Mac and Cam. Cam and Mac. How’s it looking through two weeks of training camp and one preseason game?
To borrow from everyone’s favorite commercial, “We all see it. We allllllll see it.”
The gap between Mac Jones and Cam Newton in the Patriots quarterback competition has already been all but eliminated.
What we were seeing on the practice fields from Jones – speed in and out of the huddle, command at the line of scrimmage, pre-snap poise, crisp decision-making, generally accurate throws delivered with no-nonsense mechanics – has now been seen in a game.
Unless Jones’ transmission falls out next week during joint practices in Philadelphia, he’s going to roll along in the same flair-free and efficient manner. Like a Toyota Corolla.
Transmissions don’t drop out of new Corollas. They ride along, smoothly and economically and they get you where you need to go. You don’t really have to worry about them crapping out.
Limitations to a Corolla? Sure. You don’t want to take a Corolla off-roading. For that you want a big, brawny, bumpy-riding, gas-guzzling rhinoceros of a vehicle that can plow through anything. A car or truck like Cam Newton.
But that kind of rugged beast can’t be your daily driver. Especially if it’s got some wear and tear on it and performs a little sporadically. What you want if you have a long ride ahead is something you can be sure of. Doesn’t have to be a head-turner. Doesn’t have to go 0-60 in 3.8 seconds. It needs to be reliable.
And, stunning as it may seem, Jones is kind of already there. In terms of running the team, he is so far beyond what we saw from Patriots rookies of the past decade – Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett and Jarrett Stidham – that it’s not even a comparison. The post-snap jumpiness and glacial decision-making they all exhibited lasted into their second seasons in some cases. Or never really went away.
Was Jones perfect against Washington? No. For instance, he was low on his first attempt to Jakobi Meyers and his throw in the flat to Jakob Johnson was off-target. But, tellingly, both of those throws were caught anyway. There were no throws that left you saying, “What in God’s name happened there?”
Newton? On his first drive, he threw incomplete underneath to a decently-covered Jonnu Smith. Even if the throw was caught, Smith was going down on the reception. But in delivering the throw on the move, Newton jumped and fired like he was Derek Jeter coming from deep in the hole. At the tail end of his second drive, which was just fine up until this point, Newton threw a BB past James White on a screen. There was some clutter coming off the edge and that impacted the play. But throwing it 71 MPH to a target 30 feet away isn’t generally a great response to clutter.
We’re not cherry-picking here. This isn’t just a couple of plays from a meaningless preseason game. This is – again – what we’ve been seeing for two weeks and will continue to see.
If you see it and I see it, don’t you think the Patriots see it? I would presume they do. Hell, even Newton seems to see it.
After Thursday’s game, Newton was asked about Jones. After about a minute of obligatory nickname discussion, Newton said, “For him and today's performance, he's just going to keep getting better, and we're going to be here for each other along this whole process, and that's what we're here for.”
Ya don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. The process Newton is referring to isn’t just playing quarterback for the Patriots in 2021 – it’s grooming Jones to be a starter for this team.
Hate Newton’s hats, hate his throwing motion, hate his enthusiasm. But please don’t hate on the very genuine and selfless effort a former superstar is making to welcome Mac Jones into the league without being a complete dink about it. Newton is about to be made obsolete by Jones. And there’s no trace of “eff that guy…” in anything he’s said.
“For him, man, for him to come out there,” Newton began. “I know he came to me and talked to me and we talked it out about just his expectation. Every young quarterback goes through it, the excitement, the anticipation. He wants to be so perfect, and I see his preparation is always pristine. That's what I admire about him, being at such a young age he knows how to prepare and knows when Josh (McDaniels) asks quick questions or when a person asks quick questions he knows how to kind of have answers for it.”
Honestly, at this point, I’d go so far as to say it’s not a quarterback competition anymore. Mac Jones will be the starting quarterback for the Patriots this year. Cam Newton is just keeping the seat warm until the oven timer dings and Mac can be served to the NFL.
Why not just make the switch now if it’s so obvious? Give Jones all the first team reps in games and practices, relegate Newton and be done with it. In my estimation, there are three good reasons not to.
First, it’s about respecting the process. The rookie has to wrest the job from the veteran. Pay his dues. Respond to adversity. Earn the trust of grown men he just met so that they’re sure he won’t turn into a puddle when the ish hits the fan.
Second, the pumpkin factor. As in when will Jones turn into one. He’s been almost unceasingly capable so far. But Patrick Mahomes didn’t start as a rookie. Tom Brady didn’t. Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t. Even Josh Allen didn’t start the opener for Buffalo in 2018 because the Bills went with NATHAN PETERMAN! Take all the time you have to let Jones establish to himself and his teammates that even a very bad day is something he can bounce back from and not the start of a trend.
Third, there’s no real competitive advantage to letting the Miami Dolphins know who they’ll be dealing with in the opener. Play it out.
But use the Dolphins 2020 season as a guide, too. Last year, Miami was all thumbs when it came to the handoff from veteran (Ryan Fitzpatrick) to first-round rookie from Alabama (Tua Tagovailoa).
So much so that Fitzpatrick is still floored that he got the hook after performing well when the regular season began.
“I have a ton of respect for [Dolphins coach Brian Flores], and we have a very good relationship,” Fitzpatrick told Robert Mays of The Athletic. “But I thought it was a joke at first. We’re putting Tua in? I was floored. . . . That was my team . . . I fought through the (expletive) with those guys. I get the way that the NFL works. I get it. But to have it happen the way it did. . . .”
Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey told Mays his reaction when the move came.
“I was in total shock,” said Gailey. “We didn’t even have a preseason. It was a totally new offense [for Tua]. We were just starting to hit our stride. We’d won two in a row and scored a bunch of points and moved the ball well. It came as a shock to me.”
The Patriots don’t want to get to that spot with Jones and Newton. Nor do they need to get there. There’s a training camp this year. There are preseason games. There’s plenty of evidence as to who makes the Patriots offense look like the Patriots offense.
We all see it. We alllllll see it.