Analysis

Patriots' QB competition heats up as Cam Newton, Mac Jones impress in preseason win over Eagles

PHILADELPHIA -- With Week 2 of the preseason, rookie Mac Jones reinforced the notion that he is the Patriots' quarterback of the future. But how quickly that ascension happens hinges largely on the play of Cam Newton. On Thursday night in Philadelphia, the veteran looked much more like the 2018 Carolina version of himself than the player we saw sputter through much of 2020.

Newton was efficient, he was accurate and he played with an anticipation in the Pats' 35-0 win that too often eluded him a year ago. Yes, he did it versus an Eagles defense that unfortunately chose to sit many of its starters. But Newton can't be penalized for that, even if it could skew the evaluation. He also showed athletic feet and movement in the pocket, allowing his natural gifts to shine instead of being bogged down by a head that the former MVP admitted was swimming in the playbook last season.

A pair of completions to Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne on deep digs marked the first extended drive of the game for the Pats, one that petered out and ended in a missed field goal.

The next drive was fairly conservative: a screen, a couple of checkdowns to running backs and then, after three straight runs, a beautifully thrown ball to Meyers, where Newton led the third-year pro into the flat and away from the defender. With a full head of steam, Meyers cashed in for the touchdown, ending Newton's night a tidy 8-of-9 passing for 103 yards.

"Just tried to do my job," Newton said after the game. "That's all I did."

Competition over, right? I mean, Newton certainly didn't do anything to lose the gig. But Jones did what -- for the most part -- he's done since we got our first look at him on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium: He looked like he belonged.

His opening drive was a good challenge, playing with the second-team offensive line and backed up inside the 10-yard line. It almost got ugly, with Jones nearly intercepted on a throw similar to one that was picked off in joint practices. Granted a reprieve, the kid locked in against the Eagles' backups, directing the ball away from the inside safety on another deep dig, this one to N'Keal Harry. Given room to breathe, that's exactly what Jones and the offense did. The ensuing TD drive lasted over nine minutes, covering 91 yards on 17 plays. Jones perfectly placed the two-point conversion pass, but Bourne let it clang off his facemask.

After the Pats got the ball back near midfield, with under two minutes to play in the first half and no timeouts, Jones threw a beautiful ball to Harry down the left sideline. It would have been a touchdown. But Harry inexplicably left his feet for the pass, not only dropping it but hurting himself in the process. What followed may have been another teachable moment for the coaching staff. Jones then completed a short pass in the middle of the field that ended up a couple yards short of a first down, and he clocked the ball. After some deliberation, the Pats punted, but Jones was greeted by what appeared to be an agitated Josh McDaniels on the sideline. It didn't look like the offensive coordinator approved of the way his signal-caller handled the situation.

McDaniels couldn't have seen much to dislike about Jones' second-half effort: two drives, both ending in touchdowns. Jones was 8 of 10 over that stretch, and both incompletions should have been caught. What was really impressive? The rhythm that Jones was in, knowing exactly where he wanted to go with the ball and putting it on the spot when it needed to be there. He gripped it and ripped it.

That's not a surprise. As the summer has progressed, Jones has answered a bad play or a bad series with the bounceback of a Superball. (Am I showing my age here?) He has impressed teammates with a surprising amount of "swag," and left tackle Trent Brown believes Jones can be "special." Why?

"To be so young, I think he makes some throws that not a lot of young guys can make," Brown said last week. "I think it's all about settling down and knowing you can still play the game. It's still football. Yeah, it's a different level, but it's still football. I think that goes for any rookie."

The coaching staff has been impressed with how quickly Jones has digested and processed the playbook. They felt that way back in the spring. The rookie has done nothing but reinforce that faith in his intelligence and overall command. It's been evident a number of times, either in games or practices.

Just ask Bourne. The high-energy wideout was operating with Jones under center during Monday's joint practice in Philly. Jones read one thing. Bourne read another. The loud yell that came as soon as the pass fell incomplete didn't come from the veteran pass catcher. It came from Jones, clearly agitated that Bourne ran the wrong route. Bourne quickly admitted he had done wrong, and later, as Jones was holding his post-practice press conference, yelled "I love you, Mac," making Jones smile broadly and laugh.

He has fit in. He has led. But will it be enough to lead the Pats out of the tunnel Week 1 in Foxborough against the Dolphins? Newton isn't ready to let that happen, even though that day is coming, maybe sooner rather than later.

Follow Mike Giardi on Twitter.

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