After Thursday night's preseasoner against the Eagles, for the first time since Mac Jones fell to the Patriots in the draft, I felt like the starting quarterback job for Week 1 was decided, and was going to Cam Newton. Newton's had some good to great practices. There has been a day here or there when he was clearly better than Jones. But by and large, Jones has seemed more in command. Making better decisions. Having fewer throws "WTF was that?" throws. Getting the ball out faster on a consistent basis. Yes, Bill Belichick has said a couple of times that "Cam is our starter," but the "… right now" has always either followed or been sort of implied. So it's felt like, the longer Jones has played at or above Newton's level, the more likely it seemed he'd get the Final Rose.
But Thursday changed that for me. Yes, Jones was again excellent. Working with the back up offensive line, he put on three scoring drives in four possessions and landing PFF's highest grade of anyone on the team:
But Newton was straight up the best he's looked in a Patriots uniform. 8-of-9 for 100+ yards and a touchdown. More importantly, he put the "Checkdown King" thing to bed, stepping into deep throws with deadballs accuracy:
To the point it's hard not to buy into what has been the conventional wisdom around here, that for now, Experience will win out over Upside, at least until such time as the coaches are comfortable that Jones completely grasps the system and all the situational stuff they emphasize more as preseason goes along.
But today Josh McDaniels talked to the press. And while he again reiterated his bosses answer that "Cam is our starter," for sure didn't forget to add the "… for now." While also giving the unmistakable impression this competition is far from over.
When asked if a decision has been made about who'll start Week 1 against Miami, he said, “I know this is going to sound silly, but I haven’t really worried about it. I think that decision from Bill will be made when the time is right to make it. Cam certainly is the starter now, and he has done a good job. He has gone in there, he played well the other night. He’s practiced well. But, I know those guys are really competing hard and we’re giving them an opportunity to compete and play a lot of football.
“My focus really is on our offense improving and specific to your question, that position in general, I have said it before, like that position to me is obviously extremely valuable to our team. We need to be able to play consistently well. … To me, I look at those guys in the same light in regards to what we’re trying to accomplish. Ultimately, when any decision is made based on who is going to play more or less on our team, those decisions will be made when the time is right and we’re going to go forward and try and play the best we can."
He then made it clear he's happy with his quarterback room right now. Welcome to the club.
“I am very pleased with the effort that we’re putting in at the quarterback position," he said. "The improvements we’re making and the way that we’re attempting to run the offense. Everything isn’t perfect. We still have a long way to go and things we can work on and improve and make better, but I think the desire to do it, the way we want to do it to the standard that we’re trying to hold them to I think is right where we want it to be.”
You can argue that the offensive coordinator being non-committal about who his QB1 is in the third week of August is a non-story. But I'm saying the opposite. The fact that a 10-year veteran and a former MVP coming off a 15-start season is playing as well as he has in years and still hasn't locked down the starters job is a very big deal. It would be one thing if Newton were stinking up the place, but he most certainly has not. That this is even a conversation at this point has to be a reflection of how good they feel about the rookie.
Yes, Jones is a work in progress. McDaniels specifically mentioned they're trying to get him some work in the two minute drill at the ends of halves, and a drive stalled in that situation in the Eagles game. But the fact we're not seeing major mistakes by him and at no point has he looked like he doesn't belong. Like I said about that game, right now Cam vs. Mac: The Palindrome War is a best case scenario for Belichick and McDaniels. Exactly how they'd hoped it would play out. And who ever emerges victorious will be a legit starter just by virtue of the fact he outperformed someone who has also had a superlative camp and preseason.
Personally, I'm a founding member of Team McCorkle and will remain so until I'm proven wrong. But should Newton win the day, I'll be fine with that. Because it'll only be because he's earned it.