Some thoughts on this Saturday coming off Thursday night’s loss:
1) Losing to the Rams on Thursday night was certainly big, with the defeat dropping the Patriots below .500 at 6-7 with three key AFC match-ups still left to play.
Bill Belichick’s club will get the weekend off to regroup before they face the Dolphins in Miami next weekend but for anyone hoping for a quarterback change, it doesn’t appear one is coming.
Despite another subpar performance by Cam Newton, Belichick remained steadfast in his support for the veteran QB when speaking to reporters after the contest. He immediately shut down the possibility of potentially starting Jarrett Stidham, simply telling reporters that Newton remains their QB.
“Yeah, great question, really glad you asked that,” said Belichick after the game when asked about Newton’s status moving forward. “Cam (Newton)’s our quarterback.”
He was asked about it again on Friday, and gave a terse, “I’ve answered that question for the last time.”
So, there you go.
From all indications, it appears he plans on riding out the remainder of the 2020 season with Newton at the helm, regardless of how they finish. Despite a night where Newton was 9-of-16 for 119-yards, the biggest black mark on his performance was the critical interception he threw trailing 10-0 early in the second quarter.
The play happened down in the Rams’ red zone on a 2nd-and-9 from the Los Angeles 19-yard line. Newton dropped back, and with pressure bearing down on him, was late getting a screen pass out to Damien Harris and had a bad angle due to the defensive pressure he was facing. As a result, he led Harris out too far and linebacker Kenny Young stepped in front and picked it off, taking it 79-yards the other way for the touchdown.
On Friday, Belichick really gave credit to Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who disrupted the play and played a key role in forcing the turnover. Belichick essentially took Newton off the hook on the play, despite the fact the quarterback still made the decision to throw the football instead of trying to protect it.
“That was a tough play,” said Belichick. “[Aaron] Donald made a good play, knocked Damien [Harris] off. He could have thrown it into the ground, but I don’t know why he would have thrown it into the ground.”
“It really wasn’t that kind of play. It was just one of those things that, like I said, Donald made a good play, knocked the timing off a little bit. It’s a tough situation.”
Regardless, that pick-six was brutal because it took away a potential opportunity to cut the lead to three at 10-7 and instead put the Patriots in a deep hole at 17-0 against what’s turned out to be a good defense for Los Angeles.
Worse yet, it put doubt in Newton’s head and that handicapped him the rest of the game. The veteran admitted during his post-game press conference that on the ensuing 4th-down play where he was taken down for a 2-yard loss, he was apprehensive about pitching the ball and possibly turning it over having already given away the football previously. Newton cited that as the reason to hold on and try and make the play himself.
That’s sort of been the problem for Newton all season – he thinks a little too much, to the point where even opponents see it. Young admitted afterward that he knew that pass was coming, largely due to Newton’s “mannerisms”, which tipped him off enough to allow him to anticipate the play and make the turnover. That happens when Newton is clearly thinking about the play instead of just reacting. He’s already admitted this is a tough offense and despite being 14-weeks in, he still appears uncomfortable at times.
But unfortunately, Newton’s other issues with getting his passes batted down and not feeling the rush continued, which got worse the farther behind they got and contributed to his struggles. With New England facing a significant deficit, the Rams just started teeing off on him defensively. The former problem is irritating because at 6’5″, he shouldn’t be having passes get batted down. He also takes too long to get rid of the football and against a defense like the Rams, he clearly didn’t have the luxury of time. Each of those factors are why Jarrett Stidham came back in for a different kind of mop-up duty with the team clearly out of it at 24-0 with just over 10-minutes left to play.
Either way, despite their 7th loss of the season, they’re not mathematically out of it just yet and in Belichick’s mind, the approach stays the same with the Dolphins up next.
That means this 2020 season just “is what it is”, whether the fans or local media like it or not.
The fact Stidham isn’t an option in Belichick’s eyes remains puzzling.
2) The fact Stidham isn’t even getting consideration by Belichick is interesting and it’s hard not to ponder the reasoning behind it.
What will be more interesting will be whether or not Belichick maintains this stance if/when they’re completely out of the postseason hunt. To not even put him in the game for the sake of getting a 60-minute look at him with meaningful snaps would tell us about all we need to know at this point.
One of the things we’ve heard from many in the media who are well-connected and have gotten some feedback is the fact that Stidham hasn’t impressed in practice and had seemingly taken a step back, which was part of the reason he dropped all the way down to the third QB spot prior to Brian Hoyer’s disastrous display in Kansas City.
When he’s gotten his chance Stidham’s been decent, including last Sunday against the Chargers where he made some nice throws that even saw him connect on a well-thrown ball to Gunner Olszewski for a touchdown.
Thursday night saw him enter the game and again get into a rhythm, with Stidham getting the ball out quickly while connecting on 5-of-7 for 27-yards, although one drive ended with an incompletion on a decent pass to Devin Asiasi on a 4th-down play that had tight coverage and the rookie tight end just couldn’t quite haul in.
While he didn’t reach the end zone, the pace of the game and how well he threw the football certainly stood out, but apparently not enough to earn him any additional playing time. In fact, Belichick’s stance sort of makes you wonder what that means for Stidham’s future, especially if they truly believe he’s not the answer.
What is odd is the fact that if the coaching staff has little confidence in him, why have him out there aggressively throwing the football with a massive lead last Sunday against the Chargers? Few of the throws he made were conservative, with Stidham out there firing darts on his one scoring drive before they did shut things down.
