Sunday’s loss in Miami has New England in unfamiliar territory, with the Patriots suddenly finding themselves with their season over before the Christmas holiday.
Worse yet, they’re now left with questions that will need to be answered in the coming months as the team tries to come up with some sort of a plan for the future.
While it’s a little early to write the epitaph of certain players from this frustrating 2020 season, one we know for certain who should be on that list is quarterback Cam Newton, who finished Sunday’s game exactly as he has in pretty much every game he’s played in this season. His team came up just short in their eighth loss of the year, while Newton spent another press conference telling everyone how it just wasn’t good enough and that he knows he needs to start playing his best football.
We’re 14 games in and 15 weeks through the season. It’s safe to say that ship has more than sailed and we’re well past where we should have been as it pertained to Newton possibly turning the corner.
It’s simple. Bill Belichick put his faith in the veteran quarterback and it just didn’t happen. Honestly, it’s O.K., sometimes you gamble and you lose and it’s not like there were a lot of options out there when they signed him. The big question now is going to be whether or not Belichick is going to keep putting coins into a machine that will continue stealing his money.
Newton is a big, athletic player who certainly had his moments. He could make a big play with his legs and occasionally connect on some huge throws. He’s the definition of spectacularly inconsistent. When he’s on, he’s on. When he’s not, well, it’s been incredibly ugly. That’s not even including another near turnover on Sunday that he fortunately avoided, which could have made this game uglier than it was.
Give offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels credit. When it came to Newton’s weaknesses, he covered them up about as best as he could. He took advantage of Newton’s strengths and squeezed about as much out of him as he could have hoped. At the end of the day, Newton has accounted for 16 touchdowns this season, 5 through the air and 11 with his legs. McDaniels did the best he could to put Newton in positions to be productive and, if we’re being honest, we essentially saw the best he’s going to be.
We waited for him to turn a corner and it just didn’t happen. Again, that’s O.K., Belichick clearly knows where Jarrett Stidham stands on the depth chart, and in his mind, Newton had more tools to give opponents things to have to game plan around. His size and athleticism were assets they tried to exploit while trying to take advantage of what few throws he could make.
Newton has been inconsistent all season as the starter for the Patriots.
Yes, Newton threw for over 300-yards twice this season. Yes, the Patriots won 2-out of three games 3 times this season. Each of those stats has been brought up by Belichick in defense of Newton multiple times this year, with Belichick clearly trying to justify his reasoning for not quitting on the veteran quarterback.
His teammates love him. The locker room was behind him. So they rode this train until the end and while we sort of saw this destination coming, it finally became official on Sunday.
At the end of the day, the worst part of the 2020 season is we’ll head into the offseason with too many questions and little reason to be optimistic about the future. The last time the Patriots missed the postseason came back in 2008, which was the year Tom Brady was knocked out for the season mere minutes into the home opener. His injury saw Matt Cassel get thrust into action, and for those who didn’t really follow the team that closely back then, let’s just say the contrast of how that season felt at the end is a sharp contrast to how this one feels right now.
Unlike this year, Cassel kept getting better as the season went on, finishing that year with 21-touchdowns and 11 interceptions while passing for nearly 3,700-yards. Granted, Cassel had the likes of Randy Moss and Wes Welker among his targets, but numbers aside, Cassel’s decision-making and poise were two big things that stood out by the time that season ended. In fact, one of the things what was tough about that season was the fact despite an 11-5 finish, the Patriots were edged out of the AFC East and were behind just enough to keep them out of the Wild Card picture. As a result, with Cassel seemingly starting to really settle in, we didn’t get to see what kind of damage he could have done in the playoffs.
With Newton, no such optimism exists. Even if the Patriots were still in the mix, anyone believing he’d be able to score a lot of points and beat any of the top teams in either conference is clearly lying to themselves. One big thing we started doing this season is living off of “what ifs” in too many games where they’ve come up just short. We were treated to one blowout victory, only to see them put back in their place one week later in the same building. Unlike that 2008 campaign, there’s been no incline this year. There’s been no improvement. Just a lot of the same each week. Some good moments and sometimes it was good enough, sometimes it wasn’t.
Just simply, spectacularly inconsistent.
Throughout that span, Newton has kept saying all the right things and has clearly been putting enough on film to convince the coaching staff that maybe he might get over the hump. When the season is ultimately in the rear-view, Patriots fans should at least be appreciative enough to thank Newton for making it interesting and making each Sunday one that everyone needed to watch just for the sake of seeing how it might play out.
But the key thing is knowing when it’s time to move on, and that’s the big question we’ll have during these final two weeks and then into the months ahead. Belichick obviously knows the results just weren’t what they needed to be. He knows his players worked too hard to be a 6-8 team.
Will Stidham finally start for the Patriots?
For Belichick to not make some sort of change and test out seeing Stidham start these two final games should tell us everything we need to know about the future. If he sticks with Newton, the possibility of Cam being given the benefit of the doubt in earning a role here in 2021 could be on the table. If Stidham is given the nod, that means the coaching staff has seen enough from Newton and they’d rather see what Stidham can do given a full week to prepare and play in a full game.
Either way, unlike 2008, we’re heading into a period full of questions and with far more skepticism. By the end of that year, Cassel at least had everyone feeling like this team could beat anybody that year if given the opportunity. This year, after the way things played out, there were always questions about the outcome heading into each week. Honestly, if you still felt confident about a potential trip to Tampa or a possible showdown of Belichick against Brady, you’re likely in the minority.
Back in 2008, it was different. We had hope for the future. We had Brady coming back the following season. However, there were rumors about Brady’s recovery and concern about whether or not he would be ready to go the following year. But Cassel had done enough to make fans believe that he would be a more than capable starter if Brady wasn’t ready. That was a pretty good place to be, especially given the horror of seeing Brady go down to begin with.
Unfortunately, in 2020, it’s a different story. This time around, we’re even worse off from where we started. Before the season kicked off, there was hope Newton could be good enough for them to still be competitive. That hope is long gone, and now we’re left without any real idea of who might start next year and if we’ll potentially be left feeling the same way we are right now.
With two games to go, it’s been a strange ride and hopefully, Belichick takes us off it for the final two weeks. After an incredible run as head coach of this club, he certainly doesn’t need to apologize for the team’s record and it shouldn’t be held against him that New England won’t be playing this January.
Most fans agreed back in September that Newton leading the charge was worth a shot and he deserves credit and admiration for all the work he put in. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, and the thought of another rollercoaster ride with Newton in 2021 will likely end exactly the same.
As a result, it’s time for Belichick to cut his losses and move on. It’s time to start building for the future, and preferably one that will include a different starter under center next season.
Posted Under: 2020 Patriots Season
Tags: 2020 Patriots Season Bill Belichick Cam Newton Jarrett Stidham Matt Cassel New England Patriots Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tom Brady