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Mac Jones has a massive opportunity, and it comes at a moment when Cam Newton seemed to be gaining momentum in the New England Patriots’ quarterback competition.

Newton won’t be on the football field until, at the earliest, Thursday. He violated the NFL’s COVID-19 testing protocols in what the Patriots called a “misunderstanding” on Monday. Newton is in the process of a five-day re-entry program for players who are not fully vaccinated.

And so it’s Jones’ moment. He will likely get the lion’s share of first-team reps on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. That third practice is a joint session with the New York Giants, which makes for particularly competitive and therefore valuable reps. Newton can return on Thursday for the team’s second session, but it’s not a certainty he’ll be able to practice.

Jones, the 15th overall pick in this year’s draft, should get three precious practices to impress the Patriots’ coaching staff ahead of the final preseason game in what is clearly an open quarterback competition.

“Cam certainly is the starter now, and he has done a good job,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Sunday. “He has gone in there, he played well the other night. He’s practiced well. But, I know those guys are really competing hard and we’re giving them an opportunity to compete and play a lot of football.”

Newton is the starter — right now. In the future? Anything is possible.

While Newton had an excellent second preseason game (8 of 9 for 104 yards and a touchdown), he lost much of his momentum going into this final week of the preseason.

Newton’s situation is almost like an injury — except that it isn’t. It is like an injury in that he’ll miss time. It’s not like an injury because Newton could have elected to get fully vaccinated, eliminating the possibility of violating the NFL’s stern policies for unvaccinated individuals. And if Newton remains unvaccinated, he will be subject to those policies in the coming months, potentially limiting his availability during the regular season, too.

That uncertainty could be a factor as the Patriots pick their starting quarterback for Week 1. But more importantly, New England will decide based on on-field performance. Jones has a tremendous opportunity to put together an impressive body of work with the top offensive players, including tight end Jonnu Smith and receiver Nelson Agholor, who have made recent returns from injuries over the last week.

It’s unlikely Jones will outright win the competition because of three days of practice. It could, however, give the Patriots an excuse to start Jones for the final preseason game, which could propel him into a strong position in the final week of training camp next week. The timing is opportune. Jones was building a strong case to start, but Newton’s case seemed stronger. Now, the situation is hazier.

The pressure is on Jones. If he can capitalize, he’ll have a legitimate shot of taking over the mantle of QB1 as soon as Week 1.


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