Mac Jones has been on his tail, dogging him every practice, every preseason game. It’s no secret, the heat has clearly been on Cam Newton to hold onto the starter’s job.
And while the rookie has often looked better, and hasn’t flinched with more being put on his plate at every turn, neither has Newton.
The former NFL MVP, an underdog of sorts in this quarterback battle, played one of his best games as a Patriot, if only for a quarter against the Eagles.
But then again, Jones was also masterful during his time under center Thursday night, leading the team to three touchdowns in four offensive series in the rout.
In all, the two quarterbacks led five scoring drives in three quarters.
So where do the quarterbacks stand after three weeks of training camp and two preseason games?
Answer: In a good place.
Right now, it’s a situation Bill Belichick must be loving.
Because right now, he has two quarterbacks who have really picked up the pace and the level of their play during the past week, and shown they’re both capable of running the Patriots offense.
And how would we characterize that offense?
It’s one that leads with the running game, which was on full display against Philly, and obscenely good with Damien Harris, Sony Michel, Rhamondre Stevenson and J.J. Taylor taking turns running over the Eagles.
Stevenson’s encore to his performance against Washington was even better, and so was the rest of the stable, who feasted on the Eagles’ defense to the tune of 207 rushing yards, with 4 touchdowns.
Newton (8 for 9, 103 yards, TD) and Jones (13 for 19, 146 yards), however, were the straws that stirred the drink.
Jakobi Meyers, who had 3 catches for 56 yards and a touchdown, thinks the offense is really coming together.
“I think Cam, Mac, all of us, I think we’re all getting better day by day, honestly,” said Meyers. “I think this year is definitely a leap forward (for Newton). We’re all working toward putting a good product on the field for Miami.”
The execution level of both quarterbacks was top notch during the blowout. Both Newton and Jones were incredibly efficient, even if it came against a lot of backups. It’s quite possible that Newton, who played three series with the starters, solidified the top job with his performance.
He continues to leave little room for Jones to jump over him. He basically gave Belichick more ammunition to keep him as the starter for Week 1, which appears to be the Hoodie’s preference.
“I just tried to do my job. That’s all it is,” Newton said following the game. “We tried to be more efficient in the passing game, that’s what we tried to do, (play) throw and catch and have good discipline in the zone defenses and the man to man defenses and whatever they threw at us. That’s all we tried to do.”
As great as the rookie looked Thursday night, engineering a 17-play, 91-yard scoring drive digging the Patriots out of a hole, along with putting together another flawless no-huddle scoring drive to start the third quarter, it would still be stunning to see Belichick go with him over Newton.
At this point, Jones hasn’t led off any game, or practice, getting the starter reps. That has to mean something in the big picture.
To no surprise, after the game, Belichick wasn’t overly effusive in his praise of the quarterbacks, providing his usual “we still have a long way to go.”
But he still had to be pleased.
Having Newton play well isn’t a bad thing in Belichick’s book. It allows more time for Jones to develop, and not be rushed.
Yes, Jones is a first-round pick. And yes, he is the future franchise quarterback, the face of the organization, who has gone toe-to-toe with Newton.
He will get there. There’s no doubt about that.
But Newton is making it clear he’s not going to just hand over the baton without a fight.
Against the Eagles, Newton didn’t show the hesitation at the line that plagued him last year, and has been a part of his repertoire during practices this year.
He was decisive against the Eagles, throwing lasers all over the field.
And to think, one of the Eagles taunted him during joint practices, calling him the “Check-down King.”
Newton had the last laugh. He threw in rhythm, had good velocity, showed a comfort level with the offense, and threw only a few check-downs as needed.
He had completions of 23 yards to Kendrick Bourne, and 18 and 10 to Jakobi Meyers, as he went 4 of 5 for 56 yards on the second scoring drive.
The Eagles didn’t exactly throw the full boat of starters at him — Fletcher Cox, among others, was missing — but that shouldn’t necessarily diminish the effort.
Same with Jones, who played against the second- and third-teamers for the Eagles, and engineered three scoring drives of 70 yards or more.
While Belichick has named Newton the starter at every turn, it still seemed like there was room for Jones to overtake him.
There might still be an opening. But that probably won’t come until the regular season.
Jones’ time will come. He’s looked too good, too perfect in the offense, to keep on the bench. Once again, it’s not an “if” situation, it’s more a matter of “when” Belichick deems him ready.
But if Newton is going to play like he did against the Eagles, Belichick isn’t likely to hurry the process, and rush the kid in — even if many in Patriot Nation would like to see him sooner, rather than later.
Belichick will go with the veteran, and let it play out during the regular season.
The good news is, right now, both are making the decision a hard one for the Hoodie.