Cam Newton’s last-minute fumble against the Buffalo Bills in Week 8 changed the complexion of the AFC East playoff race.
It also continued a troubling trend for the New England Patriots quarterback, who’d been a turnover machine up to that point.
Four weeks later, the Patriots are even further from a postseason berth. But their ball-security woes have evaporated.
New England’s Newton-led offense now has gone three consecutive games without committing a turnover. The Green Bay Packers (in Weeks 1 through 4) are the only other team to accomplish that feat this season.
“Cam has taken a lot of personal responsibility and pride in the ball security over the last month of the season,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Friday in a video conference. “Not that he didn’t earlier, but just taking it to a higher level. He’s done a great job protecting the ball.”
Newton has completed 71.7 percent of his passes over the Patriots’ last three games. His 365 passing yards in last Sunday’s loss to the Houston Texans were the second-most he’s recorded in a game this season, as were his 40 pass attempts.
“Last week,” Belichick said, “to have the yardage throwing that he had and really not have dangerous throws or contested throws is a real testament to his ability to read the defense and get the ball to the receivers that are open, not only to protect the ball but also to have a lot of production in the passing game.
“He really does a good job of seeing the receivers and seeing the field down, keeping his eyes downfield and being able to hit those guys.”
From Week 4 to Week 7, the Patriots committed 11 turnovers, leading the NFL in that category despite playing fewer games (three) than 18 teams. Nine of those were interceptions: five by Newton, three by Jarrett Stidham and one by Brian Hoyer.
Since Week 8, they’ve turned the ball over just once (Newton’s Buffalo fumble), tied with Houston for the fewest in the league. And the Texans have played one fewer game.
“(Newton has) done an excellent job of that, as has our entire offense,” Belichick said. “Really, the backs have done an excellent job and the linemen have protected in a way that there aren’t a lot of free runners on the quarterback. Our blitz pickup’s been pretty good, and the quarterback’s had a chance to, for the most part, step up and have a clean opportunity to deliver the ball.”