By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — We can be honest with one another here, right? We’re in the circle of trust, yeah? A judgment free zone?

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If that’s the case, then I feel comfortable saying this: It’s an absolute bummer that Cam Newton as the quarterback of the New England Patriots hasn’t worked out. A complete and total bummer.

Now obviously, the entirety of the blame for the Patriots being 6-8 and missing the playoffs for the first time since the iPhone 3G was introduced to the world does not fall solely on Cameron’s shoulders. Their receiving corps and linebacking corps are some of the thinnest in the league, and the team on paper doesn’t possess a tremendous amount of firepower. They weren’t built to be a champion in 2020. Understood.

Still, Newton’s midsummer signing felt like something that could be the difference between a humdrum 7-9 record and a 10-6 with a spot in the postseason. As it turned out … he’s not. The Patriots will be 8-8 at best, with a pedestrian 7-9 record looking to be the most likely finish.

While those of us who were fortunate enough to witness firsthand the run of the greatest quarterback of all time weren’t necessarily eager for that gravy train to end, it was at least preferable for Tom Brady’s successor to be someone who provided some pop, some electricity, and some serious potential as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. In July, August, and even September, it looked like the Patriots had that.

Alas, they did not.

Cam Newton isn’t washed up, no. But his days of being the best player on a good team might be behind him.

This year, he’s shown that he can still be the best player on a bad team. It just doesn’t mean much.

The “bummer” part of the equation comes in the fact that off the field, Newton has been a revelation. He’s said everything you’d want someone in that position to say. He’s clearly put in the physical work. He’s done his best to ingrain himself in the Patriots culture while also doing everything possible to establish relationships with new teammates. Joining the team in the summer and the COVID protocols made that difficult, but he clearly made an earnest effort.

Through it all — and through Newton’s own positive test and COVID absence — Newton’s kept his head down and hasn’t buckled under the weight of replacing Brady. It’s just that the results have not been satisfactory.

Perhaps, then, Newton’s time with the Patriots will expire after just one season. Nobody thought that was possible after the first few weeks of the season, when Newton looked to be a rejuvenated and rebuilt dual-threat weapon for the 2-1 Patriots, whose only loss came by a single yard.

At that point in the season, Newton was averaging 288 yards of offense (238 passing, 50 rushing) with two passing touchdowns, four rushing touchdowns, and two interceptions. His passer rating was a promising 89.7. Julian Edelman recorded more receiving yards in Week 2 in Seattle than he ever had in any game with Brady. Newton seemed to even have found a way to tap into N’Keal Harry, who had the best game of his career that same night.

The talk in New England was not about whether the Patriots should extend Newton, but for how long and how much money. In any event, the Patriots had the franchise tag in their back pocket, in case Newton demanded a big-money deal on the open market.

Now, that’s not a topic worth exploring. Since returning from COVID, Newton has a 75.7 passer rating. He’s averaged 201 yards per game (167 passing, 34 rushing) with just three touchdown passes and eight interceptions, while still rushing for seven touchdowns. He’s started 10 games, and the Patriots have won just four of them.

Again, the 6-8 record doesn’t fall squarely on Newton’s shoulders. This isn’t about that.

This is merely to say that the electrifying potential of Newton, sitting around a table and talking about the Patriots getting a “ticked-off dog” who could open up the playbook in ways Josh McDaniels never dreamed possible? The days of Photoshopped images of Cam looking like a superhero in a Patriots uniform. The shots of Cam mimicking actual superheroes during a couple of double-digit wins early in the season?

Ah. Those were the days.

I’m sure some people didn’t buy in. But those people are no fun. Those of us who kept open the possibility of Newton recapturing his MVP ability from five years ago while serving as the latest “typical Belichick” steal? We believed in something. There’s no shame in that.

It’s just that now, after the team has failed to score a touchdown for eight consecutive quarters, there’s no use trying to explain it any other way. The whole thing is a bummer.

Let’s hit on some leftover thoughts from that 22-12 loss in Miami, one which most of New England would surely prefer to forget.

Cam Newton (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

–Speaking of the aforementioned Josh McDaniels, I do *not* think he caught his former fellow coworker by surprise with any of his play calls on Sunday. Specifically, Brian Flores’ and Josh Boyer’s defense could not have possibly looked any more prepared than it did against the first two screen passes from New England.

I mean … look at this. First drive:

WR screen for a loss of two yards on third-and-11 (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Second drive:

Incomplete screen pass on third-and-9 (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

As an offensive coordinator, that second one’s got to hurt to see. That’s a play-caller’s equivalent of getting posterized. Tough scene.

–Statistically, Cam Newton was fine. Technically speaking. He was 17-for-27 (63.0 percent) for 209 yards, and he didn’t throw any picks.

But physically … he left a lot out there.

I will grant you that if Devin Asiasi wants to be an NFL tight end, then he will need to catch passes like this. At the same time, it perhaps was not the ideal time for Cam to unleash the 900 mph speed ball directly at Devin’s coconut:

Newton incompletion to Asiasi (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

A little touch on that pass, and it’s a 10-yard catch-and-run. Instead, it fell incomplete, and the Patriots would gain one more yard before punting.

In the second quarter, there was this one. Honestly I’m not sure if this was intentional or not. Regardless, you don’t often see a throw like this in an NFL game when it doesn’t involve Josh Allen pre-2020.

Cam Newton bounce pass (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

(I genuinely miss the days of laughing at Josh Allen’s throws. His improvement on his completion rate from 52.8 percent to 68.7 percent in such a short period warrants a congressional investigation, frankly. It is cool that he’s good now but it also kind of stinks, you know? Anyways!)

