Nathan Rourke bumped up depth chart but stays on bench for Pats finale

New England Head coach Bill Belichick went the distance Sunday with quarterback Bailey Zappe, who was ineffective in a 17-3 loss

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The New England Patriots teased a better finish to Nathan Rourke’s first season in the NFL.

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The quarterback, who was born in Victoria, raised in Oakville, Ont., and starred with the B.C. Lions in 2022, was promoted from emergency third stringer to backup pivot Sunday morning by the Patriots ahead of their regular season finale against the visiting New York Jets. 

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That put him in the mix for game action against the Jets, but he never came off the bench. Despite the fact the Patriots have long been out of playoff contention and they were struggling to move the ball in snowy conditions Sunday, head coach Bill Belichick went the distance with quarterback Bailey Zappe. 

Zappe finished 12-of-30 for 88 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions in the 17-3 loss.

Rourke, 25, had been with the Patriots for three weeks, having been claimed by New England off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 18. You’d think he’d have a feel for the New England offence. 

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So what’s next for Rourke? It’s easy to guess at his age that he’ll continue with the NFL next season rather than come back to the CFL. Rourke had signed a three-year deal with the Lions in May 2021, so they’ll have his CFL rights until free agency opens on Feb. 13.

Rourke didn’t take a snap in a regular season game this year with either New England or Jacksonville. He spent much of the year on the Jaguars’ practice roster. 

He signed a three-year deal with Jacksonville last January after working out with 12 teams, and the Jaguars were trying to put him back on the practice roster after a brief stay on the active roster when New England claimed him. 

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Whether Rourke has a future with the Patriots is a difficult question. 

New England finished the season 4-13. The was the team’s worst mark under Belichick, who has been at the helm since 2000. There’s speculation that he and the Patriots are cutting ties. The Boston Globe game story Sunday led with “If that was Bill Belichick’s final game as Patriots head coach, well, what a way to go out.”

The Globe also had the a piece by Nicole Yang with the headline “Patriots made a mess of the quarterback position, right to the very end.” 

The story led with the fact that New England had bumped former starter Mac Jones down to the No. 3 job and promoted Rourke to back up Zappe on Sunday. 

“Nathan had a good week of practice,” Belichick reasoned to reporters afterwards. “So, we activated him for the second spot.”

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Yang wrote: “If Jones was under the weather to the point it affected his availability, the league would require the Patriots to update their injury report. Perhaps Belichick wanted to preserve Jones’s trade value, should the team decide to shop him this off-season. Or perhaps he wanted to stick it to Jones one last time.”

Jones, 25, was a first-round pick, No. 15 overall by New England in 2021 out of the Alabama Crimson Tide program.

Rourke had led the Lions to an 8-1 start in 2022 when it was announced that he had suffered a Lisfranc sprain in his right foot in the waning moments of a 28-10 win in Saskatchewan on Aug. 19 and it would require surgery that would put him on the sidelines for several weeks.

He led the CFL in passing yardage (3,281) and touchdown passes (25) at the time and had been named one of the league’s top three performers in six of those nine weeks.

He came back for the regular season finale on Oct. 28, and guided the Lions to a win over the Calgary Stampeders in the West semifinals before they fell to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West final.

Even with missing all that time, Rourke was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian for the season, becoming the first quarterback to take the honour since Gerry Dattilio of the Montreal Alouettes in 1980.

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