By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The New England Patriots played football in front of fans at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night. It was a thing of beauty.
Of course, we are a quarterback-obsessed nation. So while there are many facets that matter quite a bit to a football team, we’d probably wise to just give the lowdown on what Cam Newton and Mac Jones did in the first of three preseason games this summer.
Without further ado:
The Stats: 4-for-7, 49 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 78.9 rating
The Details: Newton got the start, as expected, and he played two series.
The first one was brief. After a two-yard run by Damien Harris on first-and-10, Newton rolled right on a play designed for Jonnu Smith in the flat. But Smith was covered, and Newton threw it away. On third down, Isaiah Wynn got bullied by Chase Young (that tends to happen when Chase Young is involved), and the uber-talented edge rusher delivered a hit on Newton as he was releasing a pass. After the mad scramble to recover the football, it was ruled an incomplete forward pass, putting Newton at 0-for-2 to start the night.
Newton shook it off on the second drive, though, completing four consecutive passes to get New England deep into Washington territory. First, he hit Jakobi Meyers on an in-cut for 11 yards. Next, he hit Smith in stride, crossing near the line of scrimmage, and Smith showed some elite YAC ability to turn it into a gain of 16.
On the next play, Newton made a nice flip for a screen pass to James White, which went for 17 yards. He completed another five-yard pass to White, but threw incomplete on a screen attempt on a third down, leading to a field goal.
In terms of giving the media some meat to tear into, there wasn’t much from the starting quarterback. But from the coaching staff’s perspective, there was likely some satisfaction in seeing Newton simply doing his job.
The Stats: 13-for-19, 87 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 78.2 rating
The Details: Jones entered the game with 55 seconds left in the first quarter, with the Patriots leading 3-0.
His first pass — a neatly placed lob to Jakobi Meyers — was ruled incomplete, but replay showed that Meyers got both hands under the ball, and the Patriots would have won the challenge. But Bill Belichick opted not to challenge, instead forcing the rookie into a third-and-5. Jones responded by completing a 7-yard pass to Kristian Wilkerson.
Coming out of the break for the start of the second quarter, Jones looked like a pro on a play fake before delivering a bullet to Kendrick Bourne over the middle for a gain of 13. A few plays later, Jones made the throw of the night, a picture-perfect deep ball up the left sideline for Wilkerson. Alas, Wilkerson couldn’t make the catch in the end zone, letting the ball roll off his fingers near the boundary. After another incompletion, Nordin came on and kicked a 50-yard field goal.
Jones put a jolt into the home crowd on his next drive by completing three straight passes. It was really four, but a short pass to J.J. Taylor was negated due to a lineman slipping downfield before the pass. The third completion was a bad pass, as Jones underthrew fullback Jakob Johnson in the left flat. But Johnson reached down to make an athletic catch on the 5-yard reception.
Facing a third-and-2, Jones had nowhere to throw and took off running. He appeared to have picked up the first down but was ruled down short of the sticks, and once again, Belichick opted not to challenge the ruling. The Patriots punted.
Jones returned just before halftime to take a kneeldown after the Washington touchdown, and he came back out for the second half, too. That’s when he ended up looking his best.
To start the second half, he hit Taylor for a gain of seven, then hit N’Keal Harry over the middle to move the chains. That was the start of five straight passes and five straight completions for Jones. Then on a third-and-3, he weaved a pass to Wilkerson up the right seam for a gain of eight and a fresh set of downs.
Jones kept it going on the drive, which the Patriots ran in a hurry-up. He was 8-for-8 for 43 yards when he had to throw one away before getting hit on a third-and-4 at the Washington 22, but it was a professional drive of quarterbacking for the rookie.
He stayed on for the next drive, but he only handed off three times before a punt.
And he was back for a drive late in the third quarter. He threw incomplete to a well-covered Wilkerson on first down (it was a bit of a drop), took a sack on second down, and then was nearly perfect with a deep bomb to Gunner Olszewski. The pass, though, was a tick overthrown.
Assessing the latter portion of Jones’ night is a bit specious, given that second and third stringers filled the field for both teams. But that no-huddle offense coming out of halftime was impressive, and his two incomplete deep balls displayed the type of arm talent that’s gotten him to this point.
Finally, early in the fourth quarter, Jones stayed on the sidelines, while Brian Hoyer entered the game to end the rookie’s night.
When comparing the two quarterbacks on this evening, it’s probably worth taking a look on the average distance per pass:
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) August 13, 2021
Both quarterbacks will get some valuable practice reps next week in joint sessions with the Eagles, prior to the preseason game between the two teams next Thursday night.