Bill Belichick likely will never reveal, in hindsight, how much QB Cam Newton's five-day absence prior to the team's last preseason game impacted his decision on which quarterback will start the regular season for the New England Patriots.
But in advance of the club's final tune-up, he did at least acknowledge that rookie Mac Jones can take advantage of it.
"It is, yes," Belichick conceded, with his usual economy of words, when asked if Sunday's game against the New York Giants is a big opportunity for his first-round draft pick from Alabama, per NFL Network's Mike Giardi. Through a misunderstanding of the NFL's COVID-19 protocols for testing away from club facilities, Newton is being forced into only virtual participation in team activities this week. He'll return to the team on Thursday, and his five-day absence is only required of unvaccinated players.
Asked if the rules for unvaccinated players could impact his decision-making, Belichick dodged in classic fashion.
"The league rules are the league rules," the Patriots coach said. "We'll be compliant with them. Whatever they are, they are."
Although Newton has performed well in the preseason, so has Jones. And it's been Jones who's received the majority of the reps in games. In fact, Jones has logged 38 pass attempts in two games to Newton's 16. Of course, that could be a function of Belichick wanting to see more of the unknown. As an established veteran who started 15 games for New England last year, the coaching staff doesn't need to see as much of Newton. He brings experience, and a running threat that forces defenses to account for him, which helps open the rushing attack for other backs. Still, the better Jones looks, the harder it becomes to ignore the way he's moved the Patriots offense from the pocket.
And with Newton sitting out joint practices with the Giants this week, it's hard to imagine Jones won't once again take the lion's share of reps this weekend.