When Cam Newton signed a one-year contract with the New England Patriots, he was inserted into a difficult situation. Not only was he unable to participate in any offseason activities and had to learn one of the NFL’s most complex offenses on the fly, the Coronavirus pandemic also limited his opportunities to build a rapport with his teammates and the scheme in any preseason game setting.
Nevertheless, Newton was able to win the starting quarterback job over Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer and helped lead his team to a 2-1 record through three games. Then, however, Covid-19 struck: the veteran quarterback became the first Patriot to be diagnosed with the virus, missing one game and 13 full days while on isolated from the rest of the team.
Newton’s absence also threw a wrench into New England’s offensive momentum. When he eventually did return to the lineup after the team’s Week 5 bye, he and the rest of the unit struggled. During a media conference call on Thursday, the 31-year-old opened up about his challenging return and why he was unable to pick up where he left off before his positive Coronavirus test.
“Ever since coming back from Corona, to be honest with you, I felt stagnant in my thought process,” Newton said. “The play’s pre-snap production wasn’t happening fast enough for me in games. Did it happen in practice? Yeah, but still not fast enough. And even still now, I can get better. So each day, each week is an opportunity for me to really hone in on this offense and just do my job. And that’s what it really boils down to.”
While Newton was back under center versus the Denver Broncos in Week 6, the Patriots dropped three straight games while the offense failed to build any consistent rhythm. Along the way, the former league MVP struggled with turnovers, mechanics and decision making. He seemed lost, at one point even getting benched in favor of Stidham.
“I wasn’t able to do anything for that stint while was off, and it showed,” Newton said when speaking about his post-Coronavirus issues. “Coming back pretty much dry and knowing that as this offense goes, it evolves. The mastermind behind everything with Josh [McDaniels], his mind doesn’t necessarily stop.
“Whether it’s a new play, whether it’s something that we were watching back in 2002, 2011, ‘12... he has a plethora of plays for certain defenses that we face that he goes to, and it all starts before the snap with identifying certain things. Identifying, communicating with the offensive line, with the receivers, with the running backs, and it’s my job to do so. And when I did come back, I just felt behind”
However, it all changed against the Buffalo Bills in Week 8. While New England ultimately lost 24-21 as a potential game-winning drive ended on a fumble by Newton himself, the team played some competitive offensive football again over the second half. Since then and with Newton leading the charge, the Patriots have looked much improved on that side of the ball en route to winning back-to-back games for the first time all season.
Newton pointed to his own performance when speaking about the recent uptick in offensive production.
“The production here of late is nothing to blame more or less than me just taking ownership and responsibility that I’ve just got to be better,” he said.
Get better he certainly did, to a point where the Patriots are now back in the playoff hunt after looking dead for most of their four-game losing streak. This week, they will need to keep the momentum going against another team that has had its fair share of struggles: Newton and company will travel to the 2-7 Houston Texans, trying to get back to .500 for the first time since the QB’s positive Coronavirus test.