Patriots QB battle: Cam Newton, Mac Jones both play well in preseason Week 2 win over Eagles

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The New England Patriots were able to pitch a 35-0 shutout over the Philadelphia Eagles as they opened up Week 2 of the preseason on Thursday night. But you don’t care about that. Why would you? It’s the preseason. What you do care about, however, is the quarterback battle currently underway with the Patriots. On that front, it was a strong night for both Cam Newton and first-round rookie Mac Jones as they both held serve as they seemingly spar for the starting spot on Bill Belichick’s team. 

Similar to the preseason opener, it was Newton who received the start and the incumbent played the first three series on the night. The first, however, wasn’t much of a series to write home about after New England’s defense created a turnover inside the Philadelphia 10-yard line, which set up a Damien Harris rushing touchdown. It was Newton’s final two series where he really impressed with his arm. He completed 8 of 9 passes for 103 yards, which included a 28-yard touchdown pass to Jakobi Meyers. 

Newton displayed solid zip on his passes and seemed to be much more fluid within the pocket, specifically climbing the ladder when the pressure started to wrap around him. Not only did he show poise in the pocket, but Newton’s deep ball was noticeably better on Thursday night and arguably the best it’s been in a Patriots uniform. He began the game completing passes that traveled 18, 23 and 10 yards and continued to look sharp after that run. That type of play was only shown in flashes (Week 2 vs. Seattle, for example) throughout Newton’s first season in New England. 

It’s worth pointing out that the Eagles elected to sit most of their star defensive players, but it was a strong night from Newton regardless. 

Meanwhile, Jones came in to relieve Newton at the start of the second quarter and was able to carry the solid momentum from his preseason debut last week against Washington into this contest. During his four possessions under center, Jones went 13 of 19 passing for 146 yards. Of those six incompletions, there were three drops and a spike mixed in, which paints an even cleaner night for the Alabama product. One hiccup for him was a bit of clock mismanagement to end the first half, but that’s almost to be expected with a young quarterback. 

So what does Thursday’s game mean for the quarterback competition? 

First, I think we need to clarify what we mean when we say quarterback competition. If we are looking at this as a slugfest between Newton and Jones for the starting job in Week 1, I believe that’s nearing the point of becoming a fool’s errand. Newton has yet to surrender the starting role in the preseason to Jones and has yet to give the coaching staff a reason to. He’s also received the QB1 treatment for most of the summer. The former league MVP has continued to play behind the starting offensive line in practice and in preseason contests. While Belichick says that’s nothing to put much stock in, I tend to disagree. 

Jones has seen some time behind the first-team O-line, but not nearly as much as Newton. On Thursday the starting linemen left the game with Newton leaving Jones playing in front of reserves. 

To me, it looks like New England has Newton and Jones on two different paths. Newton is being prepped to begin the year as the team’s starter (gaining a rapport with O-line, top receivers, etc.), while Jones is being groomed by Josh McDaniels to take the reins at some point. 

The offensive coordinator has put Jones in a number of fascinating situations over the first two weeks of the preseason. Against Washington, Jones was able to play in an empty set on a number of occasions, which does show he’s already far along in learning the playbook. Another test run McDaniels seemed to put Jones in came at the start of the second half on Thursday when New England decided to begin up-tempo. That’s where Jones really seemed to get into a groove, completing all five of his passes for 54 yards during a nine-play drive that resulted in a J.J. Taylor rushing score. 

While Jones performed well when the Patriots decided to see what would happen when they floor it on offense, I don’t believe they’ll go up-tempo with his development just to have him cross some imaginary hurdle that has him playing in Week 1. By the way the team continues to bring him along, it doesn’t seem like that’s their intention either. Newton has shown that he can steer the ship until it’s finally time to hand over the reins and if he continues to play like he did in Philadelphia, New England will be able to let Jones marinate for as long as needed. 

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