack of communication.”

Still, Myers — the team’s top receiver — indicated he didn’t know. Starting running back Rhamondre Stevenson also looked in the dark.

So maybe Belichick is a little rusty on how to handle a quarterback controversy. Because he only made the situation worse. There are certainly people in Jones’ camp who aren’t happy with how the dynamic has played out. However, Jones has made it clear publicly that he agrees with Belichick.

“Coach Belichick obviously did a really, really good job explaining it to me. And I knew what the plan was, and time is time,” Jones said. “We were on the same page. No offense.”

You have to think Jones and Belichick could forget about this quirk — in the right scenario.

Yes, things got embarrassing in the loss to the Chicago Bears (who were considered the worst team in the NFL entering Monday’s game). But Belichick has seen worse. Or at least has been through similar adverse circumstances. And overall, he came out the other end with a Super Bowl win. That doesn’t mean Belichick will do that here. But the man has a history of leading his team past his own mistakes.

And that was it: mismanagement.

The best case scenario? Jones was named the starter against the Jets in Week 8 and the quarterback finished the game with zero turnovers in the win. This is how this relationship heals quickly: a win. And it would help if Jones slowed down.

How do things get worse? If Jones throws a handful of interceptions, especially in a loss, Belichick is sure to be upset. If Zappe starts at quarterback — or even plays — it’s easy to imagine Jones being upset. And so this argument becomes even more dramatic. Even Belichick keeps saying he won’t continue to play two quarterbacks in one game. He must know that this is a bad idea. If Belichick pulls Jones for Zappé in another game, it could mean the Patriots make the switch for the rest of the season.

This is a weak position for all involved. Belichick can’t afford to end up with two quarterbacks in a state of broken trust. Certainly Jones’ situation with the team seems confusing. And Zappe didn’t interfere much with first-team reps last week – and finished the game with a pair of interceptions. Did he feel well prepared?

Belichick is a master at controlling outside forces while setting up his players to succeed from an X’s and O’s standpoint. So it’s easy to imagine this situation coming to a positive resolution. But there is a lot at stake.

A quarterback needs to come out the other end at the starting level, because if the Patriots end up not having one, they will miss the playoffs. And Belichick will be to blame.

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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