Patriot Games: An incomplete pass of the baton

This column is for non-sports fans who would like some enlightenment and hopefully humor without being sports fanatics.

“Who needs Tom Brady? We’ve got Cam Newton!”

Trust me, those are words you are never going to hear from a New England Patriots’ fan, no matter how die-hard they are.

Now that it appears Newton will remain the Pats’ starting quarterback, we are waiting for the 500-pound safe to fall on his head sometime before the halfway point of the season. While Bill Belichick may be enraptured by Cam, when Newton’s name comes up, the vision of passes thrown into the dirt at a wide open receiver’s feet is the first image that pops into a loyalist’s head. He made few friends (save for Belichick and some of his teammates) with his performance as QB last year — the Pats staggering along while Brady and the Buccaneers were winning the Super Bowl.

Both Belichick and owner Robert Kraft must have been mortified and embarrassed when Tampa Bay earned Brady his seventh Soopah Bowl ring when they blew out the Kansas Chiefs in the Big Game, 31-9. While Brady was exceptional, people overlook the fact that the Bucs didn’t allow the Chiefs a touchdown, despite having the second best QB in the NFL, Patrick Mahomes, who will likely inherit the Master of the Universe title from Brady, if the latter ever decides to retire.

But it was more the loss of Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski, the ex-retiree/refugee who caught two TD passes from Brady in the Super Bowl and the retirement of the beloved (and a Super Bowl MVP for the Pats) Julius Edelman that have Pats fans looking over their shoulder about what comes next. The loss of the trio was like KO punches to New England faithful, with the Bucs’ astounding win under Brady a Connor McGregor kick to the head once they were down.

To be fair, which normally doesn’t affect anything in On the Ball and Off the Wall, Newton had some excuses. Few who could be relied on to regularly catch the ball (see Harry, N’Keal). A defense that was kicked in the cojones by the season’s loss of star linebacker and leader Dont’a Hightower (COVID avoidance), the very good safety Patrick Chung (ditto) and others who strayed elsewhere (take a bow, LB Kyle Van Noy, back in the Pats’ fold this year after bailing out to Miami for one year).

But Newton’s lack of skill in passing, and having the Pats have to move from a sculpted Brady passing game to accommodate Newton’s deficiencies and instead rely on his not inconsiderable running skills had to be tough on everyone. This for an offense in which Brady’s idea of yardage on the ground was a quarterback sneak, and the only times he ran was probably into wife Gisele Bündchen’s arms.

But, and a very big but, New England drafted Alabama quarterback Mac Jones in the first round this year, right after he led the Crimson Tide to a national championship in 2020. This is the type of pedigree local fans want to see in a QB, as etched in stone by Brady’s almost fictional rise to stardom. Pats’ fans were rushing to hold the door open for Newton to exit and hoping Belichick would hand the keys to the kingdom over to Jones. Nowhere was that more evident than in the first preseason game against Washington when Jones was put on the field in the second quarter to rousing cheers from the homies. The distrust of and distaste for Newton could not have been more apparent.

Despite the public display of affection for Jones, Belichick — he of the legendary brass neck and hard head — is committed to Newton being his starting quarterback, rather than put faith in the rookie. This will not sit well with the great unwashed in their Pats replica jerseys, and the only one giving Cam more room than one bad game to have him replaced by Jones is Big Bill.

This may be the figurative Game of the Year for the Patriots, seeing how long they will tolerate enraging mistakes and numbing lack of NFL football nous from Newton before simply having to throw Mac Jones into the fire. If the Pats are looking to head for another humiliating (to the spoiled fans) 7-9 record, Coach Belichick may want to worry about being not the G.O.A.T., but rather the goat.