Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Cam’s kryptonite: Cam Newton‘s return to the Patriots this week from the reserve/COVID-19 list puts him in position to do something he has never accomplished before: Beat the Denver Broncos as a starting quarterback.
Call it Superman’s kryptonite, if you will.
Newton is 0-3 against the Broncos, with the most notable loss coming in Super Bowl 50. When the Newton-led Carolina Panthers visited the Broncos to open the following season, the game was defined, in part, by some punishing hits Newton absorbed.
Against teams he has faced at least three times, Newton has posted the worst completion (51.8) and sack (12.5) percentage in his career when playing Denver. His total QBR (31.9) is also his lowest mark.
History naturally won’t be a factor when Newton leads the Patriots into action against the visiting Broncos (1 p.m. ET, CBS) on Sunday. But in a season Newton has said is all about respect for him, this is another box he can authoritatively check.
Maybe he gets a crack at the Chiefs and Steelers in the postseason.
2. QBs beating the field: Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning are the only quarterbacks in the history of the NFL to record a victory against all 32 teams, according to Pro Football Reference data. Tom Brady will have an opportunity to join them next season when the Buccaneers visit the Patriots. That is, assuming the teams don’t meet up before then in Super Bowl LV.
3. Asiasi’s time: Coach Bill Belichick said this past week that he has never had a rookie class as far behind as this year’s, a reference to not having a traditional offseason program or preseason. Few coaches would probably argue that point, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t rookies making a major impact across the NFL. Steelers receiver Chase Claypool, for example, is coming off a four-touchdown game. With limited production from the tight end spot, the Patriots could really use a similar boost from UCLA’s Devin Asiasi, their top-rated prospect at the position from this year’s draft whom they traded up to select late in the third round. Asiasi played 10 snaps in each of the first two games, then spiked to 29 in a Week 3 win against the Raiders before dipping to eight snaps in the Week 4 loss to the Chiefs. Why not get Asiasi more involved in the game plan and see what he can do?
4. Deadline might be quiet: Belichick said this past week that because of COVID-19 rules that delay how quickly a player can enter a team’s facility, it might lead to a quieter trade deadline than in the past. That makes sense and also highlights how rookies who are behind the normal learning curve still might be a team’s best bet for an “impact” move. That’s how I view Asiasi and fellow third-round tight end Dalton Keene. Before considering a trade for a tight end, the answers might already be in-house and just need a chance to show what they can do. Let’s say, for example, the Seahawks were willing to make former Patriot Jacob Hollister available in a trade. Would you rather go that route, or see what the youngsters who are already on the team can do?
5. Davis should help: The Patriots signed sixth-year defensive tackle Carl Davis off the Jaguars’ practice squad on Wednesday, and one personnel executive and one coach who have a background with him view him as a good match for the team’s system. The main assets Davis brings are size (6-foot-5, 320 pounds), strength and length, as he fits a similar profile to Lawrence Guy. But he’s generally been viewed as an underachiever since the Ravens selected him in the third round of the 2015 draft (90th overall). The Patriots figure to thrust Davis right into the mix once he is officially cleared to join them, with starter Byron Cowart on the reserve/COVID-19 list and Beau Allen still on injured reserve. That’s been a position where the team has been thin all season.
6. What links Bell and Michel: The Jets released running back Le’Veon Bell on Tuesday (he signed Thursday with Kansas City), as his big free-agent signing never produced what either side envisioned. Since 2019, Bell had the second fewest average yards per touch (minimum 200) in the NFL, at 4.1, behind only Frank Gore (3.7). Patriots running back Sony Michel (4.2) is next on the list. Before the Jets released Bell, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that the Patriots were one of the teams that had trade discussions regarding him. On the surface, that would have seemed to be an unnecessary luxury for the Patriots, who have a deep stable of backs with Damien Harris, James White, Rex Burkhead, J.J. Taylor and Michel (currently on injured reserve). But when viewing it through the lens of the overall passing game — with the Patriots’ contributions from tight ends limited, and their receiving corps modest — it makes sense that the club explored the possibility, because Bell has been dangerous as a quasi-receiver at times.
7. Who’s the No. 2 QB? One of the compelling questions to be answered Sunday is whether there is movement on the backup quarterback spot in New England. Brian Hoyer had been the No. 2 option through the first four games, but when he was yanked late in the third quarter of the Oct. 5 loss at Kansas City, did that open the door for Jarrett Stidham to be the new No. 2 going forward? Based on a limited snapshot at practice this past week — when Stidham was warming up in a group alongside Newton, while Hoyer was alongside practice-squad quarterback Jake Dolegala — it seemed to be heading in that direction. Belichick had deflected all questions on the topic this past week, but he’ll have to show his hand Sunday because it’s unlikely all three quarterbacks will be active for the game.
8. Byrd’s flight: Receiver Damiere Byrd has played 257 of a possible 280 offensive snaps through four games (91.8%), the most of any Patriots skill-position player. For a feel of how much of an outlier that is for him, Byrd’s season high with Carolina (2016-2018) was 186 snaps. Last year in Arizona, Byrd totaled 455 snaps for the season, which he is on pace to eclipse before the halfway point of 2020. This has been a good development for Byrd (14 receptions for 179 yards and a 12.8 avg.), but will it be good enough for the Patriots as the season progresses? They’ll need Byrd to fly like never before.
9. Eyes on Jimmy G: Get ready for an influx of Jimmy Garoppolo chatter leading into the Oct. 25 Patriots-49ers game. The quarterback’s future in San Francisco, and the possibility of returning to New England, is the type of juicy sports-talk-radio banter that can pique the imagination. Here are the key facts: Garoppolo is managing an injured ankle, he doesn’t have any guaranteed money left on his contract, the 49ers are 2-3, and their next seven opponents currently have a combined record of 25-7. So to say this could be a defining stretch for him doesn’t feel like an overstatement. One other nugget: According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Garoppolo has the fifth highest interception rate (3%) since the start of last season despite having the third shortest average pass length in the NFL (minimum 400 attempts).
10. Did You Know: The Patriots are 101-1 all-time at Gillette Stadium when leading at halftime in the regular season.