New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick stayed committed to Cam Newton as his starting quarterback immediately following his team’s demoralizing 24-3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night.
Belichick stuck by his decision Friday morning and declared that he will not be addressing the topic again. The Patriots still are technically in the playoff hunt, and Belichick clearly believes Newton is New England’s best choice at the position. So, his decision to stick with Newton is an understandable one for now.
It’s reasonable to wonder if Belichick’s tune should change when and if the Patriots are eliminated from the postseason, however. Newton and third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer are not signed for next season. Only backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who completed 5-of-7 passes for 27 yards Thursday night in mop-up duty, is signed for the 2021 season.
Stidham showed potential for the Patriots last preseason to the point where, until Newton signed in July, New England seemed willing to move forward with the second-year pro, or Hoyer, as their starter. With no preseason games this summer, the Patriots only have been able to evaluate Stidham in practice and mop-up duty. Stidham has appeared in four games this season and has completed 54.5 percent of his passes for 212 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions (one of which came on a drop by wide receiver Julian Edelman).
So, do the Patriots really know what they have in Stidham, and should they turn to him with an eye toward the future if the time comes when the team has absolutely no chance at a spot in the postseason?
“I just look at each opportunity to evaluate a player as its own entity,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Friday afternoon. “So, whether he comes in the way he did in the Chargers game and plays a handful of meaningful snaps there or last night. You can only evaluate what you have. And then obviously the biggest body of work we can see from Jarrett is in practice. We’ve had an opportunity to see him improve, particularly on the practice field and over the course of two years. He’s certainly made progress. He’s got room to grow as well. …
“In some some ways he’s made the most of the opportunities but there’s definitely some things we can fix and tweak as we move forward, hopefully, improve from some of the things that we see on tape.”
Stidham suffered an injury in training camp and was limited for many of those practice sessions while competing with Newton and Hoyer. He began the season third on the QB depth chart before passing Hoyer in the Patriots’ Week 4 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots haven’t had a great look at him in practice since that time.
“He has a good amount of reps against our defense every week in regards to running the scout team. There’s not a lot of plays in a practice where the No. 2 quarterback gets to work on our offense,” Patriots quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch said Friday. “And then he has had the opportunity, both in a game where we were very much in control a week ago to a game that we were not in control last night that he’s been able to come in on both of those times and then he also had some experience against Kansas City. But yeah we’ll continue to watch Jared evolve and grow and see what he could do with the opportunities that he does get when those opportunities present themselves.”
Fisch said he’s seen the most progress from Stidham mentally over the course of the season.
“We kind of always talk about in the quarterback room that knowledge is power,” Fisch said. “And the more you know and the more you understand and the more you could comprehend, the more power you have at the line of scrimmage, the more confidence you have as you play. So, throughout this year, he’s worked extremely hard. He’s a great role model in that room of, you know, two great role models with both Cam and Brian, in terms of how to prepare and how to work. He works with Cam a lot in regards to the preparation and with the preparation has enabled him to really have a good understanding, and with a good understanding comes playing faster.
“So I’ve seen some growth in terms of his confidence, some growth in terms of the speed of play. He’s always been a very pure passer. throws a very good ball. That’s always been the case from coming out of college, but what he has done is he’s continued to improve each week his ability to process and play fast.”
Stidham is 7-of-10 for 88 yards with a touchdown over the last two weeks, replacing Newton is the Patriots’ 45-0 win over the Chargers and Thursday’s 24-3 loss to the Rams. Until Stidham is getting those first-team reps in practice and having the offense molded around his skill-set, and not running the scout team nor entering a game that’s out of hand, it’s probably unfair to fully evaluate him as a quarterback. And if the Patriots don’t present themselves that opportunity this season, then he remains a mystery heading into an offseason with far more questions than answers at quarterback.
This is a pretty long way of saying Friday probably isn’t the last time Belichick will be asked about starting Stidham. And if the Patriots lose again, then starting him would be a smart move if they want to enter this offseason with an much information on the young passer as possible.