PATS INSIDER

Curran: Now’s not the time for Patriots to bail on Cam

PATS INSIDER

Bandit Bill Belichick barely needed a breath when asked if Cam Newton was out of chances.

From behind his black bandana, Belichick threw his weight behind the incumbent with a disgusted muffle that – when translated – came out like this.

“Cam’s our quarterback. That’s the way it’s been all year,” said Belichick.

Again, for the 9,746th time this season, the question Belichick answered wasn’t the one asked.

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Everyone knows how “it’s been all year.” How will it be going forward? That was the question.

Be that as it may, in my opinion Belichick had the right answer. Which I’m sure will allow him to sleep peacefully.

Despite Newton’s somewhat ill-timed fumble (ILL-TIMED!?!?!?! I’LL ILL-TIME YOU!!!), you need an appreciation for three things in particular.

One, the number of plays – throws and runs – Newton made to keep the Patriots in the game.

Two, the fact that Jarrett Stidham doesn’t have the physical ability to make the plays Newton did. Three, every time Stidham’s been given one of those default opportunities, he’s vomited into his lap with a WTFWT?!?!? interception.

Newton turns it over as well, sure, but at least he’s got a flair for the dramatic. And Sunday was an improvement. He waited until Minute 59 before submarining the Patriots chances. The binge came early last week against the Niners.

Some of you may wonder, “Was Newton’s fumble at the Buffalo 14 with 31 seconds left and the Patriots trailing 24-21 and comfortably in field goal range just a great defensive play?” No. No it was not.

 

It was all on Cam. Situational awareness means the only way you don’t get to overtime is if you drop the ball. So you run with the ball covered up. Especially in traffic. Defenders shouldn’t even be able to see the ball in that spot, never mind have a full panel to punch at. But there it was, giving the Bills a little peekaboo, just asking to be ripped away. As it was.

That’s attention to detail, my friends. And Newton – having come of NFL age in Carolina and not New England – probably wasn’t screamed at too often about “points of contact” and carrying the ball high and tight or he would have been doing that on the Patriots’ final offensive play or this one just a few plays earlier.

The guy’s got quarterbacking flaws. His mechanics aren’t great. He looks like he’s hurling a javelin when he tries to go deeper than 10 yards downfield. He’s careless with the ball. In an offense long recognized for precision and timing, he’s like a blindfolded drunk guy in a scuba suit rollerblading through an antique store.

But he’s a leader, dammit! (I mean it.)

What the Patriots need at quarterback right now are broad shoulders, strong legs and a short memory.

Newton ran nine times for 54 yards and a walk-in touchdown on Sunday. He was 15 for 25 for 174 yards and no interceptions (!!!) throwing to a collection of wideouts that might be hard-pressed to see the field for any other team. Hell, they’re hard-pressed to see the field for THIS TEAM.

The argument that the Patriots “need to see what they’ve got” in Stidham is – at this point – absurd. He’s shown them quite clearly what they’ve got. A meh prospect who’ll be under contract next spring too. His presence should not and will not affect the Patriots’ future plans at quarterback one single bit.

As to the idea he’ll help them lose games and air their draft position, you don’t do that. You just don’t.

Why? An example. The popular opinion was that the 2019 Dolphins should tank. The early analysis of their 2019 season was that they were, indeed, tanking. But they weren’t. They played absurdly hard, incrementally improved and took themselves out of position for Joe Burrow. They settled for Tua Tagovailoa.

Now they’re 4-3 after Tua’s first start, a 28-17 win over the Rams. Miami is 5-3 over their past eight if you include their win over the Patriots in the 2019 season finale.

You don’t lose on purpose. Honestly, even if you were to make a case for the Patriots going to Stidham for tanking purposes, they may not wind up being that much better off in the win column regardless.

 

Belichick – who once laughed at the Colts’ nosedive post-Peyton Manning  - has a 2020 roster that’s not nearly as talented as the Colts were back then. Newton? Stidham? Probably doesn’t matter. The Patriots are 2-5. And while the Ravens are the only team remaining where you say, “They’re almost definitely screwed in that one…” Newton will give them a chance in all the rest. And probably against Baltimore too.

