There's a line from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short story "The Adventure of Silver Blaze" that has inspired a best selling novel, a Broadway show and the introductory sentence in a million posts from writers too lazy to think up something more original. The exchange between a Scotland Yard detective Sherlock Holmes goes like this:
Gregory: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”
The point being that smart people who enjoy opiates and are occasionally built like Henry Cavill know that sometimes what you don't hear is more important than what you do hear. Which brings me to this other exchange between a clueless, bumbling twit and a brilliant expert at deductive reasoning that took place earlier today:
Q: Now that the team has been eliminated from the playoffs, could you use these last two games to give some players a longer look and get guys some reps to get them experience for next year?
Bill Belichick: Yeah, we can evaluate what the opportunities are. I mean, we’re still going to prepare and try to play as well as we can on Monday night. But, we’ll see how that all shakes out. It could be a possibility in a certain situation.
Q: Could you see giving Jarrett Stidham an extended look over these last two weeks?
BB: Yeah, really the same question you just asked. We’ll see.
Q: If you do choose to go with Cam Newton, what would make him the best option at that spot?
BB: Yeah, really, we have a lot of team questions we need to answer, so I think that will be the overriding thing. We’ll talk about that today, tomorrow – we have an extra day this week – and then start from a bigger picture standpoint. Obviously, haven’t played the run well the last two weeks and haven’t been able to score a touchdown the last two weeks, so I don’t think this is about any one individual.
The dog that didn't bark here is that any time Belichick's been asked a question along those lines before this he's answered, "Cam's our quarterback." Then referred back to his previous answer. In fact, the last a similar question was asked he declared it was the last time he'd be addressing it. So this is not insignificant. I'd qualify it as a curious case of the football genius at the presser.
This is not a man who's careless with his words. And while not tipping his hand that he's making plans to start Jarrett Stidham, he's not saying he won't, as he has before. Which matters. What should jump out most to all of us here is the "bigger picture standpoint." The culture Belichick has built in Foxboro upon a snow-capped mountain of his vanquished enemies' skulls is that you never stop trying. You play 60 minutes a game, 16 games a year. You don't tank, even if the analytics say you've got a 4% chance of making the playoffs. (You might send 2005 Matt Cassel in to throw a 2-point conversion away on the last play of the regular season so you face Jacksonville in the Wild Card round instead of Pittsburgh. But that was a special circumstance.) Now that, unless an asteroid wipes out the top half of the AFC, the chances are officially down to 0.0%. So the big picture is not about putting on a good show for the empty stands at Gillette the next two weeks. It's about building for 2021.
It's a tough call because Cam Newton has become part of that culture Belichick has built. Just not a terribly effective one in the passing game. It's important that he added the very correct disclaimer that the failure hasn't been about any one guy and the entire defensive unit is answerable for the way they've been getting run over like a skunk on the highway. But the facts speak for themselves. Not just the most important one that he cited about no touchdowns in the last eight quarters. There's also these numbers. Among all QBs who qualify this year, Newton is:
- 20th in completion %
- 20th in yards per attempt
- 10th in interceptions
- 6th in highest interception %
- 36th in touchdown passes (despite making 13 starts)
- 30th in passer rating
There are mitigating circumstances all over the place. And like I said, one has to proceed cautiously so as not to make it look like you're scapegoating a guy who's worked his ass off for $650,000 this year when there have been system problems across the board. But you don't have to work too hard to justify the move when your QB1 has three more touchdowns than the backup who's only come in for mop up duty and four more than Jakobi Meyers.
Last week I listed things I'd like to see in order to make something resembling a success out of the end of this season. And one of them was to give Jarrett Stidham a start. Just one. Based on what Belichick didn't bark out in the morning time, once can deduce he's thinking two might be better. At least that he's not not considering the idea. At the very least it will give us a better idea of what Stidham looks like under live fire with a week to prepare. At best, it might give us something that's been in short supply the last couple of weeks: Hope. As in, I hope for everyone's sake they make this switch.