Cam Newton said being sidelined with COVID-19 early in the 2020 campaign was a disruption to his preparation that left him racing to catch up all season long.
Speaking on Brandon Marshall’s “I Am Athlete” podcast, Newton said that when he returned, he was “thinking too much,” and it impacted his work under center — especially given the fact that he was trying to pick up a new offense after a shortened offseason.
“I was one of the first football players to catch it, and it happened so fast,” said Newton of COVID-19. “When I came back, that’s where the lack of an offseason and the lack of time in the system really showed itself. I was behind and I was thinking too much.
“The offense kept going and I was stagnant for two weeks. It was all new terminology. I wasn’t just trying to learn a system for what it was, I was learning a 20-year system in two months.”
While the numbers should be contextualized — the Patriots were without Julian Edelman after Week 7 for the rest of the season, for example — it’s hard not to notice that Newton’s passing numbers were much better pre-COVID than after.
Prior to him being quarantined following a Week 3 game against Las Vegas, Newton’s completion percentage was 68 percent, and included his best game of the season: a 30-for-44 performance against the Seahawks where he threw for a season-high 397 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
After his return, he had five games where he completed better than 65 percent of his throws, and had just four games where he topped 200 yards passing — the same total of games where he failed to reach 100 yards passing in that same stretch.
He did break the Patriots’ franchise record for most rushing yards in a season by a quarterback (he finished with 592, breaking Steve Grogan’s old mark of 539 rushing yards). But from a passing perspective, it was a slog. When stacked against other seasons where he played 14 games or more, he had career lows in passing yards and touchdown passes.
As a team, the Patriots finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
“They threw everything at me, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” Newton said. “At the end of the day, you have to go through things in that type of manner, to show yourself that you can’t skip processes. I’d be the first person to tell you that I needed time.”
Regardless of what happens, moving forward, Newton said he has nothing but respect for Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who he calls “the most misunderstood person in sports.” And despite his 2020 struggles, Newton — who is an unrestricted free agent — says he has no plans to retire.
“I can’t go out like that. I hear all of that talk. My pride won’t allow me to do it. There aren’t 32 guys better than me,” he said.
Christopher Price can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.