Patriots fans nervously tuned into Mac Jones' first official start against the Miami Dolphins. Would Jones have a typical rookie performance or would Belichick be able to keep him playing at a starting level while he learns? In cutting Cam Newton, Belichick left himself no option other than to hope it's the latter.
However, after losing to the softer of the two goliaths in the AFC East, it begs the question of whether Cam Newton could have done any better. Here's a look at how Mac Jones did and how Newton may have been able to win the game.
Mac Jones versus the ghost of Cam Newton
Mac Jones completed 29 of 39 attempts for 281 yards and a touchdown in the game. The Patriots scored only 16 points. On paper, Jones had a good game, if not a spectacular one. However, he rarely tested defenses down the field. Most of his completions were safe checkdowns to the running back.
Dinking and dunking down the field is a great way to avoid killer mistakes. That said, if overused, dinking and dunking almost never leads to explosive performances. To win the game, the Patriots did not need an explosive performance. They simply needed more than 17 points during the course of four quarters. The Patriots failed to do that with Jones.
Could Cam Newton have done any better? With Newton last season, the Patriots put up 21 points against the Dolphins in Week 1. In Week 15, the Patriots put up 12 points against the same team, putting their average points haul against the 2020 Dolphins at 16.5 points. Based on history, Cam Newton would have done about as well as Mac Jones.
However, this isn't the same Patriots offense from last season.
Last season, the Patriots had one of the worst-ranked offenses. This season, the Patriots have added about 1,000 yards at the tight end position and hundreds at the wide receiver position, based on each player's history. Cam Newton likely would have been able to do more than Jones in this game. Newton's second preseason game also showed this, as he completed eight of nine passes for a touchdown in limited action.
That said, while Newton would have done better, Belichick is clearly placing more importance on the future of the Patriots, as was evident in the whole Cam Newton episode ahead of Week 1. While Jones may have underperformed just a touch, he could pass Newton by the end of the year or in 2022. After all, the young quarterback has the Bill Belichick seal of approval.