This week marks one of the more underrated dead times on the NFL calendar. Everyone talks about June and late February, but the week before the NFL Draft, where the bulk of the Free Agents have signed and all of the draft prep is all but done, is right up there on the Whole Lotta Nuthin’ Goin’ On Power Rankings. So let’s fill the void by counting down another Top 20 New England Patriots Moment of 2021.
But first, the list so far:
20. The Patriots trade Stephon Gilmore to the Panthers for a sixth-round pick.
19. A Week 1 goal line fumble costs the Patriots the game at home against the Miami Dolphins.
18. A four interception day secures New England’s first win of the season against the New York Jets.
17. Mac Jones hits Nelson Agholor for the first TD of the season against the Miami Dolphins.
16. A 41-yard Kendrick Bourne TD reception opens the game up against the Tennessee Titans.
15. A late Nick Folk field goal caps off a 15 play game-winning drive over the Houston Texans.
Even though Moment 14 didn’t take place on the field, it was one of the more memorable points of the entire season.
14. Mac Jones is named the starter over Cam Newton.
There are a few things that there’s never a shortage of in the Boston area. Seafood. Beer. Men named Sully. Construction.
And of course, hot takes about Boston sports teams.
Although plenty of morons who pass themselves off as journalists have tried their damndest to create a quarterback controversy at One Patriot Place, the reality is that the Pats have known who their starter was going to be for over two decades. Not since 2001, when Tom Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe, did media pundits have any kind of leg to stand on when it came to manufacturing this particular storyline. Even in 2008 and 2020, when Brady was injured and in Tampa respectively, New England was locked in with Matt Cassel and Cam Newton.
And when Newton re-signed with the Patriots in March of 2021, it seemed like he was going to be starting for the team for the second consecutive season. Newton’s 2020 campaign was something of a disappointment, due to circumstances both within and beyond his control, but the hope was that with a full year in the system, a normal offseason, time to practice with teammates, and everything else that goes into non-Covid times, Newton would be able to regain some of his form and improve upon his 7-9 finish.
Even when the Patriots drafted Mac Jones at 15 overall in the 2021 Draft, the thought process, for the most part, was that Newton was still the guy. New England had signed him prior to the draft, so they had to have done so with him in mind as the starter. Plus, it’s always good to give a rookie a year to learn how to be a pro before just throwing him out there in his first season. There were definitely more than a few folks who wanted to see Jones start right away, but when mini-camp started, Cam was more or less still the guy.
Since it’s the Boston media we’re talking about here, not a single day went by when every rep, every formation, every mistake, and every success wasn’t scrutinized into the ground. Cam was practicing with the first team! Now Mac was! Mac threw a pick and Cam didn’t! Cam knows the offense and Mac doesn’t! As the offseason and training camp dragged on, you couldn’t find anybody who didn’t have an opinion on the matter. Who would be starting QB for the Patriots in 2021 was one of the hottest storylines of the NFL year.
So when Cam Newton was released by the Patriots on August 31st, just before the season started, with the last round of roster cuts, it was quite the scene. Mac Jones would be starting for the Patriots, and Cam wasn’t even going to be on the team as a backup.
As to exactly why the Patriots cut Newton outright, who knows. Some argued it was because of his vaccination status. Others thought that he represented an extremely different offense than the one they would be installing with Jones and thus he wouldn’t make sense as a QB2. Still others thought that Belichick was doing him a solid and allowing him to go somewhere where he’d have the chance to start — which he did, for his old team the Panthers following Sam Darnold’s injury. The reason, however, is completely irrelevant. Jones was the guy.
And did he ever deliver.
As someone who was vocal about starting Newton over Jones, looking at the laundry list of rookie QBs who struggle in their first year and could have used some time to adjust, I’m more than happy to admit I was wrong on my take. Mac Jones came in and was hands down the best rookie QB in his class, a Rookie of the Year Candidate and Pro Bowler that took the Patriots back to the playoffs after that eternal one season drought. All signs point to him being the future of the franchise, and while I’ll be forever grateful for Newton’s time and service in New England — if for no reason other than he provided a buffer between Mac Jones and the Greatest Quarterback of All Time that has, in my opinion, made the transition a whole lot easier.
If Mac Jones goes on to have a successful career as the quarterback for the Patriots, this moment here, where Mac and Cam were competing for the starting spot and Mac won out, will 100 percent be on the documentaries and highlight reels and all of that other good stuff. It was a landmark moment of the 2021 season, one of those things we all remember and all had thoughts on. It may have been a bit controversial at the time, but the results are hard to ignore. Belichick made the right choice, we’ve never looked back, and so Mac getting the nod over Cam makes my list here at Number 14.