Poor quarterback play and losing games. Two foreign concepts that have defined the last month of New England Patriots football.
No one player or coach bears sole responsibility for New England’s recent struggles, but a large share of the blame can be placed on the shoulders of quarterback Cam Newton.
Newton knows this. And he knows this trend cannot continue.
Speaking with reporters over video conference four days after he was benched in a blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the veteran QB was asked what he’s learned over these past few weeks — weeks that included a positive COVID-19 test, five Newton interceptions and three consecutive Patriots losses.
His main takeaway? This all needs to stop, and quickly.
“Losing is not acceptable in this locker room, in this county, in this state, in this area, in this region,” Newton said. “So, Cameron Newton, you need to pick your expletive up. That’s what I’ve learned.”
Newton has started five games for the Patriots — he missed one while on the reserve/COVID-19 list — and surpassed 175 passing yards in just one of them. He ranks 30th in passer rating, 31st in interception rate, 29th in QBR and 23rd in Pro Football Focus’s player grades, sandwiched between Derek Carr and Mitchell Trubisky.
The issues, Newton has said, have been more mental than physical. He’s been pressing, trying too hard to make plays rather than reading the defense and reacting. Several of his seven interceptions on the season have come on off-target passes to heavily covered receivers.
“The thing for me is this offense is so advanced and so schematically driven by a specific reaction of what the defense is doing,” Newton said, “and I just have to be accessible to understanding the play-caller’s purpose and be able to execute at hand, whether we went over it or not. Josh (McDaniels) does a great job with game-planning, and these last two games, it’s been one (play) after another that I’ve been thinking more than playing or reacting — what I pride myself on doing.”
Newton, who signed with the Patriots in July, said he needs to develop a better grasp of McDaniels’ complex, read-based offense to create what he called a “smoother transition” from huddle to snap to throw.
“I kind of hit a point coming off corona where it’s just like, ‘OK, I know this,’ but in essence, I don’t know it good enough or I don’t know it the way I should know it because I’ve only seen these particular types of looks,” said Newton, who called his play of late “trash.”
“Now as defenses start scheming you up and start realizing this, that and the third, you have to be able to have answers for it. And it doesn’t matter how many reps we get in practice. It doesn’t matter how many examples Coach has to show me on film or what I see on film. You have to still be able to react and react to their schematics or what their wrinkle is each and every week.”
The Patriots sit at 2-4 following their first three-game losing streak since 2002. They trail their Week 8 opponent, the 5-2 Buffalo Bills, by 2 1/2 games in the AFC East standings. Newton called Sunday’s road game in Buffalo “a must-win” for New England.
Newton could be without two of his top three receivers for that game, as Julian Edelman is expected to miss time with a knee injury and N’Keal Harry is in concussion protocol.