The New England Patriots’ quarterback competition reached its climax Sunday night, with Cam Newton and Mac Jones making their final cases for QB1 consideration against the New York Giants.
Here’s a look at how both signal-callers fared in New England’s preseason finale:
2 of 5, 10 yards, one interception, 8.3 passer rating
The COVID protocol “misunderstanding” that sidelined Newton for three practices this week didn’t cost him his starting job. The veteran got the nod behind center for the third time in as many preseason games, leading the Patriots’ first-team offense for the opening two drives.
It was not a particularly memorable performance from Newton. He completed just two passes: a 6-yarder to Jakobi Meyers that moved the chains on second-and-6 and a 4-yarder to Nelson Agholor, also on second-and-6.
Newton’s first drive stalled when a Giants blitz forced him to throw quickly to Meyers, who didn’t turn his head in time, and a third-down sideline pass to a well-covered Agholor fell incomplete, as well. The Patriots settled for a 41-yard Nick Folk field goal.
The second Newton series started on New England’s own 3-yard line. Facing third-and-7 from the 6 after a Trent Brown false start, Newton tried to hit Meyers deep down the seam but had his pass intercepted by linebacker Blake Martinez.
Martinez, who had some issues in coverage during joint practices, made a highlight-reel play to rip the ball away from a leaping Meyers. It was more a great effort by Martinez than an error by Newton or Meyers, but replays revealed the QB had Kendrick Bourne streaking wide open down the left sideline.
Newton played a total of nine snaps. Four of them were handoffs to Damien Harris. He primarily worked under center, with the Patriots choosing to keep the rushing aspect of his skill set under wraps until the regular season. Newton did not have a single rushing attempt during the preseason.
10 of 14, 156 yards, one touchdown, 131.8 passer rating
For the second straight game, Jones did not receive any snaps with the first-team offense. The Patriots sent out their backups for the rookie’s first series, both along the O-line and at the skill positions.
Jones’ outing began inauspiciously with a delay of game on his first snap, but he quickly responded with a 21-yard play-action strike to Kristian Wilkerson.
A defensive holding penalty against Wilkerson two plays later moved the chains on third-and-4, and Jones followed by hitting tight end Devin Asiasi on a play-action throw to pick up 19 yards. The drive reached the Giants’ 26-yard line before Jones took a sack on third-and-9, setting up a successful 48-yard field goal by Quinn Nordin.
Jones’ next drive was brief, with Gunner Olszewski dropping a would-be first down on the opening play and tackle Justin Herron picking up a holding call on the second. After a short completion to J.J. Taylor, a dart to Olszewski on third-and-12 was broken up.
Another apparent mistake by Olszewski closed out the first half. The Patriots allowed the clock to run down after Jones was sacked with 12 seconds remaining in the second quarter. The QB yelled “Gunner!” as he pulled himself off the turf, and his gestures seemed to indicate the receiver had run the wrong route.
Those three series were against the Giants’ first-team defense. New York inserted its reserves after halftime, and New England’s offense immediately ignited.
Jones led touchdown drives on his first two possessions of the second half. The first spanned 75 yards in six plays, beginning with a 27-yard completion to Wilkerson and ending with a 17-yard scoring strike to Isaiah Zuber.
Jones glanced to his right to move the safety, then fired a seed to Zuber up the left seam. It was the first touchdown pass of Jones’ young NFL career.
On the ensuing drive, Jones took over at midfield after a nice punt return by Taylor and swiftly moved the Patriots into the red zone. His first pass on that series might have been his best of the night.
While absorbing a hit from a Giants pass rusher, Jones delivered a perfect back-shoulder ball to a tightly covered Asiasi, who adjusted for a 30-yard gain.
After an 11-yard catch-and-run by Rhamondre Stevenson, Jones nearly delivered a second touchdown to Zuber, but the wideout couldn’t bring down his end-zone fade. Stevenson finished the job, bullying his way into the end zone for his fifth rushing touchdown of the preseason.
Over those two possessions, Jones completed 5 of 7 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. Two of his four total completions on the night were drops.
That momentum petered out when Jones went back out for his sixth and final series. He was sacked twice — holding the ball too long on both — and the Patriots gained just 12 yards before punting.
Overall, it was another promising performance from the Patriots’ quarterback of the future. But Newton remains the favorite to start Week 1 after doing so in all three preseason games and playing every snap with the starting offense over the last two contests.
Here are the final preseason stats for both QBs:
Cam Newton: 14 of 21, 162 yards, one touchdown, one interception
Mac Jones: 36 of 52, 388 yards, one touchdown
Jones showed statistical improvement over the course of his first NFL preseason, boosting his yards per attempt from 4.6 in Week 1 to 7.6 in Week 2 before posting an 11.1 mark on Sunday.
The Patriots will open the regular season Sunday, Sept. 12, against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.
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