By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — After three weeks of some exhilarating quarterback play from Cam Newton, the Patriots were smacked with a dose of reality when both Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham turned in uninspiring performances Monday night against the Chiefs.
With Newton in quarantine following a positive COVID-19 test over the weekend, the Patriots had to turn to their backups in the team’s biggest game of the year. Hoyer got the start, considering he’s a 12-year vet and earned the No. 2 spot on the depth chart throughout camp. Bill Belichick isn’t one to simply give a player a job based on where they were drafted or their upside, so Stidham started the game with a clipboard.
That was only temporary though, as Hoyer looked like a career backup throughout the 26-10 loss. What was rust at first turned into a pair of complete brain cramps, leading to some costly sacks in the red zone. First, Hoyer was sacked at the end of the half with time expiring, costing the Patriots three points in a 6-3 game. It turned what could have been a momentum-filled locker room at halftime into an extremely awkward place.
But Belichick went back to the 35-year-old to start the second half, and Hoyer rewarded him with… another costly sack. This time it was a strip sack by Taco Charlton at the KC 16-yard line, a disappointing end to a promising 13-play drive that cost the Patriots more points on the scoreboard.
Costing your team points is the biggest no-no in football. Doing it twice is simply unacceptable, especially from a veteran like Hoyer.
After that strip-sack, the Chiefs marched down the field in seven plays and were off and running when Patrick Mahomes’ touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill gave Kansas City a 13-3 lead.
Hoyer held on to the ball for way too long in both of his mental gaffes, becoming a statue in the pocket, and that second sack/fumble was the last straw for Belichick and Josh McDaniels.
Hoyer has now lost 11 straight starts. He took all the blame for those costly miscues — and Belichick made it clear that they were on Hoyer’s shoulders — after the loss.
“It’s disappointing,” said Hoyer, who finished 15-for-24 for 130 yards and a pick. “You never want to get taken out of a game. Coach made the decision and I understand. Just two bad decisions in the red-area really cost us points. It’s frustrating. It’s disappointing. I have to do a better job.”
Hoyer was replaced by Stidham, who appeared to temporarily invigorate the New England offense by leading the charge on a six-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with his first career touchdown pass, finding N’Keal Harry on a fade route in the end zone. The drive was aided by a Chiefs pass interference at the eight-yard line, which negated an end zone interception a few plays prior to the touchdown, but at least Stidham took advantage of the opportunity.
Unfortunately the rest of the night did not go as well for the second-year QB. He threw another pick-six, the second of his young career, though most of the blame for that one falls on Julian Edelman’s un-sticky fingers. But Stidham followed up that pick by throwing another on an ill-advised deep ball to Damiere Byrd on New England’s ensuing drive.
Stidham finished his night 5-for-13 for 60 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
“It’s nice to get out there and to play and to get those reps, but it’s obviously very frustrating to not come away with a win, throwing the two interceptions and so forth,” he said after the loss. “I think I’ll be able to take a deeper look once I am able to watch the film. I definitely think there’s some better throws I could have made out there on the field. I’m anxious to watch the film and see what I can do better.”
In the second half, Hoyer and Stidham had three turnovers that led to 14 Kansas City points.
It sets up an interesting dilemma as the Patriots prepare for a Week 5 matchup with the 1-3 Denver Broncos. Who will get the start if Newton isn’t cleared — or isn’t fit to play — on Sunday? Neither Hoyer or Stidham did much to earn the start, so it boils down to who did less to lose it?
Belichick didn’t offer any insight on Monday night, saying that starting Hoyer was what they felt was best for the team. They didn’t consider making a switch at halftime because the team was only down three points, which will be an obvious second-guess for the next day or so.
Newton’s status for Sunday is extremely iffy. He is reportedly asymptomatic, and if he remains so, will have to have two straight negative COVID tests 24 hours apart to be taken off the NFL’s reserve/COVID list. That could happen later this week if everything goes well, but we’re now seven months into this pandemic and should know that usually isn’t how things work out. And even if Cam is cleared to play, the Patriots will have to determine if it’s in the team’s best interest to start Newton after missing an entire week of practice.
Chances are it would be in their best interest, based on what we saw from Hoyer and Stidham on Monday night. But the Patriots should be prepared to start either of their backups Sunday against Denver.
If it comes to that, one would hope that Belichick would roll with Stidham. It has to be Stidham going forward. The youngin showed a lot more than Hoyer on Monday night, though that doesn’t really say too much. He showed some raw ability and much better arm strength, and you would hope that he would improve his decision making with more reps.
But don’t be surprised if Belichick turns back to Hoyer. The veteran was clearly rusty to start, and one would hope that his pocket presence improves after a week of tongue-lashings in the film room. And in that scenario, it would be easy to turn to Stidham again should Hoyer flounder.
Fingers are crossed throughout New England that Newton will make a miraculous recovery in time to start Sunday. But if that doesn’t happen, the Patriots could be in for another game of musical chairs at QB against Denver.