Whelp, that was ugly.
The kind of ugly that’s hard to forget.
The stinky, need-a-shower ugly that changes our perceptions of people.
No, I’m not referencing the Patriots 20-17 victory over the Cardinals Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium that came on Nick Folk’s 50-yard field goal as time expired. That was actually a kind of entertaining win to push the Patriots to a 5-6, post-Thanksgiving record on this going-nowhere season.
Nope, the ugly part was just about everything that New England quarterback Cam Newton did to walk off his home turf as a “winner.”
Not only did Newton do little to help the Patriots win – he did have a key 14-yard run for a first down on third-and-13 with a 15-yard personal foul penalty tacked on for good measure on the drive to the game-winning kick – his ugly interception with the game tied and the Patriots driving toward an easier victory nearly gave the game away.
Newton’s “game-winning” stat line wouldn’t have looked impressive for a QB in 1920, never mind in the pass-happy NFL world of 2020.
The former Panthers star-turned-Tom Brady replacement, completed just nine of 18 passes for 84 yards with no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions for a 23.6 passer rating, a number well short of his own age never mind being impressive. He also had nine rushes for 46 yards.
He “led” an offense that didn’t have a drive longer than 46 yards all afternoon and had merely 179 net yards against Arizona’s mediocre 19th-ranked defense on a beautiful late November afternoon in New England.
“I said in the locker room, I'd rather have an ugly win rather than a pretty loss, if that makes any sense. I don't know if that even exists,” Newton said, Bill Belichick’s boys finding a way to finish a tight game in a way the team hasn’t had much success with this season. “We didn't play our best game offensively, but when we needed it, we got the job done.
That's all that counts.”
For this Sunday and this victory, that’s certainly true.
But for the bigger picture – both in terms of Newton’s NFL employment opportunities and the Patriots QB depth chart – the “W” isn’t all that counts.
With his latest lackluster performance and dismal passing numbers Newton’s season-long stats continue to get uglier by the day. Through 11 games – though he’s played in 10 due to COVID-19 -- the former No. 1 overall pick and Heisman winner has thrown for less than 2,000 yards (1,984) while completing 66 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and nine interceptions for an overall passer rating of 79.9, ranking near the bottom of the league in most areas of quarterback play. He has, though, run the ball 92 times for 387 yards (4.2 avg.) and nine scores.
After the gritty-if-flawed win over the Cardinals, Belichick was asked about the poor play of his offense, his starting quarterback and whether second-year backup Jarrett Stidham might be a consideration at some point.
“We just kind of keep working to get better. Cam threw for 350 (yards) last week,” Belichick said, another strange answer in a season full of them for the suddenly ever-defensive head coach. “The most important thing is we made the plays we needed to make to win. That's what the goal will be every week.”
It’s a goal the Patriots have met five times this season and failed to achieve on six occasions. Newton has been part of the success at times and often times an even bigger part of the failure.
It’s a level of play over a relatively large sample size of action, that leaves Newton’s future in Foxborough dubious at best and, if we’re being honest, hard to fathom.
Off the field, Newton has admittedly been everything New England could have wanted. His energy, leadership and work-ethic have become tales of greatness told by his teammates and coaches alike.
His weekly Monday morning interviews on The Greg Hill Show on WEEI have been must-listen radio. His answers thoughtful, enlightening and at times refreshingly honest.
The problem has been on the field. Newton just isn’t what anyone would describe as a good quarterback for the way the game is played these days. Even with the lack of talent around him at tight end and wide receiver, it’s clear Newton is a shell of his former Superman self.
It is what it is. The truth is never mean. But in this case it probably hurts both for Newton and his supporters.
The reality of the bottom-line, production-based business of NFL football is harsh.
The Patriots have a losing record entering the month of December. At times, like on Sunday afternoon at Gillette, New England is winning in spite of Newton.
For a while it seemed that continuing the current relationship between the Patriots and Newton moving forward might make sense.
Theoretically, Newton won’t have many if any other, better options for employment this offseason, especially sitting as an unwanted free agents for 86 days this year.
It might also be hard for the Patriots to go find a better option for themselves for the short term without overinvesting in the position in a way that doesn’t make sense, certainly not in Belichick’s value-based program. Even a would-be first-round pick wouldn’t necessarily be ready right away next September.
You could do worse than a hardworking, energetic bridge quarterback like Newton.
At least that was the argument.
But it’s getting harder and harder to make that argument with each week of Newton’s interceptions, missed throws and overall offensive inabilities on display for all to see.
Now it’s obvious you can and need to do better at the quarterback position. If that’s not a tryout for Stidham this season, then it has to come via a new option or two this offseason.
Whether Newton is the answer at the quarterback position for the Patriots for the next five games is debatable. That’s up to Belichick and his current views of the once-upon-a-time-Brady-heir Stidham.
Whether Newton’s the answer at the quarterback position for the Patriots moving forward into 2021 no longer is. He is not.