Cam Newton did all he could Thursday night to maintain his grip on the New England Patriots' Week 1 starting quarterback job.
In what was one of his better performances as a Patriot, Newton completed eight of his nine passes for 103 yards and a touchdown vs. the Philadelphia Eagles. He was replaced by rookie QB Mac Jones in the second quarter, but the veteran's brief showing was impressive enough to draw plenty of praise.
Former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson, however, isn't buying the hype just yet. In addition to Newton playing against the Eagles' backups, Johnson explained why his numbers don't tell the entire story.
"I think we need to pump the brakes on that," Johnson said Friday on 98.5 The Sports Hub's Felger & Mazz. "If you rewatch the film, and I did before the show, something just kind of jumped out at me. When you go back and look at it again, and you look at the plays in which he had success on. Everyone's talking about he had three passes in one drive, the second drive of the game in which the third pass that traveled more than 10 yards was Jakobi Meyers for a touchdown. Those three plays, all of them had something in common that nobody is really talking about.
"Those were nice throws, nice completions, he looked like he was in rhythm, very confident. Every single one of those were what they call a max protection play, meaning you only put two guys out into the pass routes. You keep more guys in to block than you would otherwise. It's a very simple read. It's two guys and they do crossing routes, and either one or the other is open or you throw the ball away."
One of Newton's glaring issues has been his tendency to hold on to the ball in the pocket longer than he should. That would explain the Patriots' decision to call max protection. But how many times did they call it for Jones in his two quarters of work?
"Not one. Not one play did they decide we need to keep more guys in for protection," Johnson said. "It was four and five guys into the routes for Mac Jones. ... So it's a little bit smoke and mirrors today and everybody's getting excited. Settle down. Those were basic plays and two of those max protection plays were on first down where the defense is thinking run.
"I will say this, his play-action looked a lot better last night, he was a little more deliberate, but those were plays in which they were designed to protect him and keep him clean to make those throws."
The Patriots blew out the Eagles, 35-0. They'll take on the New York Giants next weekend in their final preseason matchup.
Hear everything Johnson had to say in the video above.