By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — For weeks, Bill Belichick has defiantly resisted any reporter who dared ask him if he would be making a quarterback change from Cam Newton to Jarrett Stidham. The head coach’s responses have ranged from sarcastic, to bothered, to downright confrontational, as Belichick made it clear that “Cam is the quarterback.”
Alas, after Newton skipped a pass to a wide-open N’Keal Harry on a third-and-9 before halftime, Belichick must have come close to having seen enough from his starting quarterback.
Newton remained the quarterback for the first Patriots possession of the second half, but after a three-and-out on three running plays, Belichick made the switch.
Stidham trotted onto the field to lead the huddle for the home team with 8:21 left in the third quarter and the Patriots facing a first-and-10 at their own 5-yard line.
Stidham skipped his first pass of the night, throwing low to Damiere Byrd on second-and-8. On the resulting third down, Stidham threw incomplete, but Bills linebacker A.J. Epenesa was penalized for roughing the passer, after hitting Stidham up high in the end zone.
Gifted the fresh set of downs, Stidham threw a strike over the middle to a wide-open Jakobi Meyers for a 22-yard catch-and-run on a second-and-7. He then threw incomplete to N’Keal Harry on a play where the quarterback and receiver were not on the same page, and on the resulting third-and-10 at the New England 47-yard line, Stidham hit James White in the left flat, but the play only went for six yards.
Instead of going for it on fourth-and-4, Belichick sent out the punting unit for the fifth time of the night.
Stidham was 2-for-5 for 28 yards on his first drive. On his second drive, he completed one of his two passes for six yards before getting chased down for a two-yard sack on third-and-4, leading to a punt.
Newton was 5-for-10 for 34 yards (with a rushing TD and 24 rushing yards) during his action.
Stidham finished 4-for-11 for 44 yards.
Belichick was asked after the game about the lack of production in the passing game while Newton was in the game, and the head coach spread around the blame beyond the quarterback position.
“We just didn’t have much production. Just a combination of things. Protection, dropped balls, lack of good execution,” Belichick said. “We just didn’t execute the passing game well, and they played well defensively with their pressure, and covered well. So they did a better job than we did.”
Belichick said he wanted “to give Jarrett a chance to play,” and Belichick made sure to not blame Newton for the offensive woes.
“We weren’t playing very well. So it was the opportunity to get him a chance to play,” Belichick said. “I mean, Cam did a good job for us. That wasn’t the problem.”
It’s not the first time that Stidham has entered a game this year, but it is the earliest. Stidham replaced Brian Hoyer after the third quarter in Kansas City, when Newton was out after testing positive for COVID-19. Stidham replaced Newton three times this season. Against San Francisco in Week 7, Stidham took over in the fourth quarter of a blowout loss. In a blowout win against the Chargers in Week 13, Stidham entered in the middle of the fourth quarter. And Stidham replaced Newton when the Patriots trailed 24-3 in the fourth quarter the following week.
A fourth-round pick (133rd overall) out of Auburn in 2019, Stidham entered Monday night having played in seven NFL games without a start. He entered having completed 20 of his 37 passes for 226 yards for two touchdowns and four interceptions, posting just a 51.0 passer rating in his limited experience.
The 4-for-11 showing won’t do much to improve those numbers, nor will it do much to convince Belichick and his staff that Stidham should be the team’s starter for the season finale against the Jets.
Yet in what may have been the most noteworthy development from Monday night, Belichick broke tradition when asked about his starting quarterback for next week. For several weeks now — and dating back to late October, really — Belichick has confidently answered any questions about replacing the QB that Newton is the team’s starting quarterback. After Monday’s blowout loss, the coach was noncommittal.
“The game was over about 10 or 15 minutes ago. So. We worked on this game, we played the game, and … haven’t made any plans for next week, obviously,” Belichick said. “Game is 15 minutes old.”
Stidham was asked if he’d like to get the start in Week 17.
“I think everybody in the game of football wants to be playing every single week. So yeah I would absolutely love to have that opportunity, but that’s not in my control and I’m not gonna focus on it,” Stidham said. “It’s not gonna change the way I prepare. I prepare like I’m the starter, even going back to last year. That’s how I’ve always prepared each and every week, so that’s not going to change my mindset. And I’m just going to keep grinding and get better next week.”
Newton now has just five passing touchdowns (with 12 rushing touchdowns) in 14 starts this season.