By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Plenty of people in New England are ready to be done with Cam Newton and move onto Jarrett Stidham. Bill Belichick is not one of them.
After Thursday night’s 24-3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, a game which may have been Newton’s worst of the season, Belichick was asked point blank about making a change under cetner. He shot out an answer before the question was even finished.
“Great question, Mike. Really, I’m glad you asked that,” Belichick said with some force as ESPN’s Mike Reiss was finishing his question. “Cam’s our quarterback.”
"Cam's our quarterback." - Bill Belichick pic.twitter.com/nirtKPkLps— NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSBoston) December 11, 2020
Ben Volin of the Boston Globe was up next. He tried again, phrasing the question as ‘why’ Newton would stay the starter, and what Belichick has seen that led to the decision. Again, Belichick wouldn’t budge.
“He’s our quarterback. I think I just answered that one, Ben.” Full answer.
Newton was then put aside, with Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal asking Belichick what he’s seen from Jarrett Stidham – both over the last two games in relief and in terms of his development over the course of the season.
“Jarett’s worked hard to try to take advantage of his opportunities,” Belichick replied. After a pause, he tacked on to the end, “but that’s not really the point,” as if to remove his comments on Stidham from any context relating to Newton.
It’s fitting that on the night Taylor Swift released a new album, Belichick would offer a line as vague and open to interpretation as that. “That’s not really the point.” Stidham’s play, his development, what is Belichick telling us to put aside here?
Is he saying no matter what Stidham does – in a game and/or during practice – he can’t unseat Newton? It’s certainly starting to feel that way. Maybe that’s because they see Stidham as a long-term investment, and don’t want to rush him onto the field. Of course, it could also be because Newton is a gravitational figure and leader of the team. Pulling him from the starting lineup could be detrimental to the nucleus of the locker room, something that could have a major impact beyond the remainder of the season.
Or, is Belichick telling us Stidham’s performance is irrelevant to his status with the team? Do they view him, as some fans do, as a low ceiling, day-three flyer pick? Have they seen enough behind closed doors that they know he is not a part of their future plans. “Stidham can’t possibly be worse than Cam,” many have said when the going gets tough this season. But, what if he is, and the team knows it?
Whatever the case, if Thursday night’s game doesn’t draw Newton the hook, it’s hard to imagine anything will this season. He finished 9-of-19 for 119 yards and threw a backbreaking pick-six on a broken screen play.
While a spotty passing performance isn’t anything new for Newton this year, he’s made up for it in past games with his legs. That element was nowhere to be found tonight. The 31-year-old ran for just 16 yards on seven carries, and was regularly stopped behind the line of scrimmage in key short-yardage situations.
Still, if Newton does get pulled at some point, it will likely be due to his less-than-stellar play as opposed to Stidham ascending ahead of him. The Auburn product proved to be accurate – but not efficient – on Thursday night, completing five of his seven passes but totaling just 27 yards.
Turnover troubles have turned into timid play as well. After throwing three interceptions in his first 16 passes this season, he’s clean in his last 21. However, he’s holding the ball longer (Stidham took two sacks against the Rams) and now throwing the ball as aggressively down the field.
With the season winding down and their playoff chances hanging by a thread, the Patriots are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Newton hasn’t shown he can win games consistently, while Stidham hasn’t done enough to clearly take the job away from him. Complicating all of this is Newton’s rib injury, which he downplayed after the game, classifying the impact on his performance as “none.”
The irony of all of this is while Patriots fans want to debate Newton vs. Stidham, in reality neither one is probably the ‘next’ guy. At least, neither has shown that they can seriously be put in that conversation. While Newton has been everything you want from a quarterback off the field and in the locker room, in between the lines he’s been inconsistent and indecisive. For a team that values ball security above just about all else, his turnover tendencies are likely unsustainable.
Despite all that, Stidham has apparently yet to prove to the coaches he can be any better as he wraps up his second year in the system. With neither guy able to build any momentum, who ends up taking snaps for the final three games of 2020 may end up being inconsequential in the grand scheme of the post-Brady era. The ‘Newton vs. Stidham’ debate (if you want to call it that) should be over by mid-March.
Why is Belichick defiantly sticking with Newton after a season-worst performance? Who knows? Does Stidham deserve a chance to start, just to change things up? “That’s not really the point.” The one thing that is becoming clear about the Patriots quarterback situation though, is that they have it far from figured out.
UPDATE: Belichick was asked Friday morning to clarify his “that’s not really the point” comment. Here’s his answer, in full:
“Sometimes there’s situations in a game where you can put somebody in, but we’re trying to win the game. So, that’s what we’re here for is to win the game. So, it was the obvious situation last week with the Chargers, but the point is to try to win. I mean, that’s what’s important to us.
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Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com