Patriots QBs Mac Jones, Cam Newton give Bill Belichick a good problem

Cam Newton looks like he should be New England’s starting quarterback. At least for now. Maybe. Perhaps.

And the uncertainty has nothing to do with Newton, who played very well in Thursday’s 35-0 Patriots victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s just that rookie Mac Jones looked just as good — and with greater potential — as well.

Put it this way: whatever represented Bill Belichick’s best-case scenario out of the quarterback position might have been exceeded. This is the kind of QB competition a coach wants.

The hotshot rookie looks like he may be as good as hoped. And the veteran starter isn’t backing down or getting rattled just because someone new is coming for his job. Newton may get replaced at some point this season, but based on his performance against Philly, he’s going to make Jones earn it.

“Just tried to do my job,” Newton said. “That’s all it is.”

New England Patriots' Cam Newton watches the second half of a preseason NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Cam Newton looked the part of an accomplished starter in a short preseason outing against Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The Eagles played a role in all of this, of course. Minus numerous starters, their defense was embarrassing. By the middle of the third quarter, the Patriots' two quarterbacks had combined to go 20-of-25, the run game was averaging 5 yards a carry and the scoreboard read 25-zip.

None of that matters though.

What does is that Newton looked like he still had some pop in his throws and ran the offense with the efficiency you’d expect out of a former league MVP in his 11th season. Cam went 8-of-9 for 103 yards and a touchdown. His 11.4 yards per attempt show he was willing to push the ball downfield a bit.

And while he didn’t show it against the Eagles, his rushing ability adds an extra dynamic to an offense that should be very run-centric.

He’s your Week 1 starter because ... why wouldn’t he be?

If there is no need to rush Jones, the 15th pick overall draft pick out of Alabama, then you don’t rush it. Sounds good, except Jones spent the second and third quarters Thursday trying to give the Patriots a reason to consider it.

Jones went 13-of-19 for 146 yards. At least three of those incompletions could be classified as drops.

His arm strength stood out. There was a beautiful deep ball to N’Keal Harry that fell incomplete but not due to Jones. There was a fastball that split a couple defenders in the third quarter. There was an ability to step up in the pocket and complete second-tier strikes.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 19: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots looks on against the Philadelphia Eagles in the second half of the preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field on August 19, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Patriots defeated the Eagles 35-0. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Rookie Mac Jones had a nice outing in a laugher against Philadelphia. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) (Mitchell Leff via Getty Images)

Jones was hyped as something of a game manager coming out of Bama, where he was surrounded by an outrageous amount of talent within the Nick Saban machine.

He’s proving to be more than that. His first drive Thursday was a 17-play, 91-yard, 9:04 march to the end zone that coaches dream about. The most important play came early, when facing third-and-13 from his own 6-yard line, Jones hit Harry for 19 yards.

“I’ve been around Mac long enough now that I'm not really surprised,” said wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. "That was the expectation when they drafted him … I'm happy to see him come out and put a good product on the field … Cam, Mac, all of us. I think we are all getting better day by day.”

He’s going to be an NFL starter and possibly a good one for a long time. If he begins to throw harder as he becomes more comfortable in the pro game, then he is going to push that start date to happen quickly.

The last time New England had an in-season quarterbacking change it was Drew Bledsoe as the proven vet and Tom Brady as the unknown rookie. However, Bledsoe wasn’t at the end of his career the way Newton is. And Brady hadn’t shown the obvious promise that Jones has. It took an injury to flip the depth chart.

Jones is unlikely to become Brady because it’s unlikely anyone becomes Brady. He is going to keep making himself hard to ignore though, which Brady never really did until he finally got on the field.

Jones’ day will not come because of an emergency, but because Belichick believes he gives the Pats the best opportunity to win.

In New England, that’s what every decision boils down to, as the coach often reminds.

Right now, Newton is playing well enough to hold onto his starting spot. He looks good enough to win some games.

It’s already closer though — and at a higher level for both QBs — than maybe even the most ambitious projections expected. This is going to be interesting.

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