PHILADELPHIA -- Cam Newton looked more like vintage Cam Newton than he ever has in a Patriots jersey Thursday night. All that was missing was one of his thunderous runs over a defender and into the end zone.
But this was preseason after all, just the second exhibition of the summer. Can't expect the physical stuff, really. But the rest of the Newton Experience? It was in full effect Thursday in New England's win over the Eagles, 35-0.
The veteran Patriots quarterback threw accurately and carved up the Eagles in the short and intermediate areas of the field, going 8-for-9 for 103 yards and a touchdown. Newton danced on the sidelines to Rhianna. He had some fun with the chain gang, bringing them drinks in the fourth quarter. He had some fun with his opponents. He talked trash with fans.
He also handed footballs to folks in the stands on two separate occasions. That's long been a signature move of his, but without fans at games last year, his Sunday offerings took a 16-game hiatus.
"That's my thing," Newton said after the game. "That's kinda like my way of (showing) appreciation to the fans. Hopefully there will be a lot of Sunday giveaways to look forward to in the upcoming season."
Of course, for there to be Sunday giveaways involving Newton, he has to be scoring touchdowns. And for Newton to be scoring touchdowns, he has to be on the field. And for Newton to be on the field, he has to keep rookie quarterback Mac Jones off the field.
A performance like Thursday's against the Eagles could very well allow for that opportunity. It showed that Newton simply will not go quietly into the night in this Patriots quarterback competition. Neither will Jones, for that matter. He completed 13 of his 19 attempts for 146 yards Thursday. And those numbers should've been better, but he had three passes (including a touchdown and a two-point conversion) dropped.
It's all leading to what might be called a "first-world problem" for coach Bill Belichick.
Does he go with the kid, with whom he hopes to have a long and fruitful future? The kid who appears to be at least neck-and-neck with his veteran cohort based on their work in training camp practices and preseason games? The kid who seems to be ahead of schedule on his developmental track?
Or does Belichick go with the veteran? The guy who helped bail him out of a bad quarterback situation last year, took his lumps and did so oftentimes with a smile on his face? The guy who has a decade in the league under his belt? The guy who adds a running element to the Patriots offense? The guy who could allow for Belichick's first-round pick to develop behind the scenes for a bit until he's even more ready than he already appears to be?
They have options, at least. Capable ones, seemingly, based on their most recent performances.
Newton's first three passes in Philly on Thursday went for 51 yards, including explosive completions to Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne. He had a short scramble-drill throw to James White that nearly zipped over White's helmet, but a circus catch was made and Newton ended up connecting on five of his last six. The best was a smooth-looking crossing route to Meyers that turned into a 28-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
"Last year he kind of got the short end of the stick," Meyers said of Newton. "Having to be thrown into the situation, no preseason or anything. Not making excuses for him, but I think this year is definitely a leap forward. We're all growing as an offense."
That includes Jones.
After a holding call backed him up to the shadow of his own end zone during his first drive early in the second quarter, the rookie was nearly picked on his first throw of the game. But from there his arm was on point. Jones drilled a third-and-13 throw to N'Keal Harry, using a subtle shoulder shake that helped clear a throwing lane. He put one on a line toward the sideline that hit Sony Michel in stride for 19 yards. Twelve plays later, the Patriots were in the end zone on a Rhamondre Stevenson run.
Seventeen plays. Ninety-one yards. Over nine minutes. Six points.
Before halftime, for the second straight week, Jones almost hit a high-arcing deep ball down the sideline. This one went to Harry, who was hurt as he dove trying to reel it in. Jones did submit a wonky finish to the first half soon thereafter; he spiked one on third down after a completion to JJ Taylor with time running out, which led to a Patriots punt. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels didn't seem to love that sequence on the sideline immediately after the fact. An animated one-sided conversation ensued with McDaniels gesturing and close-talking and Jones ... listening.
But if Jones was bothered, he didn't show it to start the third quarter. McDaniels and Belichick, for the second straight week, had him go no-huddle to start the second half. Jones completed all five of his passes, including two down the field to Gunner Olszewksi, and he led the Patriots to another scoring drive that finished with a Taylor score.
Nine plays. Seventy-five yards. Just over three minutes. Six points.
Jones would've had a touchdown pass on his final series, hitting tight end Devin Asiasi's hands on an out-route at the goal line that was a near-replica to the play that finished Tuesday's practice. It was dropped. No matter. Stevenson got in again one play later.
Ten plays. Seventy yards. Under five minutes. Six points.
The caveat to everything that went down at Lincoln Financial was that the Eagles didn't play their starting defense. Big names like corner Darius Slay, defensive lineman Fletcher Cox and edge rushers Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham all got the night off. So there deserves to be an asterisk stapled to the numbers posted by both Newton and Jones.
But if this is how both quarterbacks are going to play moving forward -- poised, accurate, efficient -- then Belichick called it weeks ago. This will be a "hard decision." One he'll be happy to be faced with.