Cam Newton’s first season with the New England Patriots started in rather promising fashion. Despite joining the team relatively late, he won the competition for the starting quarterback position and later led the team to a 2-1 record in his first three games. Along the way, the former league MVP posted some solid numbers as a passer while also looking as good as ever as a ball-carrier.
However, it all changed on October 3. That day, Newton became the first member of the Patriots organization to test positive for the Coronavirus. He was moved to the NFL’s Reserve/Covid-19 list, was unable to participate in his team’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs two days later, and eventually had to spend 10 full days in isolation before his return to the team.
When he returned for the Week 6 contest versus the Denver Broncos, Newton and the entire New England offense looked out of sync — something that did not change throughout the year. Despite their early-season success, the Patriots therefore finished the season with a 7-9 record and out of playoff contention for the first time since 2008.
“I was one of the first football players to catch it and it happened so fast,” Newton said about his Coronavirus experience during a recent appearance on the I AM ATHLETE podcast.
“When I came back, that’s where the lack of an offseason and the lack of time in the system really showed itself. I was behind and I was thinking too much. The offense kept going and I was stagnant for two weeks. It was all new terminology. I wasn’t just trying to learn a system for what it was, I was learning a 20-year system in two months.”
After almost three months as a free agent, Newton signed an incentive-laden one-year pact with the Patriots in early July. He was able to beat out the more experienced Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer for the starting gig, but had to learn one of the most challenging offensive systems in the NFL — one that was previously run to perfection by Tom Brady — on the fly. His two-week absence midway through the regular season threw a wrench into this process, according to the man himself.
Time was of the essence, but Newton noted that he simply did not have it all year long — from his late arrival to his time missed following his positive diagnosis.
“They threw everything at me, but I wouldn’t have wanted it in any other way,” he said about trying to learn the Patriots’ system. “At the end of the day, sometimes you have to go through things in that type of manner, to make you realize that you can’t skip processes. I went in there thinking, like, ‘Oh man, I’m here, man; I’m here now.’ But I needed time. I’d be the first person to tell you I needed time.”
In part due to the pandemic and in part due to Newton joining the operation late, he and the rest of the offense simply did not have that time. The results on the field showed that: the offense struggled to grow over the course of the season, especially in the passing game.
Newton eventually finished the year as one of the least effective throwers in football. While he did complete 65.8 percent of his passes, he only gained 2,657 yards in the process and also threw just 8 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions. He looked much better running the ball — he gained 592 yards and scored 12 times — but at the end of the day simply was not able to lift the entire unit out of its slump.
Still, it does not sound as if he regrets his decision of signing with the Patriots after his release from the Carolina Panthers last year.
“Let’s keep it honest, what other options did I have?” Newton said “I intimidate a lot of people. I intimidated the franchise I was at. People look at me and assume things about me. But I’m from Atlanta, you put me anywhere, and I’m going to figure it out. I respect Matt Rhule and David Tepper for putting me through that experience. By the time I got released, New England was the place that made the most sense for me.”
Now headed into unrestricted free agency again, Newton once more will have to make a decision about which team makes the most sense for him. It could very well be the Patriots again, even though a return is reportedly considered “an unlikely option.”
Hosted by former Patriots Fred Taylor and Chad Johnson as well as former NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall, the new episode of I AM ATHLETE featuring Cam Newton will go online Monday, February 22 at Noon Eastern. Please click here to watch it.