Jarrett Stidham is not Plan A, B, C or D for the Patriots in 2021 as they search for a long-term answer at quarterback. That's the takeaway I had this week as Bill Belichick rolled with Cam Newton as his starter against Buffalo on Monday night. For the first time in what feels like forever, the Patriots are simply playing out the stretch. After they were knocked from postseason contention last week, New England is simply playing for pride as they take on the Buffalo Bills, who have already clinched the AFC East for the first time since 1995.
As we've seen with some clubs in the past who failed to reach the postseason with games still left on the schedule, this period shifts into more of an evaluation for the coaching staff to see which members of the roster are worth bringing back. This season, Newton hasn't been able to truly solidify himself as a building block for New England in the post-Tom Brady era, averaging 183.2 yards per game passing and he has yet to throw for multiple touchdowns in a game this season. Given that lack of promise under center with Newton, one would think seeing what Jarrett Stidham, New England's 2019 fourth-round pick, can do with a couple of starts would be beneficial for the Patriots' prospects heading into 2021. After all, Stidham has yet to get a start in his career.
If he flashes any potential of possibly being the future for New England, it takes the pressure off of heading into free agency, the draft, or trade pool to get a quarterback and they could use their capital in other ways to build around him. If he stinks up the joint over the last few weeks, at least you know. What's there to lose? A game? Those no longer matter in Foxborough for 2020.
Even with this path out there for Belichick to rather easily go down, he elected to start Newton on Monday and it was met with predictable results. Newton completed just five of his 10 passes for 34 yards before giving way to Stidham with 8:20 to play in the third quarter. To Newton's credit, he did rush for a touchdown, but the passing game was non-existent for nearly two-and-a-half quarters prior to the switch during a 31-9 blowout.
That gets us to the larger point: As we clamor to see Stidham get a start to see if he's can be a long-term answer under center, it's possible Belichick has already come to that conclusion from reps he's seen that we're not privy to. Think of it this way: it took a beatdown by Buffalo for Stidham to even see the field in this Week 16 game against Buffalo that has no significance to New England whatsoever.
The hoodie's mantra over the years is that he'll do whatever is best for the football team. If Stidham was the next Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, or any serviceable starting quarterback, there's reason to believe Belichick wouldn't hold him out. He'd play him. What he really has been saying by sticking with Newton is that Stidham isn't the answer. Not in 2020, 2021, and likely beyond, which makes the future at quarterback that much hazier for New England heading into the offseason.
Jackson a Pro Bowl snub, but future is bright
From a Patriots perspective, J.C. Jackson was the noticeable snub as the Pro Bowl rosters were announced this week. Heading into Week 16, the 25-year-old corner ranked second in the league in interceptions and has been strong in coverage for the bulk of the season for New England. While there's no denying that Miami's Xavien Howard, Marlon Humphrey of the Ravens, Tre'Davious White of the Bills and Jackson's Patriots teammate Stephon Gilmore all deserve their nods this year, Jackson had a heck of a case. Even some of his peers around the league were befuddled at the snub.
How In the hell JC Jackson didn’t make probowl!!!— Darius Slay (@bigplay24slay) December 22, 2020
"I really don't care, man. To be honest with you, I'm focusing on Buffalo right now," Jackson said this week when asked about the snub, via MassLive.com. "I've got to finish out my season strong for myself and my teammates. That's all gonna fall in place. I know what I can do. I know I'm a Pro Bowler in my eyes and, like, it is what it is, man. Like, who cares?"
Even without the Pro Bowl honor, Jackson's continued development this season has been a bright spot for New England. He's also one of the easier offseason decisions that the Patriots will need to make. The restricted free agent will likely get a first-round tender as New England works to keep him around for the long-haul, possibly as its No. 1 corner.
"J.C.'s a very instinctive player," said Belichick. "He's got a good knack of being able to cover his man and still watch the ball. He gets some good breaks and makes some good plays on the ball. He does a great job of locating the ball when he turns around when his back's to the ball and turns around and can find it and locate it. He's got very, very good skills in that area. So, he's done a good job of improving every year, and I think he's still got a lot of good football in front of him."
Cam Newton lobbying for 2021 spot?
Following New England's loss to Miami that knocked the Patriots out of postseason contention for the first time since 2008, Cam Newton wrote a heartfelt social media post to Patriots Nation. One interesting nugget from that post that largely highlighted how they were searching for better production in 2020 was Newton saying that "this locker room is filled with guys who want to be a part of the solution including me."
Is that the Patriots' 2020 starter lobbying for another crack at it in 2021? When asked about that comment within that post this week, Newton didn't exactly address what he meant by it.
"I think the biggest thing is I'm just trying to maximize on the things that I know I have to prove," Newton said, via WEEI.com. "And that's starting with Monday. That's simple. I play this game for one reason, and that's just to win. And we have an opportunity to win on Monday. Let's just see how that goes."
Again, not exactly spelling out what he meant by being part of the solution.
In any event, Newton is set to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason and, given his play in 2020, it's hard to see a number of clubs knocking down the door to make them their Week 1 starter next year. It's possible that his best shot at starting next season in New England given his experience in the system. That said, Newton should hardly be the Patriots' No. 1 option at the position this offseason.
Jeff Fisch heads to Arizona
The Patriots will need a new quarterbacks coach in 2021 as it was announced this week that Jedd Fisch has been hired by the University of Arizona to be its new head coach, replacing Kevin Sumlin. The 2020 season was Fisch's lone season with New England, previously spending time with the Los Angeles Rams.
As it was announced that Fisch was heading to coach college ball, Bill Belichick was quoted in the official release praising the assistant coach for his work in New England.
"Jedd Fisch is one of the most outstanding coaches I have worked with and was an excellent addition to our staff this year," said Belichick. "Jedd has gained a wealth of experience in numerous organizations, in college and the NFL, and is ready to lead the Arizona program. Although we will miss his contributions here, we wish Jedd and Amber well at the University of Arizona, home to two of the greatest Patriots, Tedy Bruschi and Rob Gronkowski, as well as our current Wildcats, Nick Folk and J.J. Taylor."
Slater earns GOAT tag from Belichick
Patriots captain and special teams ace Matthew Slater earned his ninth Pro Bowl in his career, which is the record for a special teamer. When asked about him on Tuesday and where he believes he ranks amongst the special teams players that the league has seen, Belichick wasn't shy at giving Slater the greatest of all time tag.
"It's got to be at the top," he said. "I can't think of anybody that's done more than he has and that's done it over a very consistent period of time at an extremely high level, in addition to all the other qualities that he brings off the field – leadership, just doing the right thing, just the person and the human being that he is. But, his competitiveness on the field, he's a great teammate – just outstanding in all areas. It would be hard for me to imagine anybody going ahead of him.
"We've had some great players here and I've had some great players through my career – in Cleveland, going back to the Giants – but, he's certainly the very best that I've ever been around and that we've had to play against, as well. His consistency is outstanding, but he factors in on a lot of plays."