It’s not like he was out there just handing off and making minimal throws to move the chains and stay out there. Was that the coaching staff trying to see what he was capable of, or were they also possibly trying to add positive plays to his resume to set him up for a potential Jacoby Brissett type of trade?
It’s just a strange situation. Let’s be honest, if Belichick believed Stidham was good enough to start, he’d be out there, or at least Belichick wouldn’t have been so emphatic about Newton being his QB and he would have given more of a vague response. The fact he didn’t is a little puzzling, especially given their current record. If Newton falters again and they lose to Miami next week, what Belichick decides to do the following week could end up telling us everything we need to know.
If they’re completely out of the postseason picture and he still insists Cam is his QB and won’t even consider Stidham, it makes you wonder whether Stidham will be around next year, or if Belichick might just deal him away and use whatever currency he’s able to garner elsewhere heading into 2021.
Regardless, the fact Newton remains the starter speaks volumes about where Stidham currently stands and these next three games should certainly be interesting.
The offense continues to squander a pretty good performance by Belichick’s defense.
3) One of the most frustrating aspects of this season that we may end up looking back at might be the fact New England is completely squandering a pretty good performance by their defense.
Thursday night saw this group hold the Rams to 17 points, which in most cases should have been enough to win the game. Instead, the offense continued to offer little support, including one point in the game where they were on the field for over nine minutes as they tried to adjust to Los Angeles’ ground game and were clearly gassed.
How did New England’s offense answer? With a possession that lasted just over a minute.
That’s sort of been the problem all season. Aside from the San Francisco game, they’ve been good enough to win but the offense just hasn’t held up their end of the deal. It’s been mentioned in this space repeatedly and it’s just unfortunate that as much as we’ve seen this unit grow, it’s looking more and more likely that we won’t be able to find out if they might have been good enough to make another postseason run.
That’s unfortunate because the Kansas City game was a reminder that they were good enough to shut the Chiefs down and with a better offense, Belichick’s chance to prove he could win a title without Tom Brady might have been on the table. It’s one of those games where, in a potential postseason rematch, things might have turned out differently.
Instead, getting the type of complimentary play from the offense against good teams just hasn’t happened and after this season, we may look back and wonder “what if” about a group that despite some of their weaknesses has certainly done enough for this team to be in much better shape than it currently is.
Harry has looked good these past two weeks.
4) Thursday night was a strong performance by receiver N’Keal Harry, who made a couple of terrific grabs and looked about as confident as we’ve ever seen him.
One of his highlights came on a 13-yard reception he made on their lone scoring drive of the night. On the play, which came on a 3rd-and-5 at the Rams 32-yard line, Newton threw a pass that was up high but Harry went up and got it and got absolutely drilled, yet somehow managed to hang onto it.
That play extended what ended up being an 8-play, 57-yard drive that finished with a 29-yard field goal by Nick Folk to get New England on the board at 17-3.
He also made a terrific grab on New England’s first drive of the second half when he hauled in a 30-yard pass on a 2nd-and-20 after Newton was dropped for a 10-yard sack on the first play of the series. Despite two defenders near him, Harry went up and made the reception, which got New England out of trouble deep in their own territory and out near midfield.
He’s had two straight games where he’s started making a little bit of noise. With three games left to play, it would be great to see him finish strong and it’s been fun to see his growth during the latter part of this season.
5) Meanwhile, speaking of receivers, it’s going to be interesting to see if we see Julian Edelman down the stretch. The possibility of finishing 9-7 remains on the table and with the long break they’re about to enjoy, that should be one of the things to keep an eye on next week.
Belichick recently said he wouldn’t be surprised if Edelman was able to make it back this season and previous reports have said that the veteran wideout was potentially a few weeks away from returning.
Whether or not it makes sense to put him out there is obviously the big question. However, it’s obvious that Belichick seems to believe they still have a shot and from what we’ve heard over the course of the last 24 hours, he plans on pushing forward.
If he’s physically able to play and it’s safe for him to do so, one would have to believe that Edleman would like to come back before the end of the season. But hopefully, they’ll be smart and they won’t push him. He’s signed through 2021 and given where they currently are personnel-wise, a healthy Edelman will likely be key in whatever success they might hope to have next season.
6) It’s pretty bad when your punter is one of the highlights of the night and credit Jake Bailey for making it rain out in Los Angeles during what was an otherwise less-than-impressive evening.
Bailey was outstanding, shifting the field position repeatedly and forcing the Rams to have to work with a long field on the majority of their drives. His most impressive one of the night – and possibly the season – came with just over 12-minutes remaining in the game.
Bailey came up with a huge kick deep in their own territory that went for 71-yards, with Matthew Slater downing it at the Rams 6yd line.
He was tremendous all game long, hitting kicks of 59, 54, 32 (downed at the Rams 10yd line), 40 (his worst of the night as it went out of bounds at the Rams’ 30), followed by his one for 71yds and a final one of 54.
His 71yd punt is tied for the longest of the season with the Giants’ Riley Dixon, while his net average of 46.1 is tops in the league. He has 23 punts inside the 20 this season, which is third behind both Dixon (24) and Bailey’s opponent last night, Rams punter Johnny Hekker, who has 25 on the season but had zero in his 6 punts last night (Bailey had 4).
He remains a surprising bright spot and it’s amazing that Belichick has been so fortunate to find players like him, with Bailey becoming the latest gem for a group that has had some pretty good punters during his tenure.
Now if only they could be as lucky when finding young receivers…
Posted Under: 2020 Patriots Season
Tags: Bill Belichick Cam Newton Damien Harris Jake Bailey Jarrett Stidham Julian Edelman Los Angeles Rams N'Keal Harry New England Patriots