The New England Patriots, now sitting at 6-7, are a long-shot for the 2020 NFL playoffs. Mathematically, New England hasn’t been eliminated, but just about everything would need to go in the Patriots’ favor in order to play postseason football.
Despite that unfortunate reality, most of the talk after the Patriots’ ugly 24-3 loss against the Rams centered around the quarterback position. Rightfully so, as the quarterback position is the most important in the NFL. With that in mind, I wanted to go ahead and give my take on the Patriots’ quarterback dilemma.
“Is it Cam Newton or is it the weapons?” That’s the biggest question I see debated after every lackluster offensive performance of the Patriots’ 2020 season. While ultimately the biggest problem in Thursday night’s performance against the Rams was an uncharacteristic horrible night for the offensive line rather than the quarterback or receivers, it’s impossible to ignore the issues this passing offense has had all season.
So where do I place the blame? It may sound like a cop-out, but the only rational answer is it’s everyone’s fault. The weapons aren’t up to par, and Newton isn’t elevating them either.
It’s fair to say Newton certainly has one of, if not the worst, wide receiver and tight end groups in the NFL. It’s also fair to say he was thrown into an offense that doesn’t fit his strengths in late June and he had no preseason to work out the kinks of the offense. These aren’t excuses, these are just facts.
All that being said, Newton, aside from some nice performances throwing the football, hasn’t looked good enough in the passing game. His inconsistency, and the Patriots’ inconsistency as a whole, has been maddening at times. We saw glimpses of Newton look good throwing the ball (vs. Seattle albeit a horrible passing defense, vs. New York Jets, and vs. Houston), but we’ve also seen him look bad (vs. San Francisco, vs. Denver, vs. Las Vegas, and vs. Arizona).
Do I think Newton’s the worst passer in the NFL? No. Do I think he’s elevated the Patriots running game? Yes. Do I think he would put up better statistics with a better receiving core? Yes. However, one of the biggest issues I’ve seen with Newton isn’t always his actual throwing of the football, but rather his hesitancy to throw the football and his perceived lack of confidence at times. What his hesitancy is caused by is unbeknownst to me, but it’s resulted in a few unnecessary sacks this season and missed opportunities at receivers coming open downfield.
On a team with a lack of weapons and an inconsistent quarterback, the margin for error is small. This is why the Patriots have one of the worst passing attacks in football this year. The bottom line is, everyone can do better and that includes Josh McDaniels play-calling, and Bill Belichick the GM to put better talent around whatever quarterback takes the field next season.
This leads me to the current quarterback dilemma. Should the Patriots start Jarrett Stidham?
My stance since forever has been that the Patriots’ best chance to win is with Cam Newton. Belichick seems to feel that way too and although he’s not perfect, I tend to believe him on this one. That being said, when/if the Patriots are knocked out of playoff contention with zero chance to get in, the Patriots would be wise to get a look at Stidham. The passing offense won’t magically become high-level and I don’t think Stidham is the future quarterback, but if you have zero chance at a playoff spot, it’s valuable to get a look at what he can do with a full week of practice. If he struggles, he struggles. Then you have a definitive answer for the future.
In other words, with the playoffs still mathematically possible, the Patriots should start Newton this week against the Dolphins. If they lose, I think that’s when you give Stidham his shot. Maybe the Patriots ride it out with Newton, which understandable, but that’s what I would do.
Newton won’t be the Patriots long-term starting quarterback, but there’s still a possibility he’s brought back as a stop-gap until they find the next franchise guy in the draft. Of course, it’s also possible he’s one and done in New England. I’ve yet to get a good sense if the Patriots plan to keep Newton around next season but in my view, two specific things absolutely must happen if New England brings back Newton.
1. The Patriots have to draft a quarterback in the first or second round. It’s time to start looking for a franchise quarterback, even if it means letting him sit for a year behind Newton.
2. New England must devote their offense to running what’s best for Newton. The quick anticipation throws that made this offense so effective over the years just isn’t a fit with Newton at quarterback. If McDaniels isn’t prepared to change the offense, then it’s best they both move in different directions.
(The obvious third requirement is that the Patriots get more weapons, but that’s true for whoever the next quarterback is.)
If the Patriots and Newton do indeed part ways, which I think is also a very real possibility, New England will need to have a real plan in place at quarterback next season. Whether that means trading up for a blue-chip quarterback, like Zach Wilson or Trey Lance, or bringing in a different veteran to serve as a bridge guy, there needs to be something in place other than just Stidham.
To end this column, I think it’s worth mentioning just how much respect Newton should get from Patriots fans, regardless of what the team decided to do this offseason. Newton came to New England with very little guaranteed money after being shunned by the rest of the NFL, became a team captain, exemplifies what a great leader is, always holds himself accountable, and gives his all each and every down. His on-the-field struggles are real and it’s fair to critique them, but everything else should be commended.