Cam Newton has twice as many wins (2) as the Patriots starting quarterback as Tommy Hodson had (1) in a dozen starts during his three seasons (1990-92) in Foxborough.
I’m not sure why I’m pointing this out now, other than as a hopefully unnecessary reminder that things can always be worse.
Of course, by non-Rod Rust/Dick McPherson Era standards, these are bleak times for the Patriots, at least in the fading light of their unprecedented and never-to-be-matched run of excellence over the last 20 years.
They’ve lost four straight games for the first time since 2002, they’re 2-5 overall, and Sunday’s loss to the Bills, clinched when Newton fumbled while attempting to lead a winning scoring drive, was the third time a potential comeback has slipped from their grasp in the final moments.
The run of 11 straight AFC East titles is almost certainly over. The run of 11 straight playoff berths is only slightly less endangered, with the expansion to seven playoff teams in each conference this year giving them a small fraction of a chance, assuming they go on a hot streak that their depth chart and schedule suggest is highly unlikely.
Halfway through the season, the Patriots have been relegated to also-ran status. It takes some getting used to — not that it is something the Patriots or their fans plan on getting used to beyond this season — and figuring out how to navigate this unfamiliar status can be tricky.
Do you tank? No, the Jets still exist.
Do you play the kids? Bill Belichick, partly out of attrition, already has, with Jakobi Meyers and Damien Harris being the two beacons of hope that shined Sunday.
Do you change the quarterback? Well, if there’s a manual for how a franchise should handle a season of non-contention, I imagine somewhere on the first few pages it would say, “Heck with it, give any young quarterback on your roster a chance, because you never know.”
This is what happened when little-known Tony Romo took over for Drew Bledsoe with the 2006 Cowboys, and it’s what very well might have happened with Tom Brady, Bledsoe, and the sluggish 2001 Patriots had Mo Lewis not expedited matters in Week 2.
(To be fair to Bledsoe — whom, frankly, Newton has reminded us of in the bad kind of ways lately — the Bills did make somewhat of a mistake in turning away from him and toward J.P. Losman after the 2004 season.)
But this is where I have to deviate from the theoretical manual, which I presume is in the permanent possession of the Washington Football Team anyway.
I want Cam Newton to remain the starting quarterback of this football team. It’s not just that for better or worse he’s the most interesting thing about them right now. It’s that in his short time here (six starts), he quickly has become someone whose redemption is worth rooting for.
Newton, the NFL Rookie of the Year in 2011, the MVP in ’15, and at age 31 already the league’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (64; Steve Young is second with 43), was the second-most famous quarterback to change teams last offseason, after that certain tall, crabgrass-subsisting fella that went to Tampa.
But he wasn’t known, at least to those of us myopically attuned to the Patriots, if you know what I mean.
Even as the Patriots have struggled in so many unfamiliar ways, and the dynasty finally has an endpoint, it has been fun to get to know Newton from the perspective you get only when a player is on the primary team you follow (or cover).
He’s charismatic and compelling, electrifying (at least in the first two weeks) and erratic (he has eight turnovers in three games since returning from his one-game absence after his COVID-19 diagnosis).
Not all of this is surprising; some of it was known. The revelations have come in discovering how much he cares about winning — he looked like he’d just thrown a goal line interception to blow the Super Bowl after his fumble Sunday — and how gracefully he handles all of the ancillary noise, including Jeff Garcia’s pea-brained comments about his wardrobe.
(In the video I saw of Garcia riffing moronically on Newton’s sartorial choices, the ex-Niners QB was dressed only slightly better than a sportswriter.)
Newton’s passing numbers are, at best, mediocre. He’s 103 for 156 for 1,143 yards, with just two touchdowns against seven interceptions. His mechanics too often go on the fritz, and when that happens, he throws more bounce passes than Bob Cousy in his prime.
Yes, the cast of skill players is much closer to Michael Timpson/Ray Crittenden/Greg McMurtry than Randy Moss/Wes Welker/Donte’ Stallworth, but a player of his stature is used to elevating the talent around him. He’s not doing that.
But he might. He might. After a sluggish start, he played better in the second half Sunday, appearing to say, “All right, enough of this,” and willing himself to get his act together and play with confidence and creativity.
After halftime, he was 8 of 11 for 81 yards — not spectacular, but efficient — while running four times for 29 yards and a touchdown. We saw hints of the Weeks 1 and 2 version of Newton. The fumble killed the good vibes, but they were there, fleetingly.
There are clues that Newton could be headed for an upturn. The possibility of that, even it if might be considered slim by some, beats the alternative. There’s plenty of regrettable evidence out there of me believing that the Patriots believed in Jarrett Stidham. Well, I’ve stopped believing.
Stidham has thrown four picks in 27 career passes, a 14.8 interception rate. The pro football record for interceptions in a season was set by George Blanda of the 1962 Houston Oilers of the American Football League. He threw 42 picks in 418 passes, a 10.0 interception rate.
Unless you like watching opposing defensive backs running in the opposite direction with the football, Stidham can’t be your guy.
The Patriots should stick with Cam Newton at quarterback. Who knows? Maybe he’ll end up being their best option for next year. If he’s good, at the very least they’ll be interesting to watch. And if he’s bad? There’s nothing of significance left to lose anyway.