Cam Newton was first up. Mac Jones was second. But the when didn't seem to matter so much as the with whom on Thursday.
Both Patriots quarterbacks worked with the first-team offensive line, running backs and pass-catchers in the second of two joint practices with the Giants this week, which signaled a bit of a change in terms of how Bill Belichick's quarterbacks were used.
For the first time this summer, in a practice where both Newton and Jones were available, Jones received extensive work with the first-team offense. It wasn't the first time Jones had seen first-team reps with Newton on the premises. But it was the first time he was out there for an extended period of time with the top offensive line and Newton watching from afar.
That Jones' bump in first-team reps came after three days of practice absences by Newton -- he had to adhere to a set of re-entry protocols after violating the NFL's COVID procedures for unvaccinated players -- should come as little surprise. Jones took all the first-team reps on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, cramming about a half-dozen days of practice reps into three days of work to start the week with Newton out. On the second and third days of practices, he seemed to perform like a starting-caliber signal-caller, completing over 80 percent of his throws, talking a little trash and mixing in several highlight-reel moments.
While Jones and Newton sharing first-team reps signaled a bit of a shift, Jones' performance was indicative of a bit of a step back.
Let's get to the details ...
In competitive 11-on-11 work, Newton went 4-for-6, with one rep wiped due to an illegal contact penalty on the Giants.
Jones, meanwhile, went 9-for-19, with a touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne. Those 19 attempts did not include a successful two-point attempt to Jakobi Meyers, nor did they include an interception thrown by Jones that was wiped away due to a defensive offsides call. Jones also had four passes dropped.
Why the discrepancy in the number of attempts thrown in those 11-on-11 periods? The Patriots and Giants worked in a number of situational plays on Thursday by giving an offense the football, telling it to try to drive the field, and telling the opposing defense to stop them.
Thus a crisp drive like the one conducted by Newton only lasted eight snaps and included six pass attempts. The drive conducted by Jones was a roller coaster ride. He had to convert fourth-down attempts on three different occasions. His receivers dropped passes. He made three off-the-mark throws (not including his would-be pick). And his touchdown pass came on a third-and-goal play from the New York 15-yard line.
Jones was also behind center for the second-team offense's series later in the practice. They went three and out: hand-off, hand-off, incompletion to Kristian Wilkerson (who fell down at the top of his route).
Both Newton and Jones got three snaps of 7-on-7 work. Newton, up first, went 2-for-3. Jones went 1-for-2 and had a rep wiped by an illegal contact penalty. The incompletion thrown by Jones in that period was dropped by Nelson Agholor.
Smooth operator: You'd be hard-pressed to conjure up a more seamless transition back to practice for Newton than by doing what he did on Thursday.
In the competitive 11-on-11 period, which called for Newton to run the hurry-up offense, he hit his first throw to Jakobi Meyers over the middle. An illegal contact penalty wiped away a rep where Newton was knocked to the ground after having David Andrews shoved into his legs. That was followed by two more completions from Newton -- one with bodies at his feet -- to Meyers and Bourne.
After a pass was batted at the line, Newton's steady drive was nearly stopped in its tracks. Looking for Wilkerson, Newton should have been picked off by corner James Bradberry. The pass hit Bradberry between the numbers and was dropped.
No matter. On Newton's next throw, he floated one to a spot to hit Bourne on a crossing route for a long gain. That led to a Damien Harris touchdown run ... and just like that, Newton's day was over.
It's worth noting that Newton's drive must've come in a drawn up "home team" situation. There was no music playing to simulate crowd noise. That was saved for Jones, who took his set of first-team snaps a few minutes later.
It'll be interesting to see how much time Newton sees in Sunday's preseason game against the Giants since he had a light day of competitive reps after missing three straight practices. If he's going to be the Week 1 starter, one would think Bill Belichick would like to get him more work.
Adversity to overcome: Unlike Newton, Jones was off-the-mark from the jump of his 11-on-11 period. On his first throw, with music blaring over the public address system, he nearly threw an interception when targeting Bourne over the middle. One snap later, he was picked by Logan Ryan -- saved only by an offsides call on the defense.
"They were just messing around a little bit more (with their safeties) and trying to show different looks," Jones said. "But I’ll just watch it and see what they actually did. They did a good job, better today. It was fun. Two days, we got after it, and I thought both teams competed pretty hard ...
"That (interception) was just a good play. I just have to be patient and stick with my reads."
Jones went three straight throws without a completion, it turned out, having his third attempt batted at the line of scrimmage. From there, things improved for him individually, but the offense was still out of sync.
Jones hit throws to Jonnu Smith and Agholor, but Agholor dropped his second target, and Jones had a throwaway another to Wilkerson along the sideline. That led to third- and fourth-down attempts to James White that kept the chains moving.
It looked like the series might be over once Jones released his next pass, about 50 yards away from the goal line. It dropped softly into Gunner Olszewski's hands, and had it been caught, Olszewski's momentum might've carried him into the end zone. But it wasn't. It rolled around on the turf incomplete. Second down.
After changing a route combination at the line, Jones threw incomplete to Wilkerson when his post floated behind its intended target. Another third-down completion short of the sticks to White led to another fourth-down situation. This time, Jones found Bourne right at the yard-to-gain marker for a first down.
It seemed as though Jones and the Patriots offense may have pushed their luck too far after a Damien Harris drop and a poorly-thrown pass to White and a short completion to White led to another fourth down. This time, Meyers plucked one away from a Giants defensive back for the first down over the middle of the field, saving the drive.
Smooth sailing from there? Not exactly.
Smith dropped the next pass. Jones threw away his second-down attempt. Then the Patriots were called for a false start, giving Jones a third-and-goal from the 15. He answered with a well-thrown ball to the back end line that found a toe-dragging Bourne in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
Had it all the way ...
That drive -- and the touchdown pass that finished it -- while arduous, was indicative of one element of Jones' game that has come up time and again in camp. When he's had down moments, he has typically bounced back from them. Not only did he bounce back from his own poor start to the drive, but he overcame myriad mistakes made by his teammates to get into the end zone.
It was an imperfect day, to be sure. But for Jones, who saw more first-team reps than ever before when sharing time on the field with Newton, it was a day when the door for him to start early on in his NFL career seemed to remain open.