By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Bill Belichick has stuck with Cam Newton as his starting quarterback throughout the 2020 season, when he’s been available. The Patriots head coach ostensibly didn’t want to send the wrong kind of message by unseating Newton as the starter, despite the quarterback’s immense struggles throwing the football. Even if Jarrett Stidham could easily produce better than a 53.3 passer rating, which Newton has logged over the last three games, perhaps Belichick thought the move would drag the rest of the Patriots locker room down, screaming “We’re no longer trying to make the playoffs.”
That no longer applies. The Pats will not be part of the AFC playoff mix for the first time since 2008, and only the third time since 2001, after losing 22-12 to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. And even though Belichick has said he’s answered the question for the last time, it’s actually worth asking now more than ever.
Is it for the best that the Patriots finally, mercifully, turn to Stidham?
Despite the ups (a 38-yard touchdown pass to Gunner Olszewski in Houston, a nifty TD toss to N’Keal Harry in Kansas City) and downs (three interceptions in 33 pass attempts) of Stidham’s time in relief of Newton this season, he still has yet to start a game in the NFL. The Patriots have nothing to play for in Weeks 16-17 in terms of their own destiny, and at best they can put a dent in the Bills’ chances of getting the No. 2 seed in the AFC (Buffalo already needs the Chiefs to lose out just to have a chance at the bye).
So why not give more playing time to your younger, developing players and get them some experience? And against a good opponent, in Week 16 anyway?
When asked if the Patriots’ elimination from playoff contention changed his message to the team for the final two games, Belichick said, “No, not too much.” That typically cryptic response does nothing to tip his hand as far as what direction he’ll take at quarterback.
But now, the situation is different. Untul Sunday in Miami, Belichick could still sell the team on their ability to sneak into the playoffs as long as they took care of their own business in the win-loss column. The outcomes don’t matter for them anymore. In fact, it would be hilarious to throw one against the Jets in Week 17. Might as well hurt their chances for the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft even more than they already did to themselves by daring to win a game.
Even so, the Patriots now have their own draft slot to think about. And Belichick isn’t going to tank, anyway. Yes, that was a joke. But with the playoffs no longer a thing this year in Foxboro, Belichick could find a way to pivot to Stidham and sell him as the team’s best chance to win the last two games.
We are talking about an offense that has now gone two straight games without a touchdown. Maybe now it’s time for Belichick to point out that Newton has thrown one touchdown pass in the last three games, and just five all season.
There’s nothing left to lose. Except Stidham’s confidence, you may counter? Well, there’s no other way to learn whether Stidham is cut out for starting-caliber football at his position, at this level. If he crumbles after one start in a meaningless December game, then Belichick would know enough about the sophomore out of Auburn at that point anyway.
So yes, it’s time to see what Stidham can do. We’ve seen enough of Newton. He never put it all together, he never improved over the course of the season like so many Patriots have done. He went backwards.
And in the Patriots’ most trying season in decades, putting Stidham in is the best way for a team stuck in reverse to move forward.
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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at firstname.lastname@example.org.