In one of the more bizarre stories of the preseason for the New England Patriots, QB Cam Newton is missing an entire week of practice due to a COVID protocol “misunderstanding”. Not just any week, but the final week of practice before the final preseason game. After a great performance on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, it appeared Cam was solidifying his role as the starter for the Pats, but Monday’s news puts all of that in jeopardy and opens the door for QB Mac Jones to take the spot from him.
At this point in the preseason, players should be clear on COVID protocols and be extra careful about following them to the T. Bill Belichick expects nothing less than perfection when it comes to the rules and now his loyalty to Cam will be tested. The Pats will be without the services of Cam in practice (other than virtual appearances) until Thursday, which is essentially the entire final week in an already shortened preseason. In the past, if a player doesn’t practice much in a week, especially with a rules violation, they don’t tend to play in the game. Will Bill actually sit Cam on Sunday against the New York Giants? If he does and Mac Jones puts on a show, would he actually make the decision to bench Cam for week 1?
If I had to put money on it today, I still think Cam is the week 1 starter, but what was a seemingly sure thing at the end of last week now feels like more of a toss-up. For the good things Cam can occasionally do, his self-destructive behavior is hard to look past and in New England, this stuff usually doesn’t fly. Players have been benched or cut for seemingly less despite great performances and talent (i.e. RB Jonas Gray).
This situation also makes it clear that Cam is one of the players on the roster who has not been vaccinated, because if he were, he would not have to follow the 5-day rule before returning to practice. Given the current COVID situation and the push for 100% vaccinations amongst players and coaches, it doesn’t reflect well on him or the Pats. Is this the QB you want leading your team?
It’s never boring off-the-field with Cam Newton, but on-the-field is often a different story…
Since April, New England Patriots fans have been waiting for one moment: the first snap for Mac Jones. When the Pats were led onto the field for their third series of their first preseason game by #10 QB Mac Jones, the crowd erupted. There was hope in the air and a belief by many that this could be the beginning of a beautiful partnership that may someday return the Pats to the top of the NFL mountain. The very early results were incredibly promising.
The overall impression Mac left was very positive. He didn’t make any deep throws or show off in any extra-special way, but his actions screamed loud and clear that he fits this system and can win games in the league. Putting aside his numbers for a minute, his confidence and command of the offense was impressive and surprising. Frankly, I expected him to look like a rookie QB, indecisive and nervous at moments. Instead, he looked loose and calm. The best part? He made quick decisions and got rid of the football.
My #1 issue with Cam Newton as QB1 is his indecision. Last year, he routinely held on to the ball for 5 or 6+ seconds while trying to figure out who to throw to or whether to take off and run. When a QB takes that long, the offensive line breaks down and the defense has a chance to adjust in the secondary. What has made the Pats consistent contenders over the years is their ability to take the 5-step drop (or shotgun snap) and get rid of the ball quickly. Yes, they were led by Tom Brady, but the approach is what’s important. The quicker a decision is made and the ball is out, the less likely the defense is set and ready for the pass. It keeps the defense off-balance and unsettled and leads to more completions.
Mac Jones did just that on Thursday night in his debut. He confidently took the snap, dropped back 5 steps, and released the ball. No hesitation, no delay, no uncertainty. Most all of his throws were short, mostly accurate and clean. You got the sense watching him that he fits the system perfectly if he can continue on the path laid out. He finished the night 13 of 19 for 87 yards (no TDs or INTs) which is just what the doctor ordered. Most of those snaps were with an entirely 2nd or 3rd string roster, including the offensive line, on the field that was legitimately the least talented group he’s played with since high school. The receiving core was significantly worse than he had last year at Alabama, yet he was still able to make some throws and prove he can move the ball in any situation. The most important drive was a calling card for Josh McDaniels, the hurry-up, 2-min drill drive in the 3rd quarter which saw Mac take control and go 8 for 9.
All in all, that’s about the best you could hope for as a Patriots fan from the QB position after one preseason game.