When the New England Patriots cut veteran starter and former NFL MVP Cam Newton in order to start an unproven rookie, it shocked most fans. However, those watching the preseason game between the Patriots and the New York Giants may have actually seen Newton losing his job following an interception and the moment the Mac Jones Era began.
Bill Belichick cut Cam Newton after the QB lost his job to rookie Mac Jones
Drafting Mac Jones out of Alabama marked the first time the New England Patriots took a first-round quarterback since the franchise selected Drew Bledsoe in 1993.
Although every first-round QB comes with expectations, most observers believed that head coach Bill Belichick planned to sit Jones for at least the beginning of the 2021 NFL season while veteran Cam Newton ran the team.
As training camp and the preseason wore on, however, Jones started to look more and more like a viable starter. While Newton showed flashes, he’s obviously not the same signal-caller he was in 2015 when he won the NFL MVP.
The Pats offense looked out of sorts with Newton at the helm. With Jones in control, it looked like the Pats offense from the last two Tom Brady-led decades.
The stats back it up too. In three preseason games vs. the Washington Football Team, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Giants, Newton went 14-of-21 for 162 yards with a pick and a touchdown, per NFL.com. Jones, by comparison, completed 36 of 52 passes for 388 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, per CBS Boston.
Newton was also unavailable after having to miss time “due to a ‘misunderstanding’ on COVID-19 tests ‘conducted away from NFL facilities,’” ESPN reported. The situation suggested that Newton is unvaccinated.
By the third preseason game, the New England coaching staff had seen enough. They yanked Newton, Jones went in, and a few days later, the former Auburn star was on the free-agent market.
Cameras show Patriots OC Josh McDaniels pulling Newton during a preseason game
The Patriots cutting Cam Newton came as a shock to football fans everywhere, especially when you consider that Newton started the third preseason game against the New York Giants. His night ended prematurely, however.
Newton led New England down the field on the team’s first possession, but the drive stalled. The offense had to settle for a field goal. The next drive, backed up in the shadow of his own goal line, Newton uncorked a 35-yard dart … and a New York linebacker promptly picked it off.
Daniel Jones then led the Giants on a long drive that stretched into the second quarter (which also ended in an interception). When New England returned to the field, Jones was under center.
A few days after Newton’s shocking release, video emerged on Twitter of what looks like the moment the QB switch took place on the Patriots’ sidelines.
With Jones looking on in the background, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels went up to Newton, who was throwing to keep warm, and told him something. Viewers only saw the veteran’s back, but he frustratedly flipped the ball away after the chat instead of continuing to throw it.
McDaniels then patted the new Pats starter on the chest, and it looked like Newton left Jones hanging when the youngster went to give him a high-five. Someone flipped the ball to Jones, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Knowing what we now know, it seems like TV viewers actually saw the moment Jones took over in the starters’ race from Newton, which ultimately cost the latter his job.
The New England Patriots are Mac Jones’ team now
The NFL’s winningest franchise of the century is now in the hands of an unproven rookie. Mac Jones threw for 6,126 yards at Alabama but couldn’t get on the field over Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa to start until the former transferred and the latter went out injured.
Belichick hadn’t drafted a QB he intended to be a starter since the legendary coach subbed in Tom Brady for an injured Drew Bledsoe during the 2001 season. When he has picked signal-callers, though, he’s done a relatively good job. Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jacoby Brissett are all later-round Patriot picks who had (or are having) decent NFL careers.
Along with Belichick’s track record, the coach’s relationship with Nick Saban also plays a role in New England fans’ optimism. The two coaches go back to the early 1990s when Saban was defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns under Belichick.
It’s hard to imagine that Belichick took Jones without a ringing endorsement from his college coach.
Ready or not, after that moment on the Patriots’ sideline, it is Jones’ team now. In a fitting twist of the NFL schedule, the rookie QB’s first taste of regular-season NFL action will come against the Miami Dolphins and the passer who beat him out when they were Crimson Tide teammates: Tagovailoa.