If there’s one Patriots player who might have an idea of what to expect from quarterback Cam Newton, it’s wide receiver Damiere Byrd.
After all, as a member of the Panthers in 2017, Byrd scored his first NFL touchdown on a 9-yard throw from Newton. In fact, two of the three touchdowns Byrd has scored in his five-year NFL career have come on passes from Newton.
Even though Byrd was far from Newton’s top target in Carolina, their connection started before they both arrived in New England as free agent acquisitions this offseason. So, Byrd might have a sense of how Newton will respond after a clunker against the Broncos last week.
“One thing I do know about Cam is that he is a competitor,” Byrd said Wednesday. “Flat-out, he’s a competitor. He’s going to throw himself into the game plan and try to do whatever he can to help our team win.”
With the Patriots at 2-3, Newton hasn’t sugarcoated his performance. Against the Broncos, returning to the field for the first time following his positive coronavirus test, Newton turned in his worst quarterback rating of the season.
“I just haven’t been good,” he said this past week. "I haven’t matched enough good plays together for my liking. That’s what it comes down to. When I mean ‘good plays,’ I mean right reads, I mean ball positioning, I mean making guys miss — the whole gamut of how I play.
“I know what I’m capable of. My standard is extremely high and I haven’t been meeting it, my personal standard. That’s how I feel.”
Perhaps Byrd could be part of the solution. His two seasons on Carolina’s 53-man roster were thwarted by injury — he broke his arm both years — but his familiarity with Newton may still benefit him.
Through five games this season, Byrd leads all Patriots receivers in snaps. He’s been on the field for at least 96 percent of the team’s offensive plays in the last three games. Only two offensive linemen — Joe Thuney and Isaiah Wynn — have been on the field more than Byrd.
“Damiere’s a smart kid that has good route-running ability and has done a good job picking up our offense,” coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday. “He’s been productive.”
In five games, Byrd has caught 17 passes for 217 yards. In just the four games with Newton, he’s logged 12 receptions on 16 targets for 137 yards.
Those numbers set him on pace to notch career highs in receptions and receiving yardage. Given his playing time, however, they could and should be higher.
How can Byrd continue to build chemistry with Newton?
“Some of it is timing, some of it is just giving him the confidence knowing that we’re going to be where he needs us to be,” Byrd said. “That’s continued reps, showing him that we can do it, and just trusting each other and getting it done.”
Asked about whether he’s been getting open but isn’t receiving the ball, Byrd chalked up that possibility to “just football.”
“Some plays are there and they just don’t work out,” he said. “That just goes back to as a team everybody playing their assignment and getting the job done. I can run a great route, but if something else goes wrong, that doesn’t matter. Other players can make great plays, if I don’t do the right thing, then the play might not work out.”
Asked about the same thing, Belichick didn’t have much to add.
“I mean, I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, I’m not going to try to create something that’s not there. So, whatever it is, it is.”
With veteran Julian Edelman experiencing some load management, there will likely continue to be more opportunities for Byrd to contribute. And if the loss to the Broncos is any indication, the Patriots could certainly use more production from their receivers.
Byrd still will have to earn his chances, though. Newton indicated he’s not interested in getting receivers involved for the sake of being involved. The focus is winning.
“It’s up to me to get the ball in the right guy’s hands and not necessarily play favorites,” Newton said. "More so, go where the defense is telling you to go with the football. That’s what it comes down to.
“I’m in this position to win football games. The last couple games, that hasn’t been the case. So, before I sit up here and try to get people involved, I would love that more than anything, but more importantly than that, we’ve got to win.”
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.