Some NFL offseasons are long for teams that missed out of the postseason. For the Patriots and their fans, we were always accustomed to playing deep into January and even the first weekend of February, where in the hopes that we see our beloved football team hoist the Lombardi Trophy. However, 2020 had its challenges. Yes as a world we were dealing the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant that all of sports were affected. The NFL had to conduct the entirety of their offseason programs virtually, cancel the 2020 preseason all together and had to push training camp back. However, the league was determined to play all 256 regular season games in the traditional 17 week format. Despite hiccups along the way, the NFL not only finished the regular season time, but also concluded the playoffs swiftly and promptly.
The 2020 Patriots were anything but swift. The team failed to retain Tom Brady; who went on to win the Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers. The Patriots also failed to get a quarterback in 2020 draft, in fact they traded their first pick of the draft to trade back into the second round. It was late in the offseason that the Patriots signed Cam Newton as a place holder until they either drafted a guy or Jarrett Stidham was ready to go. After a 2-1 start and Newton looking not too shabby, all things seemed to be alright in. Then COVID hit in Week 4 which caused Newton to miss the against the Chiefs that was pushed back a day. After that, nothing was the same. The Patriots proceed to lose four consecutive games and Newton struggled significantly. There were calls for Bill Belichick to each Newton in favor of Stidham, but alas Newton started all 15 games he was active for. After the four straight losses, the Pats went 4-1 in their next five to get to 6-6 heading into the final four weeks of the season, still alive for a playoff spot. However, with failure to score in the Week 14 game versus the Rams and the inability to find consistency on offense at the Dolphins, the Patriots went from eyeing a playoff spot to eliminated from any type of postseason contention, Marking the first time since 2008 that a Patriots team failed to make the playoffs, just the fourth time Belichick.
Enter 2021, Belichick goes on a spending spree in free agency. Spending a quarter billion dollars on the roster in arguably the weakest part of the entire offense each of the last three seasons was the tight end position. Signing both Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith within the first four days of the offseason to solidify that part of the offense that has ranked either dead last or near the bottom of the league in both 2019 and certainly 2020. Obviously Bill went out to still help beef up the defense by signing former Eagles DB Jalen Mills to a four-year $24 million deal. Signing linebacker Matthew Judon to a four-year $56 million deal. Icing on the cake, for the first time in his tenure as Patriots Head Coach and General Manager he took a quarterback in the first round in Mac Jones from Alabama. Granted, Jones was the 15th overall pick and fifth QB taken behind Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Justin Fields. Also not to mention that Jones is the first first round QB taken by the Pats since Drew Bledsoe in 1993 when Bledsoe was the first overall pick in that draft.
Throughout the offseason the discussion has been who should get the nod come Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins. Many fans believe that Jones should be the obvious choice to start as he all around better than Newton, Stidham and Hoyer combined. However, in Belichick's entire tenure as head coach, he always defaulted to the veteran QB. Bledsoe started the 2001 season despite significant improvement from Brady from 2000 and entering that year. We all know how the Brady story started. Bill still deferred to Brady in 2016 despite how Garappolo could've played of he had started all four games to start that season.
We also know the how the Tom Brady era ended here in New England and the rumors that Belichick tried to trade Brady to the 49ers instead of Jimmy G back in 2017.
Well here we are now, just weeks away from the start of a new season and the 62nd in the history of the franchise. The offense looks to be revamped, the defense has been retooled, but there is still one big question mark. The starting quarterback. We have seen what is capable from Jones in his short time with the Patriots. We know what Newton was capable of doing last season, but the hope is that he can improve this year. His results have been mixed throughout camp to this point. However; the feeling that many Patriots fans are getting is that Newton in all likelihood will be the starter for the Patriots when they kickoff September 12th against the Dolphins. An unpopular decision that will many fans angry and disappointed but it might be the right choice to at least start the season.
The feeling is that Jones will start for this team. Whether that be Week1, at some point down the road later this season or 2022 after sitting for a full season. Sitting Jones for the year might not be the worst thing for the Patriots because the chance is that he struggles immensely and the Patriots could be in for extremely long season. You thought last year was long, this could be longer if the bright lights crumble Mac Jones early on. That's why starting Newton is the safe bet. The first four weeks will be telling. After the Dolphins, the Patriots travel to the play Jets, then host the Saints in Week 3 and the return of TB12 and the Buccaneers in Week 4. Depending on the Patriots record after the first four weeks, we might know who will likely start the rest of the season. If the Patriots are no worse then 2-2 to start the year, the newton experiment will continue and probably last all year. If the Pats stumble to either a 1-3 or even an awful 0-4 start, it might be wise to start Jones, just to save some face and salvage the season. Recovering from an 0-4 start in the NFL and making the playoffs isn't impossible; but it's extremely difficult because each game matters.
There is plenty to be excited about for the Patriots this season. As mentioned earlier, Brady makes his much anticipated return to Foxborough; facing the top two picks in the draft (Wilson in weeks two and seven; Trevor Lawrence in week 16), Cam Newton's turn to Carolina in Weeks 12 (if he is still starting by that point). a rematch against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette in Week 12.
Whoever gets named the starter for Week 1; whether it's Mac or Cam, both will have to play their hearts out to help get this team back to the playoffs after a 7-9 2020 campaign.