Cam Newton’s comeback-killing fumble won’t cost him his starting job.
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after his team’s 24-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday that he is not considering a quarterback change.
“Cam’s our quarterback,” the Patriots coach said. “That’s the way it’s been all year.”
The Patriots have lost three consecutive games since Newton returned from the reserve/COVID-19 list and four straight overall. The former NFL MVP drove the team into field-goal range in the final minute Sunday but had the ball punched out of his hand by Bills defensive tackle Justin Zimmer with 31 seconds remaining.
Buffalo recovered and ran out the clock with three kneeldowns.
Newton, who has acknowledged his own struggles throughout New England’s longest losing streak since 2002, used the word “unacceptable” several times when discussing Sunday’s game-sealing error.
“It’s unacceptable,” Newton said in his postgame news conference. “I’ve got to protect the ball better. … I still am jeopardizing this team’s success because of my lackluster performance protecting the football. Coach trusts me with the ball in my hands, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’ve just got to do a better job of protecting it.”
As Newton ran toward the left sideline and cut upfield in search of additional yardage, he kept the ball in his right hand, creating an easier target for Zimmer to attack. Players are taught to carry the ball in their outside arm to protect it from defenders, but Newton said he felt more comfortable with it in his dominant hand.
“In that situation, with the game on the line, I’m dominantly right-handed,” Newton explained. “So prior to me putting the ball in my left hand, which is my weakest arm, I just felt more comfortable with the ball in my right hand. I usually always tend to run with my right hand just for comfort. But…”
He tailed off.
Newton entered Sunday with zero touchdown passes and five interceptions over his previous two games, plus a fumble New England was able to recover. He was turnover-free for 59 minutes against Buffalo, shaking off a forgettable first half to lead three strong second-half drives, two of which resulted in touchdowns.
Over their final three possessions, the Patriots averaged 7.6 yards per play and 7.9 yards per rush, and Newton was efficient with his passing, going 7-for-9 for 73 yards. Those completions included back-to-back connections with Damiere Byrd that went for 22 and nine yards and a gotta-have-it eight-yard dart to Jakobi Meyers on third-and-4.
New England began its final drive on its own 21-yard line and drove to Buffalo’s 19 before Newton’s fumble.
“In that situation, everything was rolling as we would have expected it to,” Newton said. “Wasting the time, still staying efficient, moving the ball forward. But once again, I’ve just got to do a better job of protecting the football.”
Newton finished 15-for-25 for 174 yards. He went without a touchdown pass for the third consecutive game — he has just two on the season — but did score his sixth rushing touchdown of the year to go along with 54 yards on nine carries.
He called the loss, which dropped New England to 2-5 on the season and might have extinguished their playoff hopes, “extremely frustrating.” The Patriots have not missed the postseason since 2008 and have won each of the last 11 AFC East titles. Buffalo now has a clear advantage in the division at 6-2, with the Miami Dolphins sitting in second at 4-3.
ESPN’s Football Power Index sets the Patriots’ odds to win the AFC East at 3 percent. They currently sit in 13th place in the AFC, one spot behind the Cincinnati Bengals.
“At the end of the day, you’re just measured by wins and losses,” Newton said. “I didn’t get the job done today. Back to the drawing board.”