BOSTON (CBS) — If there’s one thing that has been a staple of the Bill Belichick era in New England, it’s been a deep understanding of the rules.

When it comes to rules of the game, the head coach has a knack for finding deficiencies and opportunities. More recently, when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting protocols, Belichick has stated time and time again that he and the team will follow whatever rules the NFL enforces.

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It was odd, then, for the Patriots’ team statement to note that it was a “misunderstanding” that has now led to Cam Newton being forced to stay away from the team facility for five days. The rules are quite clear for players who are not fully vaccinated, and they require those players to undergo COVID tests administered by the NFL’s chosen lab every day, and they impose travel restrictions.

In Newton’s case, the Patriots said he underwent tests while traveling, but the team and/or player misunderstood the rules. Thus, those tests aren’t acknowledged by the league, and Newton must go through five days of NFL testing before returning to work.

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This all “doesn’t quite pass the sniff test” to NFL insider Albert Breer, who openly wondered if this was actually a mistake made by Newton, with the Patriots covering for him publicly.

“So either New England had an uncharacteristically bad slip-up here, in letting Cam Newton leave town, or the Patriots are just [falling] on the sword for him in the aftermath,” Breer wrote.

If it was indeed a Newton error, Breer believes “the door swings open for Mac Jones to make headway” in the Patriots’ quarterback competition.

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“Separate from Newton’s situation, Jones is clearly moving forward at a good pace. Connected to it, Newton’s absence naturally gives Jones three days of first-team reps, and one of them will come in a joint practice with the Giants. So the Patriots in essence get a dry run here without having to upset the apple cart, and with practices closing down to the public and media next week,” Breer wrote. “This sets up for Jones to get a shot. And remember, weird circumstances have elevated rookie quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert to starting spots in the past. Provided the Patriots weren’t the ones at fault in Newton’s situation, it’s not hard to imagine New England’s coaches thinking about something similar playing out here.”

CBSBoston.com Staff