It’s obvious that Patriots quarterback Cam Newton’s play has slipped since he returned to action after testing positive for COVID-19.
In New England’s last two games, Newton has thrown five interceptions and no touchdown passes, and been sacked five times. His passer rating is a dreadful 43.2 over that span. Not only do the statistics show his performance has been substandard, but the eye test offers similar conclusions. Newton has misfired on a number of passes, skipped over open receivers, and appeared hesitant with his decision-making.
Perhaps the explanation has to do with lack of practice, because the Patriots were forced to pause in-person sessions as a result of multiple positive coronavirus tests. Perhaps it has to do with Newton’s protection, because the offensive line recently experienced some shuffling of assignments. Or maybe the performance truly is, to use Newton’s word, a funk.
But it’s also possible that Newton is experiencing “brain fog,” a term used to describe when one’s cognitive functioning is not as sharp as usual. There are several causes of brain fog, from lack of sleep to stress.
While COVID-19 has not yet been proven as a cause for brain fog, researchers have found there is a correlation between the two.
“There’s certainly a higher report of brain fog among individuals who have COVID-19 to folks who have not been affected by it,” said Dr. Andrew Levine, a neuropsychologist at UCLA.
A study conducted by neurologists at Columbia University found that lingering neurological issues can affect all patients that have tested positive for the coronavirus, even those who never required medical attention. That group would include Newton, who was asymptomatic.
“Over the past two months in New York City we’ve seen a trickle of patients who have symptoms that are more serious and persistent compared to, say, the typical brain fog after a sleepless night,” said Anna Nordvig, one of the Columbia neurologists who conducted the study. “Some of these patients are quite young, in their 30s.”
Both Newton and coach Bill Belichick have said Newton is not affected by brain fog. Belichick added that the team would disclose such a condition on the injury report.
“I don’t think that there’s any — I mean, we would have listed it on the injury report if there was — but I don’t think he’s had any symptoms the whole way,” Belichick said Tuesday.
Brain fog is a subjective feeling, so only Newton would know if he’s experiencing relevant symptoms. Among those other patients have reported include fatigue, inattention, poor concentration, and difficulty working long hours.
“These are young and middle-aged people who were previously thriving,” Nordvig said. “Now they are having profound changes in the way they think and feel.”
‘“I don’t think that there’s any — I mean, we would have listed it on the injury report if there was — but I don’t think he’s had any symptoms the whole way."’
Bill Belichick on Cam Newton
Another study, conducted by Levine and neuropsychologists at UCLA, aimed to determine why there is a link between COVID-19 and cognitive complaints, finding that post-traumatic stress disorder could be another explanation.
“Based on what we know about PTSD and cognitive functioning, it’s another factor to consider in this report of brain fog among patients who have tested positive for COVID-19,” Levine said.
Levine stressed it’s too early to draw conclusions regarding the cognitive outcomes as a result of the coronavirus. Should a patient be experiencing brain fog, he recommends reducing stress, sleeping well, and attempting to return to normalcy.
“In order to understand the causes of brain fog and more objective cognitive deficits in people who survive COVID-19 or even just get infected by SARS-CoV-2, we’re going to require large cohort studies, where we can follow the same individuals over time,” Levine said.
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.