By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Belichick always speaks highly of the opponent, especially the opposing quarterback, so this is far from anything new. But if you listen to enough press conferences and read enough transcripts, you can start to parse the words and figure out when he's just buttering the guy up or whether he's genuinely concerned.
Say what you want about Newton's press conferences, his hat, the Super Bowl fumble. On the field, when he's clicking (and healthy) he's been one of the NFL's most dynamic players. Belichick knew this three years ago, before the Pats took on the Panthers at Gillette Stadium.
"I think when you're talking about mobile quarterbacks, guys that are tough to handle, tackle, can throw, run, make good decision - I mean, I would put Newton at the top of the list," Belichick said. "Not saying that there aren't a lot of other good players that do that, but I would say, of all the guys we play or have played recently in the last couple of years, I would definitely put him - he's the hardest guy to deal with. He makes good decisions, he can run, he's strong, he's hard to tackle.
"He can do a lot of different things, beat you in a lot of different ways. We saw that in the game down there in '13, so I would put him at the top of the list. Not saying the other guys aren't a problem, because they are, but he's public enemy No. 1."
It took a last-second Graham Gano field goal for the Panthers to beat the Pats 33-30 that afternoon in Foxboro. But Newton went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady, at one point building a 30-16 lead in the fourth quarter.
Belichick's press conference was a self-fulfilling prophecy. The defense had trouble tackling Newton on the ground (eight carries for 44 yards and a touchdown) and he was uncommonly efficient throwing the ball too (22-for-29, three touchdowns, one interception, 130.8 passer rating). He wagged his tongue, he did the Superman thing, he convinced a handful of Felger & Mazz callers that Belichick threw the game on purpose.
But this is all a way of saying to Patriots fans: he's on your team now. If he's healthy but somehow doesn't win the starting job, well that's a great sign for Jarrett Stidham. Otherwise, the league just let the Patriots sign a highly motivated former MVP for minimal financial commitment.
Newton's infamous lack of effort to recover a fumble in Super Bowl 50, fair or not, will define his career if he can't get back there. But he just landed his best possible opportunity to rewrite the narrative. And Belichick knows what he could be getting. So it's best to get on board.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].