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A Fierce 2021 Patriots QB Competition A Year Later

Mac vs. Cam: the battle of the anagram. As we progress through training camp and barrel on towards the 2022 seasons, many fans look kindly at the Patriots’ stable quarterback situation with Mac Jones.

Remember how last year’s training camp was the site of a tense quarterback battle between the rookie upstart Mac Jones and the veteran Newton? The decision to release Newton and name Jones as the starter at the time was highly controversial across the NFL and even within Patriots fan circles. Now that it has been another year let’s revisit that debate.

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What Was Cam’s Case With The Patriots?

Cam certainly had the edge in terms of experience and accomplishment. He had racked up a career stat-line of over 32000 yards and 190 passing TD, and over 5000 rushing yards and 75 TD. His dual-threat nature made him a considerable menace back from his Auburn playing days. Coming off a pure pocket passer like Brady and Cam provided something different. This peaked in a 2015 Super Bowl run where Cam also won the MVP.

However, Newton’s 2020 season showed that, to some extent, his career was a story of then and now. While his dual-threat abilities remained strong with 12 rushing TD, as a passer, he struggled, with only eight passing TD to ten interceptions and only 2657 yards. (Many of which were piled up in the first three games of the season before he got COVID).

After coming back from a COVID absence (after a reasonably good start to the season), he was particularly ineffective and had six outings with less than 120 passing yards. The team somehow won seven games on the backs of good defense, solid coaching, and some clutch plays from Cam here and there, but ultimately the season culminated in the first (and only) sub-500 record for New England since 2000.

Still, his attitude during the season, his ability to lead, his latent athleticism, and his dual-threat ability at least warranted consideration to give him another shot. Instead, the franchise’s potential future came, somehow dropping to pick 15 in the NFL draft, Mac Jones, to challenge him for that spot.

What Was Mac’s Case With The Patriots?

Mac was coming in off of an incredible season at Alabama. He was an undefeated national champion, had 41 TD with only four interceptions, led the NCAA in yards and quarterback rating, and set a record for completion percentage at 77.4%, all against high-quality competition. He has impressed with his ability to complete passes at multiple ranges and his accuracy and awareness of his receivers and the defense.

The biggest knocks on Mac were his lack of experience in the NFL, especially compared to Cam, and his relative lack of throw velocity. Even so, he was impressive in training camp and preseason action and showed a lot of poise and accuracy. In addition, he had a penchant for the big moment and won multiple head-to-head matchups over fellow top picks in his rookie cohort, including wins over Justin Fields, Kyle Trask, and Ian Book. His confidence and promise ultimately caused the organization to choose him over Newton, whom they released.

What Has Happened In The Last Year?

Despite a slight adjustment period in which the Patriots started the season two and four, Mac Jones returned wonderfully and showed a lot of poise in big moments in 2021. His stat line of 3801 yards and 22 TD and 67.6% completion heavily exceeded Cam’s figures in 2020, which translated to a far-improved record for New England.

Mac led the first playoff run by a Patriots rookie quarterback, grew a lot throughout the season, and has etched himself as a Patriots’ franchise quarterback. Over this offseason, he has shown an excellent work ethic, getting a lot leaner and working on his throwing form with Tom House.

On the other hand, Newton struggled in limited action with the Panthers. He had four touchdowns and five-interception and only completed 55% of his passes with 5.4 yards/attempt. Furthermore, the Panthers only won one game in which Newton was playing, and even in that game, he only had eight passing yards. Currently, Cam enters the training camp season utterly unsure of his NFL future.

Who Was Right?

This last year makes this question pretty obvious. The Patriots made the right decision going with Mac Jones. While Cam is experienced and has had a successful NFL career, he is well past his best form. Meanwhile, Mac came in immediately and has achieved success as a passer and is bound only to get better as he enters year two, firmly entrenched as the fact of the franchise.

It’s possible, though, that some of Mac’s maturity, poise, and immediate good form, was aided by the fierce competition from Cam in what was a very invigorating training camp battle. We won’t be seeing a similar contest between QBs Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe, but preseason is sure to bring some exciting battles for starting and roster spots.

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