The Patriots never quite had a quarterback battle emerge in their first year attempting to replace Tom Brady. With no preseason and a pared-down training camp, Cam Newton easily emerged as the starter over Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer.
But in 2021, Patriots fans are being treated to their first quarterback competition in decades.
Newton is trying to win the starting job over first-round rookie Mac Jones. The 15th overall pick was the fifth quarterback off the board in the quarterback-rich 2021 NFL Draft and played at Alabama under Nick Saban, who is friendly with Belichick.
Belichick hasn’t said a lot about the quarterback competition. When he has, the veteran coach has spoken well of both players.
“Cam’s getting better every day. Mac is getting better every day. They are pushing each other,” Belichick said on Aug. 5, per WEEI. “Competition makes us all better, so it’s been healthy and we’ll see how it goes.”
Just how is the competition going? Is Newton or Jones in the lead? Here’s everything you need to know about the Patriots’ quarterback battle and what Belichick has said about both Newton and Jones.
What Bill Belichick has said about Cam Newton
Newton endured a disappointing season his first year with the Patriots, but that didn’t stop New England from re-signing him on a one-year deal. Newton’s contract could be worth up to $14 million but comes with significantly less guaranteed money than that ($3.5 million).
Since then, Belichick has steadfastly committed to Newton starting. When the Patriots selected Jones in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Belichick said, “Cam is our quarterback.” At the start of training camp on July 31, he reiterated that message.
“Cam’s our starting quarterback, I think I’ve said that,” Belichick said.
That momentum has carried over through two preseason games. Belichick made an appearance on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show” after the Patriots’ 35-0 win over the Eagles in preseason Week 2 during which he said that “somebody” — in this case, Jones — would have to outplay Newton to take the starting job.
“The fact that Cam started last year, and he’s here, somebody would have to play better than him,” Belichick said. “We’re not just gonna take a job and say OK, here, this is gift-wrapped for somebody.”
That hasn’t happened yet, so Newton is, presumably, in the lead for the starting job.
That said, Newton had to miss five days because of a misunderstanding surrounding the league’s protocols for COVID tests conducted away from the NFL’s facilities. Did Belichick’s opinion of Newton change because of his brush with COVID protocols? The coach largely avoided questions about Newton during his media availability.
“I don’t have anything to add to the statement. It is what it is,” Belichick said, per ESPN. “We’ve given you the information and that’s all I have.”
Still, it seems like Newton’s mistake won’t have too much of an impact on him — unless, of course, Jones takes advantage of his absence.
What Bill Belichick has said about Mac Jones
After spending a first-round selection on Jones, Belichick explained what the Patriots liked about Jones and why they selected him so early.
“We look forward to working with him. He’s a smart kid,” Belichick said, per NBC Sports Boston. “He’s been in a system that’s similar to ours. We’ve had a lot of conversations with him. I think he’ll be able to process the offense. It’s obviously going to take a lot of time. We’ll see how it goes.”
While Belichick’s praise is notable, so is his noting it will “take a lot of time” for Jones to develop. That’s part of why he immediately clarified that Newton was the starter even after selecting Jones.
Belichick has continued to give Jones measured praise during the offseason. Belichick was happy with Jones’ efforts during OTAs but noted that he was still a work in progress.
“He’s working hard, he puts in a lot of time,” Belichick said, per CBS Sports. “Certainly giving his very best effort to do everything we’ve asked him to do and do it the way we’ve asked him to do it, which is a great place to start. He’s earned a lot of respect for that. But he has a long way to go. We’ll see how it goes.”
So far during the preseason, Jones has shown well. But for the most part, Belichick has been mum about the performance of both quarterbacks after each game. That included Jones’ debut against Washington.
“We’ll look at it on film and see,” Belichick told reporters, per NFL.com. “Some good things, plenty of things we can improve on. Same with everybody.”
It appears that Belichick still wants to bring Jones along slowly, but perhaps Week 3 of the preseason could change his mind. Belichick acknowledged that Newton’s absence is an opportunity for Jones.
“It is [a big week],” Belichick said.
Can Jones take advantage of that opportunity? He will almost certainly need to if he wants to unseat Newton ahead of Week 1.
Who started Patriots’ first preseason game?
Newton started the Patriots’ first preseason game, as expected. He played just two drives for the Patriots and completed 4 of 7 passes for 49 yards. He was steady, but the biggest highlight of his night was getting blown up on a sack by Chase Young.
Of course, that sack wasn’t Newton’s fault by any means, but the rest of his night was non-descript.
Meanwhile, Jones was steady in his debut. He went 13 of 19 passing for 87 yards. He had some nice throws on the evening, including this one, which was well located between a couple of Washington defenders.
Jones and Newton were about equal after the first preseason game, but per usual, Belichick refused to tip his hand regarding the quarterback competition. He didn’t even mention it in his postgame press conference.
Who started Patriots’ second preseason game?
Once again, Newton took the field as the starter for New England. He looked great against the Eagles and delivered strong, downfield throws to his receivers.
Newton wasn’t under much pressure at all, as the Eagles rested most of their starters on the defensive line. That allowed him more time in the pocket, of which he took advantage. He waited to find open receivers and didn’t scramble unnecessarily. That helped him stay in rhythm throughout the night and make throws like this to Jakobi Meyers.
Newton completed 8 of 9 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown during the contest. He was rock-solid and threw the ball downfield far more often than he did during most of his 2020 starts.
That said, Jones just about matched Newton’s performance. He nearly threw a pick on his second pass of the game, but after that, he performed much better. He led three touchdown drives on four possessions and routinely threw quality passes.
Ironically, his best of the day wasn’t caught. He launched a perfect deep ball to N’Keal Harry late in the second quarter. It hit Harry in the hands, but he couldn’t corral it. If he did, it would’ve been a 55-yard TD.
Absolute dime from Mac Jones and a good route on the go ball from N’Keal Harry. Hope he’s alright but this has got to be caught. Two weeks in a row now Mac has dropped one in the bucket up the left sideline. pic.twitter.com/Xy29MBnx2h
— Ryan Spagnoli (@Ryan_Spags) August 20, 2021
Jones finished the day going 13-of-19 passing for 146 yards. He also had a 3-yard run. He demonstrated great accuracy and good zip on his throws during the contest.
After the game, Belichick provided little information about the quarterback situation.
“You know, I thought all players had a good week,” he said. “Everybody improved.”