Bill Belichick using a two-quarterback rotation this season. During the regular season.
In a year when everything else has turned upside down, perhaps we should get used to the idea of this happening. Tom Brady, the model of consistency in his 20 years with the Patriots, is gone. Maybe it will take more than one man to replace him.
Cam Newton signed with the team on July 8, and he immediately was branded the assumed Week 1 starter. The former MVP is coming off an injury-shortened 2019 season, and the short window to absorb the Patriots’ offense worked against him.
And when Belichick was splitting reps in the early days of training camp — with Newton third in the QB pecking order — we didn’t bat an eye.
The appearance of a meritocracy has been maintained, with 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer, in his third tour of duty with the team, receiving nearly equal reps as the season draws closer.
Three Patriots practices:— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) August 19, 2020
Jarrett Stidham: 27/37 (73%) with five interceptions
Cam Newton: 21/33 (64%) with two interceptions
Brian Hoyer: 23/37 (62%) with no interceptions
Perhaps there’s something to this two-QB notion. It would be unlike anything we’ve seen from the Patriots for the past two decades, but if there’s something to be learned about Belichick’s methods it’s that he’ll do whatever he thinks gives the best chance for the team to be successful.
Egos be damned.
And that’s not to say that Newton — or either of the other two — can’t win the starting job outright prior to Week 1. With zero preseason games this year, it’s likely going to remain a mystery for a while. Perhaps even as long as into the first quarter of the first game against the Miami Dolphins.
Could a QB battle last into the season?
The Dolphins are coached by old friend Brian Flores, and the Patriots could be floating this idea to Reiss and other Patriots writers as a form of gamesmanship. After all, Flores marched his troops into Foxborough and beat the Patriots in Week 17, costing New England the No. 2 AFC playoff seed and a much-needed bye.
Maybe there is some kernel of truth to the two-QB experiment — at least to start. Reiss notes that Belichick views the early part of the season as an extension of the preseason, and that certainly figures to be the case in a flashpoint year at quarterback with no preseason action to help settle the battle.
Never bet against Belichick taking an unusual path. At age 68, in his 44th year coaching in the NFL, the future Hall of Famer remains innovative and open to things he has never done.
Even with Brady winning multiple Super Bowls in the twilight of his Patriots days, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wasn’t afraid to call plays where someone other than Brady was throwing the ball — an idea that would have felt foolish during Brady’s top-tier prime. Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman and James White all attempted passes on trick plays over the past few seasons.
This situation is different now, but it feeds back into the idea that unconventional has become conventional for McDaniels and Belichick. They’ll do whatever they have to in order to get the job done. And you know how badly they’d love to prove to Brady (and to fans) that they can win without him under center.
It’s possible that the Patriots start Stidham and rotate in Newton, giving New England each a package of plays to operate with that they’re more effective running than the other is and using it as a pseudo QB battle during the actual games.
Newton offers a running dimension that the Patriots haven’t had since ... Steve Grogan? One way or other, they figure to make that a staple of the offense in some form.
The drawback is that the Patriots have two tough road games — at Seattle and at Kansas City — prior to the Week 6 bye. If rotating QBs is effective, who is to say that it can’t work against elite opponents?
On top of that, the Dolphins are the only divisional game the Patriots have on the schedule until Week 8 when they head on the road to face the Buffalo Bills.
Could be best for Newton, Stidham long term
Newton is on a one-year deal. He is betting big on himself to play well, having accepted a relative pittance in salary that’s not commensurate of his talent.
One reason is his health. With the unusual offseason conditions, NFL teams couldn’t examine Newton’s problematic foot injury, which shut down his 2019 campaign after two games.
Rotating three quarterbacks can achieve multiple things: It can ramp up the competition. It can lessen the load on Newton early in the year. And it can offer Stidham more experience should Newton not re-sign with the team next offseason.
If Newton were to get hurt again, the divvied-up reps also would give the Patriots options in Hoyer and Stidham to step in. Belichick is never just thinking about today; tomorrow is always around the corner.
A week ago, we figured Newton was merely being subjected to the Belichick Method: Everyone on his team must earn a job.
Now? The likelihood of a timeshare at quarterback — even if it’s not temporary — doesn’t feel bizarre.
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