Cam Newton Benching Emblematic of Much Bigger Problems for Patriots

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystOctober 26, 2020

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) watches from the sideline after being replaced by Jarrett Stidham in the second half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Steven Senne/Associated Press

It comes as no surprise that things are much different for the New England Patriots in 2020. That was to be expected after Tom Brady bolted for Tampa Bay. But when the Patriots acquired Cam Newton just before the season, many expected that they would be right in the mix.

There is no mix for New England. Only a mess. After getting waxed by the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the Patriots are 2-4 and in third place in the division. The game went so badly that Newton was benched in favor of youngster Jarrett Stidham. That benching—and Newton's struggles of late under center—will give talking heads in Beantown plenty to pontificate about this week.

But while Newton admittedly hasn't been great, he's hardly the only reason that the 2020 Patriots are a bad football team.

As a matter of fact, he's nowhere close to the biggest.

Sunday's 33-6 drubbing made history for the Patriots—for all the wrong reasons. The Patriots have now dropped three consecutive games for the first time since 2002. Per Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, the 27-point margin of defeat marked the worst home loss of the Bill Belichick era and second-worst loss overall. The Patriots have lost two in a row at home for the first time since 2008.

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After watching the Patriots dominate the AFC East for two decades, seeing the team get pasted brought out the salty in some fans.

That's just mean.

But for Newton, Belichick and the Patriots on Sunday, there wasn't anything funny about what happened in Week 7. The 31-year-old Newton certainly deserves a share of the blame for the loss—he was 9-of-15 for just 98 yards with three interceptions before being pulled. Over his last two games (both losses), Newton has 255 total passing yards and five interceptions without a touchdown.

As Grant Gordon wrote for NFL.com, after the game Belichick downplayed the significance of Newton's benching, saying that he would "absolutely" be the starter for the Patriots moving forward.

"Just wanted to give Stid a little experience here," Belichick said.

He was also blunt when asked what went wrong Sunday against the Niners.

"We were clearly out-coached, out-played, out-everything," Belichick said in his postgame presser, per NBC's Sunday Night Football pregame show. "We need to just keep working here, find a way to just do everything better. We're just not performing at a good level at all right now in any area."

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

That assessment is both brutally honest and deeply troubling. And Belichick is right. New England's problems go well past Newton's struggles over the past couple of weeks.

In losses to the 49ers and Denver Broncos, the New England offense has been beyond anemic. Sunday against the Niners, the Patriots amassed just 241 yards of offense, converted one of six third-down tries and turned the ball over four times. Against Denver, it was 288 yards of offense, four of 13 third-down conversions and three turnovers.

Over that span, the Patriots have scored one touchdown and 18 total points.

Also, while part of Newton's poor performance of late absolutely lies at his feet, he's hardly being put in position to succeed. The Patriots may well have the worst assemblage of passing-game weaponry in the entire NFL.

The team's "best" wide receiver is a nicked up 34-year-old slot guy in Julian Edelman who has vanished from the offense. Over the last two games, Edelman has three catches for 21 yards on nine targets. After Edelman, the team's next-leading receiver is Damiere Byrd, a 27-year-old journeyman who has 18 catches in six games. New England wide receivers have combined for all of one touchdown catch all season.

It doesn't get any better at tight end. Third-year pro Ryan Izzo, who had one catch for eight yards against San Francisco, is the only tight end on New England's roster with a reception in 2020.

There is not one pass-catcher on New England's roster that inspires even the slightest trepidation in NFL defenses. There's also not anyone who can stretch the field or take the top off a defense. The game plan is simple as can be—double Edelman…and that's it. That's all you have to do.

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

This isn't new, either. The Patriots were having trouble moving the ball through the air last year with Brady under center. It's just that much more pronounced in 2020.

At least the Patriots have a strong run game to offset that lack of a passing attack—except they totally don't. The team's leading rusher for the season in terms of both carries and yardage is Newton. Since racking up 100 yards on 17 carries against the Kansas City Chiefs, Damien Harris has 77 yards on the ground the past two games combined.

All the offensive struggles are having an impact on the other side of the ball as well. Either that, or the loss of a handful of key contributors from last year's top-ranked unit are finally starting to catch up to New England. Whatever the reason, the Patriots defense is starting to give.

The Patriots were gashed both on the ground and through the air against San Francisco. The 49ers piled up 197 rushing yards in the game, including a 112-yard effort from Jeff Wilson Jr. It marked the second consecutive game in which the Pats allowed a 100-yard rusher.

Last year, the Patriots allowed just 95.5 yards on the ground per game. This season, it's 132.2.

New England was also second in the league in takeaways (36) in 2019 and first in turnover differential (plus-21). Entering Week 7 of the 2020 campaign, New England is still up there in takeaways, but the differential has fallen into the back half of the NFL.

It's just one thing on top of another. The offense is sputtering, which is putting undue pressure on a defense that isn't as good as last year's unit. The Patriots are making more mistakes than a year ago. And yes, the quarterback has scuffled, especially of late.

There doesn't seem to be an easy fix for what ails the Patriots, either. There are just too many holes. Too many problems. Sure, adding an impact receiver would help, but at this point anyone who thinks that last year's disappointing first-round playoff exit isn't this season's ceiling is kidding themselves.

Maybe we overestimated the positive impact Newton would have in New England. Underestimated the negative impact of the departure of Brady and all those defensive starters. Overestimated Belichick's ability to craft a winner from a deeply flawed roster. Or maybe it's a combination of the three.

Whatever the reason, it's clear seven weeks in that the dynasty in New England is dead. The Patriots are done.

And that's hardly all Newton's fault.