I’ve never made it a secret that I don’t think Cam Newton is as good of a quarterback as most others do. This is not to say that Newton wasn’t a valuable weapon for the Carolina Panthers, or that he wasn’t often the best offensive player on that team (saving some respect for Luke Kuechly), but as a quarterback I believe that you have to be able to throw the ball exceptionally well and incredibly accurately.
That is not a skill that Newton regularly put on display at Florida, Auburn, or Carolina, and so even when he won the MVP award in 2015, I did not buy that he was going to have a long and successful career following the Panthers loss in the Super Bowl that year.
I was alone on the island then, and even after the last five seasons (62 games, 60.8% completions, 73 touchdowns, 54 interceptions, 7 Y/A, 82.7 passer rating, 27 rushing touchdowns, 26 fumbles), it’s still a pretty solitary feeling to say that this outcome was always predictable with Newton.
And going into the 2020 season, when I said that Newton wouldn’t last through the whole year without getting benched, few others agreed with me. Some said the signing was a steal that made New England a Super Bowl contender, same as if it were Tom Brady.
But the only reason that Newton was the Patriots starter on Thursday night in Week 14 when they were facing the Rams was the simple fact that Bill Belichick had nowhere else to turn. New England opted the same route that a few other teams have taken in 2021 — Washington with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Denver with Teddy Bridgewater, and even Detroit with Jared Goff — which is to say that they’ll take a veteran who didn’t last on another team on an interim basis, until the franchise either drafts one or gets lucky.
Had the Patriots drafted somebody like Mac Jones in 2020, then surely he would have taken over for Newton at some point in the first half of the season.
Through his first seven games, Newton had thrown two touchdowns and seven interceptions on 191 pass attempts. He averaged under 6.00 adjusted Y/A, though he did also gain 314 yards on the ground with eight rushing touchdowns. But I can’t imagine there being an NFL team today that actually believes it will be successful by averaging one passing touchdown every three weeks.
Over Newton’s next seven game stretch, he threw three touchdowns and three interceptions, completed 62% of his 147 attempts, averaged 6.3 AY/A, and ran for 199 yards and four touchdowns.
That is five passing touchdowns in 14 starts. Did you even think something like that could be possible in 2020?
But heading into Week 14 at SoFi Stadium, Newton was riding as high in a Patriots uniform as he had been all year long: New England had won four of five games and was coming off of a 45-0 destruction of the Los Angeles Chargers. In that game, Newton scored three touchdowns — one through the air, two on the ground — but had only gained 69 yards on 19 passing attempts.
I would have a hard time believing that such passing stats would be possible today, usually a quarterback like that would have been benched by then, but the perfect storm that is Cam Newton’s career and an unwavering belief in him is what allowed for it to come to fruition.
The Rams would be the next team to face Newton following that 45-0 victory, and they would also have the defense that finally sent him to the bench. But not for good.
Week 1 - Win over the Cowboys
Week 2 - Win over the Eagles
Week 3 - Loss to the Bills
Week 4 - Win over the Giants
Week 5 - Win over a Football Team
Week 6 - Loss to the 49ers
Week 7 - Win over the Bears
Week 8 - Loss to the Dolphins
Week 9 - BYE
Week 10 - Win over the Seahawks
Week 11 - Win over the Bucs
Week 12 - Loss to the 49ers
Week 13 - Win over the Cardinals
Week 14 - (8-4) Los Angeles Rams vs (6-6) New England Patriots (TNF)
Important Personnel Notes:
- Cooper Kupp played in only 62% of the snaps, the second-lowest percentage of the season
- Gerald Everett played in a season-high 84% of the snaps, more than any other skill player on the team except for Tyler Higbee (87%)
- Cam Akers gets 50 snaps, compared to 13 for Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown combined
- When Micah Kiser went on IR in the second half of the year, Troy Reeder regularly got over 90% of the defensive snaps, including in the playoffs, a fact that I did not recall until this series
- The 41 snaps for Kenny Young was his highest total since Week 2
- Morgan Fox played in 49% of the snaps, a season-high at that point, but he would soon hit 54%, then 60%, and in the playoffs was over 55%.
- Terrell Lewis was inactive
- The Patriots played backup QB Jarrett Stidham for 14 snaps in place of Cam Newton
I don’t want to say much about the game and there isn’t much to say about the game. What I think is important is just how thoroughly dominated the Patriots were by LA’s number one-ranked defense. Here is a rundown of the Patriots drives in Week 14:
- Seven of New England’s 12 drives went for three plays or less
- Three of their 12 drives ended in a turnover on downs
- 0 of 12 drives went longer than 60 yards
- Seven of 12 drives failed to gain 10 yards
- The Rams held the Patriots to only 10 first downs; the only other teams that were that incompetent against LA last season were the Football Team (Alex Smith playing football for the first time in two years) and the Dolphins (Tua Tagovailoa’s first career start)
- The Rams only gained 132 net passing yards — a season-low — but won the game by three touchdowns
In the fourth quarter, down 24-3, the Patriots finally inserted backup Jarrett Stidham into the game. He went 4-of-5 on his first drive, but only gained 21 yards, and he lost six yards on a sack by Leonard Floyd/Aaron Donald, for a total of 15 net yards on five attempts. On Stidham’s next drive, he went 1-of-2 for 6 yards, but lost 6 on a sack by Morgan Fox.
The Patriots were in such bad shape by the end that Bill Belichick opted to run the clock out with Sony Michel.
Kenny Young did this:
¡Pick six de Kenny Young! #Patriots 0 - #Rams 17pic.twitter.com/tjWLjufX3x— Cuarta y Gol (@cuartaygol) December 11, 2020