The game was on the line. Fourth down. If you make the play, you win. If you don't, you lose. And you run. Simple.
That was the scenario presented by Bill Belichick at the end of Monday's training camp practice, his team's fifth in six days. The top Patriots defense was on the field. The top offense, led by quarterback Cam Newton, was stationed at the four-yard line.
Newton tried to hit Nelson Agholor on a slant for the game-winner. There might've been some contact at the line from defensive back Jalen Mills. There might've been a communication breakdown between the quarterback and receiver. But it looked like Newton simply missed Agholor, leading him too far out in front as Agholor came out of his break.
Incomplete. Game over. The offense was sent off for a lap around both practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.
It was just one rep, but that rep, the final rep of the practice, was telling for a couple of different reasons.
First, Newton was the only quarterback given the opportunity for a gotta-have-it snap at the end. It was a pretty clear indication, if you needed one, that he remains the quarterback atop the Patriots depth chart at this point in time.
Second, Newton's miss seemed to be just that. While his accuracy has been dialed in better in recent practices than it was in the first couple sessions of camp, he still has moments when the football gets away from him a bit. He overthrew Jonnu Smith down the seam at one point on Monday. He also threw a pick to Ja'Whaun Bentley when he tried to lay a 7-on-7 throw over the linebacker level and in front of the safeties.
Bill Belichick reiterated on Saturday that Newton is his starter, but he also mentioned that he would be faced eventually with "a hard decision."
While Newton may be the clear top quarterback atop the depth chart at the moment, if Mac Jones continues to string together practices where he is more accurate, more anticipatory with his throws and the cleaner decision-maker -- as he was Monday -- the door should be open for him to take advantage.
Here's the quick rundown on how Newton and Jones fared in competitive 11-on-11 drills:
* Newton went 5-for-11, with one attempt dropped by Sony Michel.
* Mac Jones went 13-for-17, with two passes dropped (Agholor, Hunter Henry) and two reps that resulted in "sacks" by Adrian Colbert and Ronnie Perkins.
In the lone 7-on-7 period, Newton and Jones both went 5-for-7. Newton had one pass picked off by Bentley and one batted at the line by a paddle held at the line of scrimmage. Jones had one of his attempts, a seam pass to David Wells, broken up by Raekwon McMillan.
Including what looked like three-quarter speed periods of 11-on-11 work earlier in the practice, Newton went 9-for-16 with two drops. Jones went 18-for-22.
Newton still first up, but sharing: While Cam Newton remains the first quarterback up in every drill, it looks like he and Mac Jones are sharing first-team reps at times.
Is it a "split," an even sharing of the reps with the top offensive line group and some of the team's top pass-catchers? No. Newton still gets more of those. But Jones gets his share.
Jones' last four targets of the day on Monday went to Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor. His first six attempts of the competitive 11-on-11 periods went to Damien Harris, Meyers, Brandon Bolden, Agholor, James White and Sony Michel. Many of those came with top offensive linemen on the field. (Starting linemen entered after Jones was pressured on each of his first two competitive 11-on-11 snaps -- once by his college teammate Christian Barmore, who beat fellow rooke Will Sherman.)
Newton, meanwhile, threw to Meyers twice, Agholor and Kristian Wilkerson with his last attempts of practice. His throw to WIlkerson was one of his better attempts of the day, throwing slightly behind the receiver who'd been overplayed by his defender on a slant. Had Newton led Wilkerson on that rep, he would've led him into trouble.
Newton had the ball out relatively quickly throughout the course of the day -- something he acknowledged recently had been an issue for him -- with none of his reps lasting more than a couple of seconds with him holding the ball behind the line of scrimmage. Progress there.
The Patriots also continue to show some of the Newton-specific running game plays they showed last season with Newton behind center. They continue to dedicate some time to those even though their first-round pick this season likely won't be running any of those same plays any time soon.
Jones shows he can put something on it: It had been a relative draw between Newton and Jones through the first four practices of camp when it came to their individual performances. Jones won Day one, Newton won Day 2, and there was no real headway made by either on Days 3 or 4.
But Day 5 went to the rookie, if you had to pick one. Why? In part because he continued a trend of being the more productive down-the-field passer.
Jones doesn't seem to hesitate when he has an opportunity to push the ball down the field, and he did it successfully on Monday when he hit Isaiah Zuber in between Dee Virgin and D'Angelo Ross down the middle of the field for what was about a 50-yard touchdown. Jones also hit Agholor on an out-route to the sideline that flashed some arm strength. Jones isn't thought to have the biggest of arms, but when his feet are under him and he can get into the throw, he has the ability to ratchet up his velocity.
Jones had what looked like one pure miss to James White on a dump-off, it went a bit wide and White could only get a hand on it, but otherwise the rookie was on the money in the competitive period of practice. At one point, he hit 12 of 13 throws in a stretch of 16 consecutive reps.
Late in the practice, with music blaring in a red-zone period, Jones completed only one of four throws. But two were dropped. One drop came on a short out-route to Hunter Henry. The other was on a dime of a throw to Agholor. The fade to the corner hit Agholor's hands and should've been an over-the-shoulder catch, but the ball popped loose and JC Jackson knocked it away before Agholor could corral it.
One of Jones' best reps of the practice came before the intensity of the session ticked up a notch. Jones faked a hand-off, and seemed to pretty clearly cycle through two reads before moving to a third and hitting Smith in stride for a chunk gain. The ball is usually out quickly with Jones, but on the occasions he holds onto it, he still appears to be decisive with his reads. Getting to his third option and making something of it -- in rhythm, within the structure of the play -- made that an eyebrow-raising rep.
Jones, Newton and their teammates are expected to be in pads on Tuesday. Though neither quarterback will be hit, it'll be interesting to see how more contact on the outside between receivers and corners will impact those delivering the passes. Pads should also impact how defenders can rush the quarterback so Newton and Jones may be forced to keep their cool and make quality throws if and when they're pushed off their spots behind center.
Practice is slated to begin at 9:30 a.m.