Thankfully for Bill Belichick, his top two Patriots quarterbacks don't have to be ready to play a regular-season game next week. The performances submitted Saturday by both Cam Newton and Mac Jones would suggest that neither... is... quite... ready to go.
Though the number of overall competitive passing-game reps was down on Day 4 of camp compared to previous practices, when the level of play was ratcheted up, it plain wasn't good for the offense.
That made Saturday a draw when it came to the much-ballyhooed competition between Newton and Jones. Jones won Day 1. Day 2 went to Newton. The third day of practice was too close to call because both passers were solid. Day 4 was another draw. But for the opposite reason.
Let's get into the details...
Here's the breakdown on how Newton and Jones fared in competitive 11-on-11 drills:
* Newton went 4-for-10, with one attempt wiped away thanks to what likely would have been a defensive pass interference penalty on Adrian Phillips. Newton also would have been sacked by Matt Judon on one rep.
* Mac Jones went 4-for-8 in his reps, with two passes batted at the line of scrimmage and two dropbacks that resulted in "sacks" -- one by Ronnie Perkins and one by Rashod Berry.
Now, for those of you who have an insatiable thirst for box score statistics, there were plenty more 11-on-11 reps during the practice. But they featured mostly reserve defensive players and the energy was low -- call them three-quarter speed reps -- making them feel like periods of practice that were set up for the offense. If one were to include those reps, the numbers look better for both quarterbacks.
* In those three-quarter speed reps, Newton went 10-for-11, with a drop by Hunter Henry and two reps that would've been sacks. Together with the truly competitive reps against top-tier defenders, Newton went 14-for-21 in 11-on-11 periods.
* In the three-quarter speed reps, Jones went 9-for-10, with the only incompletion resulting from a miscommunication issue with Kendrick Bourne, who ran a route differently than Jones was anticipating. Together with the truly competitive reps against top-tier defenders, Jones went 13-for-18 in 11-on-11 periods.
Jones hot and cold: Let's start with the reps that mattered, the ones that -- despite no pads -- looked a little more like what Belichick called "real football" on Saturday in a Webex call with reporters.
Jones missed all four of his attempts to start. He had two passes batted at the line -- one by Davon Godchaux and one on a screen that looked like it was knocked down by Kyle Van Noy. He also overthrew both Bourne and Jakobi Meyers. Not an ideal start.
(Jones has had a handful of passes batted at the line through the early portion of camp. He stands at 6-foot-2 and there are times where it looks as though he has to navigate the pocket a bit to find an opening between the long arms of defenders at the line. Something worth watching as camp progresses. The 6-5 Newton had issues with batted passes last season, but it hasn't been an issue for him in camp.)
Jones was sacked twice on his next two reps, back to back. Perkins had a laugh recounting his close encounter with Jones.
"It's kind of funny," Perkins said of being a pass-rusher who has to let up on quarterbacks wearing red no-contact jerseys in practice, "because it's like, 'Bro, I could've laid you out if we was in a game.' But we know it's practice. We know we can't really take a hit on them. But it's fun to talk stuff on them, like, 'Bro, I could've killed you.' "
Perkins pressured Jones again later in the workout. "I should've grabbed him, but Bill would probably kill me," Perkins joked.
Both Jones sacks occurred with a reserve group of offensive linemen on the field. When Jones was back on the field with better players, he completed all four of his final attempts. He hit Kristian Wilkerson for a score, then N'Keal Harry. A pick play -- if within one yard of the line it would've been legal, and it looked close -- freed up Brandon Bolden for another touchdown. On his final rep, Jones hit Meyers after rolling out to his left.
Belichick and Josh McDaniels, once again, used myriad combinations along the line of scrimmage Saturday. But for the second consecutive day, Jones saw a fair number of reps with what would be considered the top offensive line group.
Both Jones and Newton worked against pressure packages from the Patriots defense on Day 4, and as a result one of Jones' best reps of the day was subtle. He hit Bolden quickly out of the backfield while facing a blitz, understanding that there was an unblocked defender for whom his protection scheme couldn't account. Those types of plays -- showing an understanding of what the defense is about to do and what he can do to combat that -- should be encouraging for his coaches.
Last note on Jones' day: After missing Bourne because of a miscommunication on the route, Jones met Bourne out on the field of play before Bourne even got back to the line of scrimmage. Jones was demonstrative in how he understood the play should be run, seemingly. Eventually McDaniels stepped in and did some demonstrative coaching for Jones as Bourne moved on. At one point McDaniels gave Jones a quick embrace almost as if to talk Jones down a bit. The conversation continued for another minute or two before the next period began.
Jones has had these moments with veteran teammates before. On Day 3, he pulled aside Nelson Agholor to go over a deep ball that was dropped. On Day 1, he was demonstrative in detailing his thoughts for a route run by JJ Taylor that led to an incompletion.
On Friday, Jones was asked where he finds the confidence to communicate so much after plays with teammates who have more time in the league than he does. The fact that he's able to have those discussions -- at least to this point in camp -- without much obvious blowback from teammates seems to indicate he's straddling that line between helpful and antagonizing.
“I think it’s just about forming those relationships," Jones said Friday. "You want to be on the same page. A lot of the times when I go up to them, it’s something that I did wrong and I want to figure out what I can do better. They’re not making as many mistakes as I am, just because they’re older and they’re doing the right thing. I’m trying to get there, I’m working.
"It’s all about the connection. We want to be on the same page. That takes time and that takes reps and that takes trust. We’re going to get there. That’s just something I’ve learned from watching the other guys, too. Here and just in general, you always got to form a bond with whether it’s your lineman, what happened here, your running back, hey did you see this, that, whatever. It goes for everybody.”
Cam testing tight windows: One of the interesting facets of Jones' game at this stage of his career is that he seems to have no fear in throwing to well-covered targets.
He wasn't the only one on Saturday.
Whereas Newton has admitted that he holds onto the ball too long at times -- and he did have one very lengthy dropback in a three-quarter speed period Saturday -- for the second straight practice he did a better job of letting it rip to tightly-covered receivers rather than holding the ball and waiting.
The problem on Saturday was that the results just weren't there for him the way they were the day before.
Newton's first truly competitive rep of 11-on-11 work was intended for Hunter Henry and broken up by Adrian Phillips. Newton was sacked on the next snap by Judon. After completing two of his next three attempts, getting the ball out on time with pressures sent his way by the defense, Newton had an attempt to Harry batted away in the end zone. Michael Jackson got his mitts on the very next pass, which was intended for Agholor.
A defensive pass interference likely would've been called on Phillips on the first snap of Newton's next sequence. And a slant thrown behind Meyers was nearly jarred loose by Jonathan Jones, but Meyers was able to hold on for an impressive concentration catch.
Newton got away with a miss there. Karma, perhaps, for the throw he made one play earlier when he floated a well-placed pass to the back corner of the end zone, and Damien Harris ran underneath it with Devin McCourty trailing in coverage. The throw was a dime, but Harris was apparently unable to get both his feet in bounds. Incomplete.
Newton also tested tight windows in the 3-on-3 period near the goal line in the middle of practice, with one of his best throws being completed to Rhamondre Stevenson while Phillips blanketed the rookie back. A few plays earlier, Newton had a similarly-contested pass intended for Bourne broken up by Raekwon McMillan.
While the results weren't the cleanest of camp for Newton, he does appear to be establishing chemistry with his tight end group. In the 11-on-11 periods -- including the three-quarter speed portions of practice -- Newton targeted tight ends on 11 of his first 14 attempts.
Newton, Jones and the Patriots will be back to work on Monday after a day to rest Sunday.