The New England Patriots, as head coach Bill Belichick pointed out during a media conference call on Monday, have plenty of questions to answer over the last two weeks of the regular season. While “Will they make the playoffs?” is no longer among them — the team was officially eliminated on Sunday due to its 22-12 loss against the Miami Dolphins — there are still a lot of unknowns remaining in terms of player evaluation heading into 2021.
The biggest of those is obviously at quarterback. Starter Cam Newton has played some quality football throughout the year, but the offense as a whole has struggled with him under center. That alone might not be grounds for him to be sent to the bench, but the Patriots might nonetheless be curious to see what second-year passer Jarrett Stidham has to offer in a comparatively safe environment such as the upcoming two games.
The circumstances might make a quarterback switch look like a viable option, but Belichick was still not in a mood to talk about this or any other specific scenario.
“We have a lot of team questions we need to answer, so I think that will be the overriding thing,” he said on Monday about the quarterback position. “We’ll talk about that today, tomorrow — we have an extra day this week — and then start from a bigger picture standpoint. Obviously, haven’t played the run well the last two weeks and haven’t been able to score a touchdown the last two weeks, so I don’t think this is about any one individual.”
The Patriots are expected to begin their on-field preparation for the upcoming Monday night game against the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday, which would be the first opportunity for Stidham to get starter reps in case the team does want to make a change at quarterback. Belichick, however, would not comment about the potential logistics behind such a move.
“We haven’t set any timeframe on that,” he said when asked about the team’s possible decision. “I don’t really see it going that way. We’ll go through our normal weekly process and make the decisions that we feel are best for the game in everything.”
That answer — doing what is best for the team — is consistent with Belichick’s previous statements when asked about any personnel decisions. What does stand out, however, is that he did not speak in the same definitive tone as he did at various times earlier during the season: Belichick repeatedly claimed that Newton was the starting quarterback; he did not make such a statement during Monday’s media conference call.
He also was in no mood to discuss the topic further during an appearance on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni & Fauria show later that day. The following transcript is a perfect illustration of how the efforts to extract some information went for host Lou Merloni:
Q: Can a change at quarterback help you guys get in the end zone?
A: Yeah, we’ve talked about that.
Q: So, is Cam still your starter this week?
A: We’ve talked about that question. It’s been several weeks that we continue to ask the same question.
Q: I understand that. I think now you’ve been eliminated from the playoffs officially, and was just wondering with a couple of weeks left does anything change as far as that goes?
A: You ask the same question every week, Lou [Merloni]. Every week you ask if something’s changed. I’ve told you, I already answered...
Q: Something has changed because you guys have been eliminated. Maybe you look at Stidham the last two weeks.
Does all of that mean anything for the Patriots and their quarterback situation heading into the upcoming games versus the Bills and New York Jets? Possibly, because Belichick did also not categorically rule out some rotational moves being made — depending on the situation, of course.
“We can evaluate what the opportunities are,” he said during his conference call on Monday. “I mean, we’re still going to prepare and try to play as well as we can on Monday night, but we’ll see how that all shakes out. It could be a possibility in a certain situation.”
What those situations may or may not look like is obviously anybody’s guess at this point in time, but an argument can be made that there is no better time than now to give Stidham an extended shot — whether as the starter or as a pre-planned rotational quarterback to enter the game after a set number of plays or series, similar to preseason. Such an approach might be the most satisfactory for all parties involved this week, and still give New England some in-game information.
The quarterback position is not the only one to look at, though, considering that the Patriots will have to make numerous personnel decisions between now and the start of free agency in March. No position on the roster is etched in stone for next year, regardless of how well or poorly it might have performed during the 2020 season.
As Belichick noted on WEEI, the team has a lot fo work ahead to make those calls based on the available information.
“We have a lot of questions as a team we need to answer, so that’s really what we’ll be looking at tomorrow, today, this week, and so forth,” he said. “We need to score more points. We need to play the run better. We need to play better situational football. We need to do a better job in all those areas.”
Who do you want the Patriots to start at quarterback this week?
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