Round 2 of the New England Patriots’ quarterback competition took place Thursday night in Philadelphia.
Here’s a look at how Cam Newton and Mac Jones both fared in the Patriots’ preseason matchup with the Eagles:
8 of 9, 103 yards, touchdown, 151.4 passer rating
Perhaps Newton didn’t like being derided as a “checkdown king” this week. After a brief opening drive, set up by a Jalen Mills fumble recovery, that consisted of two Damien Harris carries, the veteran QB came out firing.
Newton’s first three pass attempts traveled 18, 19 and 10 yards in the air, resulting in first downs to Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne and Meyers.
Newton’s next five throws targeted running backs closer to the line of scrimmage, but he showed impressive maneuverability within the pocket on those, stepping up to avoid onrushing defenders.
After consecutive completions to James White (8 yards) and Sony Michel (7 yards, 4 yards) followed by three straight handoffs, Newton ended his evening with a play-action strike to Jakobi Meyers, who found a weak spot in Philadelphia’s zone on a crossing route and booked it down the sideline for a 28-yard touchdown.
The closest defender on Meyers’ touchdown catch? K’Von Wallace, who griped about Newton’s checkdowns after Tuesday’s joint practice.
It must be noted that Philadelphia chose to sit most of its defensive starters for this game, so Newton was operating against a unit comprised largely of backups. Still, this was an excellent performance by the 32-year-old, who finished with just one incompletion — perhaps his best as a passer in a Patriots uniform. He averaged 11.4 yards per attempt and 7.4 air yards per attempt, showing decisiveness, mobility and smart decision-making.
Newton also received all of the work with the first-team offensive line. (Jones got one drive with the starters last week; this time, he only played with backups.) One wonders whether this performance secured his status as QB1 to begin the season.
13 of 19, 146 yards, 91.1 passer rating
Jones entered the game with 11:14 remaining in the first half and immediately was placed in an unfavorable situation, as a holding call on tackle Justin Herron set up a first-and-14 from his own 5-yard line.
The rookie responded well. After a pass over the middle to Bourne was broken up by a linebacker, Jones found N’Keal Harry for a gain of 19 on third-and-13. This got the wheels turning for what proved to be a 17-play, 91-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard Rhamondre Stevenson touchdown plunge. Jones went 4-of-6 for 53 yards on the drive, including a 19-yard catch-and-run to Sony Michel.
Jones’ second series started with 35 seconds to go before halftime. He uncorked a beautiful 45-yard deep ball that slipped through Harry’s hands (the wideout was injured on the play), then, after the Patriots used their final timeout, dumped a pass off to running back J.J. Taylor. Taylor was tackled in bounds, forcing Jones to spike the ball on third down.
The Patriots punted, and a conversation with a “very animated” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels ensued.
As they did in their preseason opener, the Patriots went hurry-up to open the second half, testing how Jones would fare in that rapid-fire setting. Again, he thrived, going 5-for-5 for 47 yards over a six-play span. The second of those completions — 17-yard dart to Gunner Olszewski into a tight window — might have been his best of the night.
That driver ended with a short touchdown run by another Patriots running back, with J.J. Taylor going over from 1 yard out.
On his fourth and final possession, Jones had nice completions to Isaiah Zuber (12 yards) and Olszewski (11 yards) sandwiched around a Devin Ross drop. His bid for his first NFL touchdown pass was foiled when a goal-line throw to Devin Asiasi clanged off the tight end’s hands. Taylor burrowed in for another 1-yard touchdown to cap the drive and end Jones’ night.
Many of the alluring traits Jones has shown in practice this summer — timing, rhythm, quick release, anticipation — were present in his second preseason performance. The same caveats about quality of competition apply here — Jones was facing defenders even lower on the Eagles’ depth chart — but it was an encouraging showing that would’ve produced a more impressive stat line had receivers not dropped three of his passes.
Jones led touchdown drives of 91, 75 and 70 yards before giving way to third-stringer Brian Hoyer.