Mac Jones vs. Cam Newton: Breaking down Patriots QB battle as preseason ends

Mac Jones had an opportunity in front of him in the final week of the preseason. Even Bill Belichick admitted it.

After Cam Newton had a “misunderstanding” related to the NFL’s COVID policy that caused him to miss five days of practice, Jones took the bulk of the Patriots’ first-team reps. By all accounts, the rookie was good.

As New England’s third and final preseason game approached, there were questions whether he’d be able to do enough to unseat Newton as the team’s presumed starting quarterback.

Jones’ play in a 22-20 win Sunday over the Giants, combined with Newton’s lackluster outing, may have given the Patriots something to think about.

Cam Newton’s performance in Patriots vs. Giants

Newton had arguably his weakest performance of the preseason.

The Patriots’ incumbent starter completed just 2 of 5 passes for 10 yards and didn’t run the ball. He threw an interception — the first of the preseason by either quarterback — but it wasn’t so much a bad throw as it was a great play by linebacker Blake Martinez.

Nonetheless, Newton left the door open for Jones, although going through it wouldn’t be easy. Belichick said on “The Greg Hill Show” on Boston radio station WEEI that Jones would have to outplay Newton to win the job.

“The fact that Cam started last year, and he’s here, somebody would have to play better than him,” Belichick said. “We’re not just going to take a job and say. ‘OK, here, this is gift-wrapped for somebody.'”

Jones did his best to earn the job during his final preseason action of 2021.

Mac Jones’ performance in Patriots vs. Giants

Jones saw a lot of action Sunday night. The first-round rookie played five drives and led the Patriots to 16 points.

Jones was steady in the first half but much better after halftime. On the first drive of the second half, he threw a downfield strike to Kristian Wilkerson, using great footwork to prepare for the throw.

Later in the drive, Jones threw another accurate ball with zip into a tight window. He hit Isaiah Zuber for a 17-yard TD pass with three defenders in the vicinity.

Jones also made a savvy throw to Devin Asiasi in the third quarter. He saw that he could hit Asiasi for a big gain if he threw the ball to the back shoulder. The pass wasn’t Jones’ best of the night — he was under pressure and the throw ran out of steam on its way to his tight end — but the decision was good.

Jones finished 10 of 14 for 156 yards and a touchdown, his first of the preseason. He showed poise in the pocket and the arm talent to be a quality NFL starter.

It must be noted, however, that Jones’ best series came after the Giants had removed their defensive starters. That could impact how Belichick and Co. evaluate his performance. He also was sacked four times in the contest.

Did Mac Jones do enough to beat out Cam Newton?

Was Jones’ performance Sunday night enough for him to overtake Newton on the depth chart? The answer boils down to another question: Did Jones outplay Newton enough during the preseason?

It’s hard to say when looking at their numbers. Both passed the eye test and posted similar stat lines, although Jones played more than twice as many drives as Newton.

Jones was always fighting an uphill battle to win the starting job. Based on what Belichick has said, it seems as though Newton still has the edge.

But Jones apparently has given Belichick something to think about. The coach said after the game that he hadn’t decided who would start in Week 1 against the Dolphins.

“We still have a lot of decisions to make,” he said.

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