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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick always said he would look for consistency and production over time when it comes to evaluating quarterback competition between Cam Newton and Mac Jones.
Newton was released on Monday and Jones, who was drafted No. 15 overall in the first round this year, was named the starting engine. He had steadily made up for Newton during training camp. The news put Jones among the favorites to be the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, making him one of three former Alabama quarterbacks expected to start in Week 1, along with Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia Eagles) and Tua Tagovailoa (Miami Dolphins) ).
The Dolphins open the season with the Patriots on Sept. 12 (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS).
The turning point that really turned things around in Jones’ favor was when he took over three drills last week when Newton was absent for a “misunderstanding” of a COVID-19 protocol.
Players responded to the Heisman Trophy finalist in 2020. The offense under Jones looked Patriot-like, with empty formations, pace and changes at the boundary common when former quarterback Tom Brady was at the controls. And in a bit of irony, the transition to Jones was in some ways similar to what unfolded in 2001 when Brady grabbed the job from Drew Bledsoe.
Bledsoe was the Patriots’ starting quarterback, but Brady came on strong and played the position more to Belichick’s liking – with brand accuracy and decision-making. Those close to the scene then thought it was more a matter of “when” than “if” Brady would take over, and an injury to Bledsoe opened the door faster than expected.
The door swung open for Jones during a joint pre-season training session with the New York Giants. That day, it felt like a significant moment had taken place, and Jones – who entered a “game flow” and chopped up the Giants – was ready to carry the QB torch.
The primary question at last Sunday’s conciliation final was whether Belichick felt it was too early to throw the 22-year-old into the regular seasonal fire.
That would have been the main reason for sticking with Newton – to protect Jones. And it would have been understandable if Belichick went in that direction and balanced Jones’ long-term development with the short-term goals of winning matches that count.
But through a methodical, consistent approach, Jones proved to Belichick that risk does not outweigh the rewards. He can handle it, and maybe nothing showed it more than the three exercises without Newton.
It’s not that Jones has not made a mistake. He has had plenty, as all rookies do. But that’s how he has reacted to those who loved him as teammates and coaches. By correcting them and not usually doing them again, it allowed the Patriots to keep building and driving an offense that gradually resembled the Brady-led one.
It rarely, if ever, looked like that with Newton, which is not a surprise because it is not his game. So playing with Newton would have required a different approach.
Jones, whose hallmarks are also accuracy and decision-making, took advantage of his opportunity when Newton was absent due to the “misunderstanding”.
Maybe he won the job anyway.
But it certainly did not hurt.