Patriots Make Late-Game QB Change, Fueling Controversy

Getty Cam Newton

The New England Patriots destroyed the Los Angeles Chargers 45-0 on Sunday, but a relatively standard quarterback change in the fourth quarter fueled a growing controversy at the position.

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Stidham in for Newton

With the Patriots up 38-0, head coach Bill Belichick called backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham’s number and he finished up the rout of the Chargers.

The substitution was something you’d often see late in a game with such a wide deficit. However, because Cam Newton has been the subject of bench-him-start-him conversations over the past three weeks, this move created a bit of a stir — especially among Newton’s most consistent haters.

Stidham’s Day

Stidham only threw three passes on the day. He completed two of them, and the last was a well-thrown ball on a slant route to one of the game’s biggest stars, Gunner Olszewski. The play went for 38 yards and a touchdown.

Olszewski also had a 70-yard punt return for a score.

Stidham has always thrown a pretty ball, and that was evident in this performance. He put the ball on the money on both of his completions and looked decisive on every throw. However, to put things into perspective, he was playing against an emotionally worn-down Chargers defense (except for linebacker Kenneth Murray, who is a maniac) in a situation where said defense was down 38 points and expecting the Patriots to run the ball.

While Stidham deserves credit for hitting his marks, it’s important to understand the situation when evaluating his performance.

Newton’s Day

The passing yards were even more modest in this week’s game than they were in the last for Newton. On Sunday, he threw for just 69 yards. That was just eight yards more than Stidham on 16 more attempts.

Newton finished the day completing 12-of-19 passes for those yards and a touchdown. The 31-year-old, who came in battling an abdomen injury, ran for 48 yards and two touchdowns.

More than any statistic, Newton’s presence, leadership and decision-making on Sunday were stellar. He repeatedly made the right decision on check-downs, throwaways, read-option plays and passes down the field. He had his first intermediate-length pass dropped by Jakobi Meyers, and another throw was muffed by N’Keal Harry (who also caught a short TD throw from Newton).

The Patriots ran for 165 yards, and while the offensive line was great, the Chargers’ struggles to account for Newton’s mobility helped open up many of these opportunities.

The 117 total yards won’t float many boats, especially in this era of inflated passing statistics, but when you don’t turn the ball over and captain the ship the way Newton did on Sunday, leading to a decisive win on the road, it’s hard to justify any criticism.

Overreaction or Fire to Go With the Smoke

Those who are looking at Stidham’s playing time as a sign of the future are overreacting a bit, but not entirely. Belichick’s decision to play the second-year pro shows he is looking for opportunities to get Stidham into the game.

Belichick went to Stidham earlier this season when the blowout shoe was on the other foot against the San Francisco 49ers and Newton was struggling mightily.

There is no chance the Patriots switch quarterbacks without injury at this point, but it’s crazy not to wonder what happens if Newton gets off to a slow start against the Los Angeles Rams next week. It might lead to a different kind of Stidham substitution.

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