It’s not a revelation that people don’t bother to read the fine print.
But the number of people -- fans and media -- who watched Cam Newton’s outlier, 8-for-9 passing performance against the Eagles last Thursday and figured, “Well, that’s that. Cam’s sewn up the quarterback competition ...” was still astounding to me.
Newton sewed up nothing.
Was he solid? Yes. But he was playing a combo platter of the Eagles’ JV and freshman team. He’s never going to see that kind of time and space in the pocket again. It was easy pickins and Newton looked like a Major League starter facing a Single-A lineup. As he should have.
The two days of joint practices the Patriots and Eagles held meant more and on those two days Newton was worse than Mac Jones one day (neither was real good) and in a dead heat the next (both were fine, not great).
Folks have been ignoring the fine print since draft night. When Bill Belichick said, “Cam’s our quarterback,” The rest of the reply was “Whatever time Jarrett or Mac are ready to challenge and compete we'll see how that goes.”
Asked the same night what would it take for Newton to be unseated, Belichick answered, "I don't know. Somebody would have to play better than he does."
Somebody has been. At least to the naked eye in the Patriots practice sessions and two preseason games. Whether Jones has done the same in every meeting and workout we don’t see, we can’t honestly know. And I’m sure Belichick will grapple with a lot of factors before the Patriots plunk down a rookie at the team’s most important position to start the season.
On Sunday, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels reiterated that Newton “is the starter now.” He also added the competition is ongoing. Then he talked at length about the strides Jones has made in doing the necessary things that have nothing to do with throwing.
"I think he’s improving in his communication and improving in his tempo," said McDaniels. "The offense has been able to get into a decent rhythm. There are still little things we have to fix and tweak as we move forward, but you know, generally speaking there were very few, if any, pre-snap errors.
" ... The goal for a quarterback in our system is, 'Let’s get out there and set the table right and do it as quickly as we can, so that we give the other 10 guys an opportunity to play fast and be aggressive.' I think he’s improving at that skill weekly."
Jones did stub his toe at the end of the half when he decided to throw in the middle of the field with 12 seconds left, no timeouts and the clock running just before halftime. And McDaniels addressed that as being a blunder he shared responsibility for.
McDaniels also went long on the Patriots 91-yard touchdown drive when Jones -- with the Patriots backups -- was dialed in, especially on some tough down-and-distance situations.
"Any time you find yourself in those types of situations, first-and-20, or second-and-17 or whatever those are, those aren’t really optimum situations for an offense to be in," McDaniels explained. "Statistically in the league, you know, you don’t overcome those very often. When you do overcome them, it’s a result of -- let’s call it -- three positive plays that require very good execution by the 11 people that are out there on the field together. And it’s hard to do that anyway. But I thought we did do that with some solid football.
"As we kind of fell behind the sticks, we made some big plays on third down," McDaniels continued. "I think the first one was a third-and-long conversion on an in-cut, and I thought he stood in there and made a good throw. He had some time. The protection. You always talk about, the more yards you need, the more time you need to provide the quarterback. I thought our offensive line, our back, our tight end, kind of provided enough time to be able to hold the ball long enough to get down the field and convert a few of those.
"When you put together a drive that covers 90-something yards, when you look at the film, usually what you have in common on that drive is clean execution for the most part. It’s hard to convert eight first downs in a drive in this league – against anybody, at any point in time. There was a lot of guys that I thought were ready to play, and played well. We overcame some of those adverse situations together.
"Mac, we’re throwing everything we can at him right now, putting him in those situations," McDaniels added. "I was glad those came up. First time throwing from your end zone in the NFL, and have to stand in there and continue to read the coverage out and try to distribute the ball properly."
Speaking generally about what the team needs from the position, McDaniels ticked through a number of qualities a player has to bring.
"We need to be able to play consistently well," he stated. "We need to communicate well. We need to make good decisions. We need to throw the ball accurately. We need to protect the football and not give it away. To me, I look at those guys in the same light in regards to what we’re trying to accomplish. Ultimately, when any decision is made based on who is going to play more or less on our team, those decisions will be made when the time is right and we’re going to go forward and try and play the best we can."
In Jones, the Patriots have a quarterback who has made "very few, if any" pre-snap errors. Someone who, even in his embryonic state, is communicating well, making good decisions, throwing the ball accurately and not giving it away.
Nothing Newton is doing -- not even the 8-for-9 against the Eagles backups -- has yet come close to eliminating Jones from the equation. If the prerequisite for starting is that someone has to "play better than Newton does ..." it’s being satisfied