On this incompletion out of the back of the end zone, I understand that Newton was throwing a safe ball. He wanted it away from the safety and over the corner, where only his receiver would have a chance to catch it.

Problem was … you have to give your receiver a chance to catch it. Otherwise, why even take the field?

This throw had no chance of being caught by anyone other than a stray parabolic mic operator.

Cam Newton incomplete to Jakobi Meyers (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

That one right there can help explain why the offense hasn’t scored a touchdown in more than 120 minutes.

Then there was this one. This was a “good gravy” pass if there ever was one:

Kyle Van Noy drops a Cam Newton pass. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

That one could have (and should have?) been picked by two different Dolphins. That’s why the “0” in the INT column doesn’t tell the full tale of this day.

–We are a quarterback-obsessed nation, hence all of … that. But the Patriots’ biggest problem on this day wasn’t at quarterback. It was in the run defense.

Whether it was missed tackles, or gaping holes …

… or flying past Tua on a blitz …

… the Patriots couldn’t stop anything. Not a single thing.

The Patriots allowed the Dolphins to have a 100-yard rusher for the first time in two calendar years. And it was a guy named Salvon Ahmed who did it to them. He’s an undrafted rookie who had 166 career rushing yards before going for 122 and a touchdown against New England.

Beaten by a rookie QB and an undrafted rookie running back on a team missing its top three pass-catchers. Things sure have changed significantly for Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

–Several weeks ago, you could draw a chuckle out of someone by saying that punter Jake Bailey is the Patriots’ MVP. Ba ha ha ha, good one, mate. Cheers!

Now after Week 15 … it’s legitimately true.

Bailey has dropped 24 punts inside the 20-yard line, while kicking just three touchdbacks. His 46.1-yard net average is the best in the business, and his average of 48.7 yards per boot is fourth-best in the NFL (coincidentally, another Belichick find in Cory Bojorquez leads the league in that category).

While this obviously is also a compliment to the coverage unit, Bailey has allowed just eight returns for 46 yards on the whole seasons. Considering he’s punted 42 times, that is ridiculous.

This is all to say if you cracked jokes when Belichick traded up in the draft to pick a punter out of Stanford (and who didn’t crack wise?), then you’ve simply got to raise your hand and admit that you got that one wrong. Don’t mess with Bill Belichick and punters. You should know better.

–Tua Tagovailoa … is he the next great Dolphins quarterback? I’m not sure. He doesn’t look amazing most of the time, and he makes some jaw-dropping mistakes, like throwing this pass to the wrong team in the end zone:

J.C. Jackson intercepts a pass from Tua Tagovailoa. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

But he makes winning plays, he’s fearless, and his poise is impossible to miss. The Dolphins have obviously been scrambling for The Guy™ since Dan Marino called it quits. Turns out they kind of had one in Ryan Tannehill, they just didn’t know how to tap into him.

Whether or not Tua fulfills his The Guy™ potential will likely play the most significant role in how the Dolphins stack up with the Patriots in the coming years. The end result can’t yet be known, but Miami clearly has a head start in that race.

–This isn’t a Patriot thought anymore, but at the same time, any Tom Brady thought from now through eternity will be a Patriot thought. 

So consider this:

Tom Brady, 2020
353-for-542 (65.1 percent), 3,886 yards, 32 TDs, 11 INTs
97.5 rating
14 starts, 9-5 record

Every QB In History Who Tried To Play At Age 43, Combined
37-for-71 (52.1 percent), 539 yards, 7 TDs, 5 INTs
80.7 rating
0 starts

The “Tom Brady is old but still good” drum has been banged 11.7 million times, so I get that it’s not as shocking as it should be. But … it absolutely should be.

OK FINE, back to the bad game against the Dolphins. Stop bullying me!

–Sometimes the sports guys make cool plays. This was one of those times.

–I bet N’Keal Harry’s trainer would say that Cam put way too much heat on this ball, thus robbing Harry of having a chance to go up and win a jump ball.

Cam Newton incomplete to N’Keal Harry (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

(He would be correct. If he were to say that. Even if he later claims he was improperly quoted.)

–It was a great day for Dolphins running backs … but not in blitz pickup.

Adrian Phillips overpowers Salvon Ahmed for the sack. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Sheesh! That’s a rare “Well, I Could Have Done That” moment in an NFL game. (I could not have run for 122 yards and a touchdown, though. I’d get 88 yards MAX.)

–What’s this all about?

The snide Twitter reply is always that Steve Belichick is in over his head and is getting preferential treatment or whatever, but in reality, the trio of two Belichicks and a Mayo oversaw the best defense in the league a year ago. The real answer remains a mystery, and it’s baffling.

–Dalton Keene got to catch a pass in an NFL game! Good for hi— oh wait he fumbled on his own.

Dalton Keene fumbles. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

That’s not great.

–Hey things are bad, so let’s end on a positive note. Here’s Cam Newton juking a large man out of his shorts, all while wearing the Italian flag on his lower back!

Cam Newton juke (GIF form NFL.com/GamePass)

Did you catch it? Did you see the flag of Italy?? Did you see il Tricolore???

Look closer:

Cam Newton (Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

And closer:

Cam Newton (Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

Heck yeah! I bet this Italian soccer guy with a tiny flag approves!

Stephen Coniglio poses with an Italian flag. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Viva Italia! Buon Natale!! Ci vediamo lunedì sera!!!!

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You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.