For the first time in almost two months, Cam Newton didn’t outright cost the Patriots a game.
Truth is, the Patriots quarterback was pretty darned good Monday night, or, at least, better than we’ve seen in quite some time, completing 27 of his 35 passes to a wide receiving corps better suited for a beer-league flag game. Newton only managed 16 yards rushing on 10 carries, but two of them broke the end zone.
For a guy that some were seriously mentioning as an MVP candidate (remember CaMVP?) after the first fortnight of the NFL season, it was a nice rebound for a quarterback who, by his own admission, has been a primary factor why the once-proud New England Patriots are suddenly left gasping for relevance in 2020.
The fact that Newton managed the rebound against the horrid Jets, however, gets him no points.
Call it Fool’s Gold for Newton’s performance during New England’s 30-27 win over the 0-9 New York AFC football team. While it was nice to see Newton not fumbling the ball on the 19-yard-line with the game on the line, not failing to find a wide-open N’Keal Harry with…the game on the line, not getting pounded to the ground for a one-yard loss as time expires with…the game on the line, and not doing whatever it was he brought to the 49ers game, this was no sudden metamorphosis into a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Show it to me against the Ravens this weekend and we’ll talk.
Now, officially, halfway through their regular season schedule, the 3-5 Patriots have established themselves as an also-ran in the NFL, a team in purgatory for the foreseeable future. It was a limbo they could have helped solve by trying a little harder to lose against the Jets (something that, frankly, the slippin’ and trippin’ Newton seemed like he was poised to do on occasion Monday night), thus strengthening their position in next spring’s draft. Give Bill Belichick a top-five pick, and it would be hard for him to go against the grain, like picking a practice squad kicker in the fifth round.
With a pick in the teens, Patriots fans are back to playing Chad Jackson Bingo with Belichick the general manager.
The one certain thing as the Patriots look ahead is that Cam Newton should not be a part of that future.
Indeed, for all the right things Newton has done for the Patriots from a locker room, team-building perspective, his performance on the gridiron has been borderline pedestrian. Call it the COVID hangover if you must, but Newton clearly hasn’t done enough during the course of his one-year audition to merit any thought of being the Patriots’ long-term solution.
It’s not going to be Newton. It sure as heck won’t be Jarrett Stidham.
Which is why the Patriots’ insistence to win Monday night was the real blunder of the season.
Granted, Belichick isn’t the type of coach to spit on the integrity of the game and throw himself to the wolves in order to secure a higher draft pick (other avenues of trickery, like positioning camera lenses and sucking the air out of footballs are, of course, up for discussion). But the team fell from the possibility of being in a top-five draft position all the way down to No. 13 after its win Monday. That might be a good enough position for (drool) Florida’s Kyle Pitts, but it doesn’t solve the biggest question the franchise faces moving forward. Who’s the quarterback, long-term?
The free agent market isn’t that star-studded, unless you’d like to take a chance on the likes of Philip Rivers, Mitch Trubisky, an injured Dak Prescott, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Jacoby Brissett. Which is going to make plenty of folks figure that Newton remains the best option.
But neither Newton nor any of the free agent list of misfits helps define the team long-term. Rather, the Patriots are set on becoming the next Denver Broncos, establishing a rotating line of quarterbacks, each failing to set the standard for the job. Even if they finish the season 3-13, it won’t be enough to land one of Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence, or Patrick Surtain. Maybe Kyle Trask is an option. Perhaps Trey Lance falls in their lap. Are either of those of the same caliber of say, a Justin Herbert, the sixth-overall pick in last year’s draft, and probable rookie of the year?
Or will Belichick insist on finding the next Stidham. Only to realize…nah.
Then there’s Jimmy Garoppolo. Which probably, maybe, might make the most sense to acquire in a trade. Let’s just consider this to be the burgeoning storyline of the offseason to come.
As the ESPN folks pointed out Monday, the Patriots could just as easily be 6-2 this season instead of the woeful 3-5 they’ve produced thus far. Newton’s miscues are responsible for at least two of those losses (we’ll pin the Seattle loss on a horrendous decision by Josh McDaniels), and his incompetence against San Francisco being his third. More of Monday would go a long way toward securing his future, but the Jets are only on the schedule one more time.
Unless Newton really shows something else over the final eight weeks of the season, we can just consider his presence in New England a nice stopgap, following the last guy.
He was better than nothing.
That’s not exactly a glowing endorsement for a long-term contract.
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