By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Cam Newton is on the injury report for the first time in his Patriots career, tagged with the label of “limited participation” today in Foxboro. And Bill Belichick being Bill Belichick, we must now wonder:
Is a quarterback change coming? Or is Belichick playing motivational games with Cam Newton?
Or, is this all just as currently packaged, a minor bump on the road that will deliver Newton back behind center on Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers?
Given that these are the Patriots and this is Belichick, it’s certainly fair to wonder. The identity of the next Patriots quarterback was uncertain from the moment You Know Who bolted for Tampa Bay earlier this year, and it stayed that way until Jarrett Stidham suffered a injury in training camp, propelling Newton into the starter’s role whether he deserved it or not. And make no mistake, Belichick has stood behind Newton since, stating with certainty on multiple occasions that Newton would remain his starter.
On Oct. 25, after the debacle that was a 33-6 loss to San Francisco in which Newton passed for just 98 yards before being unceremoniously pulled in favor of Jarrett Stidham, Belichick was asked if Newton was still his starter.
“Yeah, absolutely. Just wanted to give Stid a little experience here,” Belichick replied.
What about after the loss to Buffalo a week later, on Nov. 1, the day Newton fumbled the ball away in the final seconds of a three-point defeat?
“Cam’s our quarterback. That’s the way it’s been all year,” Belichick replied.
But then came Sunday, a game in which Newton posted a paltry quarterback rating of 23.6, making him the first quarterback to win an NFL regular season with a rating as low (or lower) since 2012. Belichick again was asked about his quarterback following the game and the exchange went precisely like this:
Q: You won but the offense, I think objectively, didn’t play very well today – 179 yards. Cam threw for under a hundred yards. Would you consider going to Jarrett at some point or is Cam still firmly your quarterback?
“We just kind of keep working to get better,” Belichick replied. “Cam threw for 350 last week. The most important thing is we made the plays we needed to make to win. That’s what the goal will be every week.”
Now, you tell me which of those answers does not belong.
A. Is Cam your quarterback? Yeah, absolutely.
B. Is Cam your quarterback? Cam’s our quarterback. That’s the way it’s been all year.
C.) Is Cam your quarterback? We just kind of keep working to get better.
If you picked C, you would be correct!
As always, there is every chance here that Belichick is giving everyone the big yank. Brady missed practice time, too, and there was rarely any real question as to whether he would play on Sunday. But this is obviously different. The Patriots have one of the worst passing offenses in football and Newton has looked downright inept at times, and the only thing we haven’t seen at quarterback yet is Stidham with an entire week or more of practice and preparation.
Will that happen this week, leading to this Sunday? Maybe or maybe not. If you’re looking for pure speculation, the best guess here is that Belichick isn’t quite ready to pull the plug just yet. But he might be close. The Patriots will travel to Los Angeles later this week and remain there for a game against the Los Angeles Rams next Thursday, and, well, maybe the coach is already prepping now for a change before the team returns to Foxboro.
After all, on Sunday, Belichick didn’t sound nearly as convincing in standing behind Newton.
If the wheels of change are not starting to turn, the ones in Belichick’s head certainly seem to be.