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Bill Belichick’s Long Con: Was Mac Jones Always the Guy?

The dust has settled and the Patriots have a starting quarterback in Mac Jones. As for Cam Newton, he’s now forced to look for a new job.

Patriots Helmets by Brook Ward is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Bill Belichick’s Long Con: Was Mac Jones Always the Guy?


Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

In my heart, I felt like there was a chance. If there was any justice, any good in the world, Patriots fans would get what they were clamoring for. A healthy dose of ABCAnyone But Cam playing quarterback for the Pats this year.

It wasn’t about the way they were playing in the preseason. Despite everyone’s attempts to spin every throw into a sure-fire determination that someone had won the starting job, it was a pretty even competition between Newton and rookie Mac Jones, now set to be the starter on week 1 when the Patriots take the field. That also means he will be the starter opposite Tampa Bay when Tom Brady makes his return to Foxborough in week 5 with the Super Bowl champs.

By all accounts, Mac Jones has done well through camp, as well as a rookie QB could be expected as he adjusts to a faster, tougher, more mentally and physically demanding game. But not well enough to displace Cam Newton if you believe Belichick’s numerous assertions that Newton was the starter. This was not about performance. This was about Belichick changing his mind. Or admitting that he was lying to us all along.

Many people thought the quarterback competition in New England was a sham.

Newton was the starter, Mac wasn’t ready – maybe he would even redshirt this season and never see the field. When Newton missed several days of practice due to a “misunderstanding” of the Covid protocol rules, Jones stepped up and made the most of his expanded number of reps. But I didn’t buy those who felt like Newton had lost his grip on the starting role because of that missed time. I never bought any of the idea that Jones could start week one, for one simple reason: Bill Belichick isn’t gonna change his mind. 

Belichick seemed to prove that theory immediately. When Newton came back to the team, he was immediately reinstated in the QB1 role, getting the start in the final preseason game. After the game, he said “we still have a lot of decisions to make” when asked about the quarterback position. Typical Belichick lip service, I assumed, bracing for eventually having to watch Newton run draw plays on the goal line, dust himself off when he scored on a one-yard rush with the Patriots down 17 points, and scowl on the sideline with a towel on his head and his hands stuck in his shoulder pads after getting pulled in the fourth quarter of a blowout loss to the Bucs.

And then this morning, something incredible happened. Belichick reversed course and not only “named” his starting quarterback, he struck Cam Newton from the roster. With that move, he chose Brian Hoyer to be the backup to Mac Jones, a dubious choice even with Cam Newton as one of the options. (Let’s face it, Newton could not stay on as the backup. He would have taken it as an insult and poisoned the QB room. If he wasn’t going to start, the Pats had to release him.)

But how did he lose out on the starting job? 

Did Belichick change his mind? If so, as I mentioned it wasn’t about the performance on the field. Mac Jones didn’t blow Cam out of the water if Belichick had really determined Cam was the starter prior to training camp. Was it about the Covid protocol mishap and the risk of having an unvaccinated Newton on the roster when he could be out for a week at the drop of a hat? Colin Cowherd reported this morning that that was exactly the reason for New England cutting bait.

The Covid situation definitely had an impact, as reports are that the organization was not happy with Cam’s decision not to get vaccinated. They already let go of Offensive Line coach Cole Popovich for reasons related to Covid protocols and his refusal to get vaccinated. But Belichick and the Pats certainly took great pains to cover for Cam and claim that he didn’t break team rules and leave without permission. If this was a last straw, why wouldn’t they have separated themselves from this mess of a situation? Why cover for Cam only to kick him out the door? If he was to blame, then blame him – particularly if it’s going to cost him his job.

Or maybe the whole thing WAS a sham, and there was never a quarterback competition.

From the very minute that Mac Jones was drafted, was he penciled in at the top of the two deep for week one? Once they realized they could get Jones at #15, did the Patriots deem Cam Newton dispensable? If so, why not continue the charade until the very last minute they needed to, the morning of roster cuts when they finally had to publicly announce how they felt about Newton, and thereby about Jones? It would be so Belichickian to play the long con, setting up the media and the fan base for the ultimate snort in our faces.

I had a small hope that this would be the outcome of the New England quarterback circus. There were glimmers of days during camp where it looked like that might be possible, but more often than not seemed like a pipe dream because of Belichick’s arrogance, stubbornness, and distrust of rookies. Whatever the reason, today he proved me wrong. 

If Mac Jones wasn’t starting week one, it wouldn’t be because of Jones. It would be because of Bill. Now, he is the Patriots’ number one QB. 

And that, too, is because of Bill.

Craig has spent the last ten years as a sports information professional, working for several schools across New England at the Division 3 level. A native of Peabody, Mass., Craig is a life-long Boston sports fan. He is also an avid player of fantasy football and baseball, and commissioner of the AKA Family Fantasy Football League. Like most other Turf team members, Craig has a penchant for theater, spending his high school and college years as a set designer, sound designer and theater shop worker. He became a father shortly before the coronavirus pandemic, and as such, hasn't really left his home since last December.

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