When Cam Newton takes the field on Sunday, he will have accomplished something that no other quarterback has in the history of the New England Patriots. Over the years, only one Black QB has started a game for Robert Kraft’s team. So for Newton, the honor of becoming the first to start a season opener for the Patriots carries significant meaning. And on Thursday, Bill Belichick’s biggest bargain signing sent a powerful message about the historical achievement.
Only 1 Black quarterback has started a game for the Patriots
Until 2016, the Patriots never had a Black quarterback start a game. However, that changed because of fortuitous circumstances. With Tom Brady serving a four-game suspension due to Deflategate, Jimmy Garoppolo took over as the team’s starting QB.
However, Brady’s likely successor suffered a shoulder injury during a Week 2 matchup against the Miami Dolphins. That set the stage for Jacoby Brissett to take over. On Sept. 22, Brissett became the first Black QB to start a game for the Patriots. He completed 11-of-19 passes for only 103 yards. However, the third-round rookie scored a rushing touchdown in a 27-0 shoutout against the Houston Texans.
Brissett also drew the start the following week. Though he did complete nearly 63% of his passes for 205 yards, he took three sacks and the Patriots failed to score a single point in a 16-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Of course, Brady returned in Week 5 and threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns against an overmatched Cleveland Browns team. New England went on to win its fifth Super Bowl title before trading Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts right before the 2017 season opener.
Cam Newton sends a powerful message about his historical achievement
Cam Newton certainly represents a radical change from Brady. He provides New England with a vastly different skill set than his predecessor. Newton also brings an infectious energy to a team that will look much different in 2020.
Obviously, taking over as New England’s starting quarterback carries tremendous pressure given Brady’s incredible career. And for Newton, the honor of becoming the first Black QB to start in Week 1 for the Patriots adds even more meaning to his comeback story. In speaking with the media on Thursday, Newton sent a powerful message about the historical achievement.
“It’s really a big deal,” Newton explained. “I understand who I am. I understand being an African-American in this time of day we have to be stronger and sticking with each other more than ever now. This is a great feat to achieve, but at the end of the day, we gotta make sure we’re using our platform for positive reasons, and that’s what I want to do.”
In addition, Newton said he wants to prove that there is more to someone than what’s on the outer level.
“It should always be about what that person’s about—not what that person looks like,” he explained. “It doesn’t matter what community it may be, I just want to do my part as a good samaritan on Earth.”
Newton will have to carry an undermanned offense
As Cam Newton embarks on the most important season of his career, he will be tasked with carrying an offense that does not appear ripe with weapons. Sure, Julian Edelman should put up 1,000 yards with ease. But beyond him, the Patriots have little in the form of proven playmakers.
N’Keal Harry has done little to justify his first-round selection. Neither has Sony Michel, who missed ample time in training camp after recovering from foot surgery. Both first-round picks need to step up in order for New England to have any semblance of success on offense.
Newton at least gives Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels a chance to experiment. His running ability adds a unique dimension to an offense that has been built around a short, precise passing game. Now, the Patriots could unleash more RPO looks that force defenses to respect both the quarterback and running back as ball-carriers.
If Newton can stay healthy behind a strong offensive line, New England may surprise people and be in the mix in the AFC. Let’s see if the 31-year-old quarterback can turn back the clock and remind everyone why he won NFL MVP honors just five years ago.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.