Many were quick to jump down Cam Newton’s throat when he threw three interceptions and had a passer rating of 39.7 in a Week 7 meltdown defeat against the San Francisco 49ers.
However, Cam Newton has been better than you think this season. In eight starts, the former Carolina Panther has completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 1,535 yards and three touchdowns. The three touchdowns are alarming until you factor in the 335 yards and nine scores he’s added on the ground. All in all, he’s tallied 1,870 yards and 12 touchdowns in eight games this season.
Yes, he’s also been quite turnover prone, throwing seven interceptions and losing a fumble as well. However, that hasn’t been enough to keep him from ranking in the top 15 for offensive grade (78.1) and passing (77.3), both ranking at No. 13.
But that’s not the entire story. The team is 4-5 and now stuck in a weekly “must-win” scenario. Newton could be held directly responsible for at least one loss (Denver), had a critical turnover in another loss (Buffalo), and never gave his team a chance in another loss (San Francisco). In three of his four losses, you could directly attribute his poor performance to dictating the outcome.
With that in mind, he’s been better than you think. Now you might be asking how? And that’s an incredibly valid question. The eye test tells you he’s been subpar in almost half of his games and only just good enough in some others. His stats would tell you he’s been incredibly efficient at getting his throws to receivers, but he’s more than twice as likely to throw an interception as he is throwing a touchdown pass.
But the fact of the matter is, every quarterback that’s played for Bill Belichick has experienced some growing pains, excluding the six quarters you got to see out of Jimmy Garoppolo in 2016.
Let’s take a look at some numbers, shall we? Since Belichick became the head coach back in 2000, four quarterbacks have started eight or more games in New England; Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady, Matt Cassel, and Cam Newton.
Here’s how every quarterback did in their first eight starts.
Bledsoe: 59.5 percent completion rate, 12 total touchdowns, seven turnovers (six interceptions (2.2 percent interception rate), one fumble lost), 80.3 passer rating –– the team went 2-6.
Brady: 64.7 percent completion rate, 12 total touchdowns, eight turnovers (seven interceptions (2.9 percent interception rate), one fumble lost), 88.0 passer rating –– the team went 5-3.
Cassel: 66.8 percent completion rate, seven total touchdowns, nine turnovers (seven interceptions (2.8 percent interception rate), two fumbles lost), 81.8 passer rating –– the team went 5-3.
Newton: 68.8 percent completion rate, 12 total touchdowns, eight turnovers (seven interceptions (3.4 percent interception rate), one fumble lost), 80.9 passer rating –– the team went 4-4.
Now let’s look at yards for each.
Bledsoe: 1,648 passing (269 attempts, 6.1 yards per attempt), 99 rushing (27 attempts, 3.7 yards per attempt), 1,747 total yards (296 attempts, 5.9 yards per attempt)
Brady: 1,565 passing (238 attempts, 6.6 yards per attempt), 13 rushing (17 attempts, 0.8 yards per attempt), 1,578 total yards (255 attempts, 6.2 yards per attempt)
Cassel: 1,648 passing (247 attempts, 6.7 yards per attempt), 110 rushing (39 attempts, 2.8 yards per attempt), 1,758 total yards (286 attempts, 6.2 yards per attempt)
Newton: 1,535 passing (208 attempts, 7.4 yards per attempt), 335 rushing (80 attempts, 4.2 yards per attempt), 1,870 total yards (288 attempts, 6.5 yards per attempt)
Lastly, let’s look at their leading receivers for that respective season.
Bledsoe, 2000: Terry Glenn (963 yards) and Troy Brown (944)
Brady, 2001: Troy Brown (1,199) and David Patten (749)
Cassel, 2008: Wes Welker (1,165) and Randy Moss (1,008)
Newton, 2020: Jakobi Meyers (628) and Damiere Byrd (599)*
Note: * = 16-game pace
Now, this isn’t to say that Cam Newton has handled his first season in New England better than these other quarterbacks, particularly the one who won six Super Bowls in 20 years. However, New England fans have grown so accustomed to Brady’s dominance that they have forgotten about the growing pains of learning the Patriots system.
A system that many players have defined as complex and incredibly challenging to process. Newton himself posted on Instagram immediately after signing, equating the Patriots playbook to Calculus.
He also didn’t benefit from a normal offseason or an ordinary training camp with preseason games, which proved ever so much more critical as September turned to October.
Again, this isn’t to suggest that Cam Newton has been stellar in his first season at the Patriots’ offense’s helm. The point is there’s a pattern that indicates every quarterback has endured growing pains in their first handful of starts under Bill Belichick. Just because you don’t remember where you were the last time that happened doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
From the get-go, this marriage had the makings of being a multi-year one. Newton desperately needed a home for 2020. The Patriots needed a quarterback. Neither he nor the Patriots were going to be bad enough to land a top-five quarterback prospect. Newton seems to have enjoyed his time with the Patriots thus far, much like they’ve enjoyed him being there. His personality is magnetic, and his attitude is one that teammates want to rally around.
This marriage could, and should, extend into 2021, where the former league MVP should improve. If he doesn’t, it could spell the end of his NFL career.