FOXBOROUGH — Cam Newton will be prohibited from entering the Patriots facilities and participating in practices until Thursday because of a “misunderstanding” regarding off-site COVID-19 tests, the team announced Monday.
New England’s starting quarterback, who is coming off an impressive performance against the Eagles in last week’s exhibition win, will be away from the club for five days after he left the area for a “club-approved medical appointment,” according to a team statement.
Newton missed his first practice of camp Monday and will be absent Tuesday and Wednesday, the first of two joint practices with the Giants at Gillette Stadium.
The club’s full statement:
“On Saturday, Cam Newton traveled to a Club-approved medical appointment that required him to leave the New England area. He received daily Covid tests, which were all negative. Due to a misunderstanding about tests conducted away from NFL facilities, and as required by the NFL-NFLPA protocols, Cam will be subject to the five-day entry cadence process before returning to the facility. Cam will continue participating virtually in team activities and return to the club facility on Thursday, August 26.”
According to joint protocols established by the NFL and the Players’ Association, Tier 1 and Tier 2 designees — including all players — are exempt from daily testing and allowed to travel if they have been vaccinated.
Newton tested positive for COVID last October and missed the Week 4 loss in Kansas City as a result. He returned the next week but later acknowledged he felt lingering effects from the virus.
“By the time I came back, I didn’t feel comfortable physically, skillfully,” he said on the “I Am Athlete” podcast in February. “A lot of that discomfort came presnap. I’m lost. I’m thinking too much.”
Without Newton, it was pretty much business as usual for the Patriots at practice Monday.
“It’s football,” said Devin McCourty. “We’re used to guys being in and out with injuries and different things like that. So, I know it’s cliché, and we’ve said it around here for years, but it’s next man up. It’s everybody doing what they’ve got to do, handling what they have control over, and just going about it that way.”
That next man up is Mac Jones, who has been battling Newton neck-and-neck throughout the summer. On Monday, the rookie first-round draft pick began a stretch of three straight days in which he will sit atop the depth chart after being behind Newton in the reps rotation all summer.
Though it’s unlikely that three days away would bump Newton, an 11-year veteran, out of the top spot, this is an opportunity for Jones, who led Alabama to the national championship last season and is coming off excellent performances in exhibition wins over Washington and Philadelphia.
Prior to practice and the Newton announcement, coach Bill Belichick reiterated his position that Newton is the starter but that everyone is accountable.
“We all have to reestablish every year, our level of performance and our competency, and the guys who have been there, somebody has to show that they’re better than them or that player has to be unavailable,” the coach said. “That’s the way it is at every position. It’s not unique to any position. That’s the way it is across the board.”
Taking all the first-team snaps, Jones had an up-and-down Monday, hitting on 18 of 31 passes during team drills, including a 12-for-24 performance in the competitive sessions.
His day started with a 5-of-6 showing during a seven-on-seven series that was done at half-speed, with his one incompletion coming courtesy of a Dont’a Hightower breakup.
In his first series of full-team drills, he went just 4 for 10 against the projected defensive starters.
Jones, who has shown the ability to bounce back from bad practices and bad series all camp, did so again during an ensuing two-minute drill, completing his first four passes and going 4 for 6 on a drive that resulted in a Nick Folk field goal.
In his final work, Jones led a spirited two-minute drive that ended with a touchdown on perhaps his best throw of the day. He hit on 4 of 7 passes, though two of the incompletions were hardly his fault. On the first, Nelson Agholor had the ball knocked out of his hands by Joejuan Williams and on another, Williams was guilty of pass interference on Agholor.
Jones hit Kendrick Bourne, who made a nice diving catch on a crossing route, and culminated the practice by firing a bullet into a tight window in the back of the end zone that Gunner Olszewski snagged with J.C. Jackson on his hip.
The play drew a big reaction from the sideline, and Jones and Olszewski did a jump celebration before the other receivers joined in.
Jones then huddled with Belichick, Josh McDaniels, and Brian Hoyer for a teaching chat as Folk practiced field goals.