Small sample sizes are perilous for any kind of analysis, but sometimes, it’s all you have to go on.
Cam Newton got off to a really good start with the Patriots, going 62-for-91 for 714 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions in his first three games with the Patriots last year, leading New England to a 2-1 record.
Then, he got COVID-19.
After returning from the virus, Newton went four games without throwing a touchdown pass. He went 68-for-100 for 703 yards, with five interceptions and seven sacks.
The rest of the year? In eight more games, Newton was 112-for-177, throwing for 1,240 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions. He also was sacked 19 times.
For the season, Newton rushed 137 times for 592 yards and 12 touchdowns, his most times running into the end zone since his rookie year, but with his lowest yards-per-carry rate since 2016.
Newton is 31 and will be 32 when next season begins. Nobody should have any illusions about him being anywhere close to the quarterback who was the NFL MVP in 2015. He’s not that anymore. But he also very clearly was affected in his first season with the Patriots by his bout with coronavirus, not to mention the adjustment to being on a new team and the several opt-outs that made New England a very different squad in 2020, the first year of the post-Tom Brady era there.
None of this is news to Bill Belichick, of course, and at a time when the NFL is playing musical chairs with quarterbacks, the Patriots are bringing back Newton on a one-year, $14 million deal.
There’s plenty of reason to expect Newton to be better in 2021 than 2020, and with more key players back in the fold, plenty of reason to expect the Patriots to be better across the board. Meanwhile, Newton will count for less against the salary cap than Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill, Jared Goff, Jimmy Garoppolo, the rotting corpse of Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Wentz, Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford, and Taysom Hill.
And the Patriots still have more than $50 million of cap space.
Hope everyone enjoyed last year and the chance to gloat about Belichick not getting the Patriots to the playoffs. New England’s demise has been greatly exaggerated, and so has Newton’s.