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Loss to Rams shows Bill Belichick has only one move left for struggling Patriots: Start Jarrett Stidham

The Patriots' offense was stuck in neutral behind Cam Newton in Thursday's loss as the veteran quarterback was sacked four times.
The Patriots' offense was stuck in neutral behind Cam Newton in Thursday's loss as the veteran quarterback was sacked four times.Sean M. Haffey/Getty

Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 24-3 loss to the Rams:

▪ The Patriots can pretty much forget about the playoffs after dropping to 6-7. And Cam Newton, who had another terrible game with 119 yards, a pick-six, and four sacks, is clearly not the answer.

Yet Bill Belichick refuses to admit what Terry Bradshaw, Scott Zolak, and anyone who watched Thursday’s game sees is obvious — it’s time to bench Newton for Jarrett Stidham.

Belichick, who has steadfastly stood by Newton as his quarterback all season, was adamant after the game that Newton will not be benched.

“I’m really glad you asked that,” he replied sarcastically to the question. “Cam’s our quarterback.”

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Why? What has he done to earn your support?

“He is our quarterback,” Belichick scowled. “I think I just answered that one.”

But Belichick has 10 days to change his mind, and he should, in the best interest of the franchise.

Newton’s 119 passing yards were actually the most in his last three games. Belichick mercifully made the switch to Stidham with 10:12 left in the fourth quarter on Thursday and the Patriots trailing, 24-3. Stidham didn’t do much, finishing 5-of-7 passing for 27 yards and two sacks. But Newton clearly isn’t the answer, and the Patriots may as well give Stidham three weeks to showcase himself for next year.

Stidham has never gotten a full week as a starter in practice and a game plan tailored for him.

The Patriots are going nowhere with Newton. Let’s see what Stid the Kid can do over the last three games.

Does Jarrett Stidham deserve a chance to start?
Does Jarrett Stidham deserve a chance to start?Sean M. Haffey/Getty

▪ The Patriots got away with not having a passing attack in wins over the Cardinals and Chargers, but Thursday’s beatdown by the Rams is what happens when Newton faces an elite defense.

Newton is single-handedly holding the offense back. The Patriots have a decent offensive line, a solid stable of running backs, and receivers who can at least be functional. But Newton has shaky arm strength, poor feel for the pocket, and scattershot accuracy, and it holds the Patriots’ offense back.

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“We just got to be better, and it starts with me personally,” Newton said.

The Fox crew was crushing Newton at halftime.

“If you can’t throw the football, I don’t care how much you can run with your legs, you’re just not going to make plays,” Tony Gonzalez said.

Newton was worth a chance this year, and he has done a good enough job given the circumstances. But it’s clear the Patriots need to upgrade at QB this offseason. They can’t go another year with the 30th-ranked pass offense.

▪ By falling to 6-7, the Patriots dropped 2½ games behind the final playoff teams. But this year’s Patriots don’t deserve to make the playoffs. They have a non-functional passing game and a no-name group of receivers. They have a young defense that had to replace five starters. And they haven’t executed in the fourth quarter in several games.

Bill Parcells always said, “You are what your record says you are,” and 6-7 feels appropriate for this Patriots team.

▪ Newton’s inability to pass — or Josh McDaniels’s lack of confidence in Newton’s passing — was especially harmful in the red zone. The Patriots got inside the 20 three times in the first half, yet came away with just 3 points. The Rams and everyone in the world knew the Patriots were just going to run on the goal line, and stuffed them four straight times, including twice on Newton. Newton also threw an interception — the Patriots’ fourth red zone turnover of the year — and had to settle for a 29-yard field goal.

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The Patriots have been below average in the red zone all year, entering the game 22nd in touchdown percentage (57.5). Thursday, it was “some of the worst, boringest offense I’ve ever seen,” Fox’s Bradshaw said.

▪ The Patriots spent all of last week in practice working on fast starts, and jumped all over the Chargers in the first quarter, but it didn’t carry over to Thursday’s game. The Rams ripped off 10 points before the Patriots could blink, and the Patriots just didn’t have enough offense (read: at quarterback) to play from behind against a top-five Rams defense. The Newton pick-six then sealed any chance of the Patriots coming back.

The Patriots do have four wins this year after their opponent scores first. But they just don’t have enough offensive firepower to consistently play from behind. They are now 30th in the NFL with a minus-38 point differential in the first quarter.

▪ The Patriots’ defense settled in nicely after a slow start, finishing the first half with an interception and two punts. But the Rams crushed New England’s will in the third quarter, putting the game away with a 16-play, 88-yard touchdown drive that took 9:42 off the clock. The Rams pounded the ball right at the Patriots all game long, finishing with 187 rushing yards and a 5.3 average.

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Cam Akers rushed for 171 yards, the most allowed by the Patriots to a single player all year and just the third running back to crack 100 yards. The Patriots were terrible on the edge of the defense all night, with John Simon seeming to have an especially difficult time. The Patriots did well in recent weeks against teams with mobile quarterbacks, but got gashed by two teams that don’t run much with the QB, the 49ers and Rams.

▪ Bill Belichick got the better of Sean McVay in Super Bowl 53, but the kid took down the legend in this rematch. On the Rams’ opening touchdown, a 1-yard dive by Jared Goff, the Patriots were caught with their third-down “dime” defense on the field, and didn’t have enough muscle on the defensive line to stop the sneak. And the Patriots gave the Rams free points when they jumped offsides on fourth-and-short in the third quarter.

“We were out coached, out-played, out-everything, really,” Belichick said.

McVay improved to an incredible 34-0 when leading at halftime. And he earned a feather-in-the-cap type of win Thursday night over Belichick.

▪ N’Keal Harry showed up for the first time this season. He finished with just three catches for 49 yards, but he twice showed the physicality and ball skills we have been waiting to see since the Patriots took him in the first round last year. Harry held on for an impressive catch over the middle while taking a big shot, and caught a 30-yard jump ball over a cornerback in the third quarter. Hopefully this game provides him some confidence.

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▪ Another big night for the Patriots’ punting operation. Gunner Olszewski has caught fire in recent weeks and had another nice punt return, this one going for 21 yards. And punter Jake Bailey continued his incredible season, punting six times for a 51.7-yard average with a long of 71. Of his six punts, the Rams returned just one for 8 yards.

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Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.