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In my opinion, drafting third, eighth, 13th or whatever matters less to an organization than having the right culture and getting the right guy when it’s their turn to select.

ALARMING START

One of the key tweaks Miami head coach Brian Flores did when he got to Miami was setting up the team’s practice field with a huge sign that read T.N.T as in “Takes no talent…” The idea behind it is that there are fundamental things players need to do which don’t require height, weight or speed. Just attention to detail.

I was reminded of that in the first half Sunday when the Patriots – in a must-win game after getting pantsed at home by San Francisco -- had a delay of game penalty on their first drive which ruined that possession.

That was followed on the next drive by a hold on left guard Joe Thuney. That was followed on the next drive by a false start from Jakobi Meyers. That was followed three plays later by an illegal shift on Damiere Byrd. That was followed on the ensuing Buffalo drive by a third-and-4 neutral zone infraction by Devin McCourty.

Four pre-snap penalties – one by one of your best players – and a hold on your franchised left guard in the first 20 minutes. It’s not what the Patriots pride themselves on. Put it that way.

TRADE DEADLINE IS JUST A TUESDAY

A twist on the memorable “Coffee is for closers”? The trade deadline is for winners. That’s who should be shopping up until this Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Teams that are just a piece away. Teams that don’t want to be sitting on a plane in January, flying home from a playoff game cursing the position that they should have shored up at Halloween.

The Patriots will not be one of those teams this year. They need help on the entire defensive line, on the edge and at linebacker. They need help at tight end and wide receiver.

OK. So don’t buy? Is that what you say? Sell, sell, sell? I can get behind that logic a lot easier. But you need to have players that are going to prop up some other team’s wobbly roster.

The Patriots have three players with real appeal – Stephon Gilmore, Thuney and Lawrence Guy. I don’t suspect they’ll move any of them before the deadline unless they are absolutely blown away by an offer. It’s a foreign feeling for Belichick and Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio to look at a reeling team that needs all hands on deck and send a good player out of town. Even if the draft pick might do them some good next April, it will seem like a white flag.

 

TWO SECOND-GUESSES

Belichick’s explanation of why he kicked a field goal on third-and-1 with 12 seconds left in the half and no timeouts made perfect sense to me. “It was a low-percentage play,” he said.

You don’t have to go back too far to find the Patriots’ butchering end-of-half scenarios when they had no timeouts.

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So rather than risk a bad snap, a sack, a fumble, a pick or any other weirdness that would prevent them from turning a four-point game into a one-point game, the Patriots took the three and went to the break down 7-6.

With a different set of receivers that could win 1-on-1 on one shot to the end zone, maybe you try it. Sunday was not that day.

The failed onsides kick the Patriots attempted after they tied the game at 14? Also a low-percentage play?

“We were trying to make a positive play," said Belichick.

I didn’t hate that one either. The Patriots run defense was getting rolled over at that point (and would continue to), so why not take a shot at giving their suddenly-effective offense another crack with a short field?

Didn’t work but – as with the gadget plays the Patriots have had to run on offense the past two years – it shows an awareness of the team’s limitations in certain areas and that they aren’t able to just line up and overwhelm teams with sheer talent. If you need the element of surprise, take it. No shame in that.

QUICK HITS

Undrafted Jakobi Meyers now has 31 catches for 426 yards in his two-year NFL career. First-rounder N’Keal Harry has 31 catches for 277 yards in his two-year NFL career. … Three of four of the Patriots' top picks in 2020 – third-round tight ends Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi and second-round safety Kyle Dugger -- were all inactive Sunday.

Keene and Dugger were on the injury report (Dugger didn’t travel because of a knee injury). Asiasi was held out for personal reasons. The Patriots were left with just one tight end dressed on Sunday, that was third-year tight end Ryan Izzo. He had two catches for 24 yards but his struggles as a blocker continued.