Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
Newton is the team’s only positive test, but that doesn’t mean things can’t change quickly. Every player, coach and staff member who had been in close contact with Newton received a point-of-care test Saturday morning that came back negative. But because of the incubation period of the virus, it’s still possible that tests for those players, coaches and staff members could later return positive. So daily testing continues, and those results will add important context as to whether this is a one-player situation, or a potential outbreak.
Because of that uncertainty, the next 24 to 48 hours will determine if this week’s game against the Chiefs is played at all. Both teams’ facilities are reportedly closed through Sunday.
There’s a human side of this to consider as well. In communicating with some around the team, there is naturally some concern about possibly traveling to Kansas City, and what players could potentially bring back into their homes to their families upon their return.
From a medical standpoint, one important point of context is whether Newton is asymptomatic. If so, he can return after five days with two consecutive negative tests separated by 24 hours. If not, his absence will be 10 days at minimum, meaning he would also miss the Oct. 11 home game against the Denver Broncos.
In their meeting Saturday night, players and coaches were told to prepare to play Monday, ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported. Traveling the day of the game, while not ideal, was part of those conversations.
Dan Orlovsky reacts to Cam Newton testing positive for COVID-19 and discusses whom New England should turn to next at quarterback.
2. Four QBs a rarity: Veteran Brian Hoyer is now thrust into the spotlight, as Hoyer has been serving as the No. 2 quarterback for the first three weeks of the season. It also will elevate 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham to the game-day roster for the first time this season, with practice-squad signal-caller Jake Dolegala moving up to the third layer of insurance. It’s rare for the Patriots to have four quarterbacks in-house between their roster and practice squad, as there usually aren’t enough reps to go around. But during the pandemic, regular routines are more likely to be broken. And as coach Bill Belichick said this season, he feels fortunate to have depth there.
3. Historic loss: The Patriots lose a lot without Newton, especially when it comes to the threat of quarterback as a key factor in the running attack. Consider Newton’s 35 rushing attempts through three games have never been matched before in the Super Bowl era. The previous high had been 33, by Washington’s Robert Griffin III (2012), Minnesota’s Daunte Culpepper (2000) and Chicago’s Bobby Douglass (1973).
4. Michel’s health: Running back Sony Michel can’t seem to catch a break. After recovering from offseason foot surgery and having a breakout game last Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders that included the two longest runs of his career (48 and 38 yards), he was limited in practice all week because of his quad. Michel was scheduled to speak with reporters Thursday, but it never happened, which usually isn’t a good sign.
5. White’s return: Running back James White, who returned to the team Wednesday for the first time since Sept. 20 when his father, Tyrone, was killed in a car crash, is expected to be in uniform and filling his regular role as a vital part of the Patriots’ offense. It will mark White’s 80th regular-season game, and he enters with 24 touchdown receptions, putting him in prime position to pass Brian Westbrook’s record for the running back to reach the 25-TD reception mark fastest (87 games). White’s first media interview is expected to happen after the game.
6. Flags aren’t flying: With no preseason games, one line of thinking was that early-season play would be sloppy. But the Patriots’ offense has trended in the opposite direction. Coordinator Josh McDaniels’ unit hasn’t committed a single penalty, which marks the first time in Belichick’s 21-year tenure the Patriots have gone three straight games without a flag. Overall, the Patriots are the league’s least-penalized team to this point, with seven total penalties.
7. Best five on O-line: The Patriots’ decision to move left guard Joe Thuney to center last week to fill David Andrews‘ void, while inserting rookie Mike Onwenu at left guard, was reflective of going with the best five offensive linemen instead of plugging one specific spot. There can sometimes be a reluctance for teams to take that route because of concerns about disrupting two spots up front. But it showed how high the Patriots are on Onwenu, the sixth-round pick from Michigan. Belichick raved about Onwenu last week, saying, “day after day, he’s just impressive.”
8. Troy Brown’s highlights: Top draft pick Kyle Dugger, who is being eased into the mix as a punt and kickoff returner, said it has been fun to watch highlights of his coach — Patriots Hall of Famer Troy Brown — in film study. Dugger said Brown will fire up his old film and share with him what he could have done better on each return. Dugger flashed a wide smile in sharing a recent story of how Brown was hard on himself while critiquing his missteps … on a play he scored a touchdown. Said Dugger: “I’ve learned Troy is very, very passionate about the game.”
9. Kraft’s pride: Longtime NFL reporter Gary Myers, who authored the book “Brady vs. Manning,” is launching a podcast on iHeartRadio this week called “The GOAT: Tom Brady.” It includes interviews with Brady, Robert Kraft and Peyton Manning, among others, adding context to Brady’s 20-year run with the franchise. On the podcast, Kraft says, “My job was to keep as much of the core together as I could for as long as I could. I think keeping Bill and Tom together for 20 years was something I’m very proud of.” And of perceptions that Belichick didn’t want Brady, Kraft says, “I think it probably goes two ways.”
10. Did You Know: Thuney, whose move to center shined the spotlight a bit brighter on him, has played more offensive snaps than any player in the NFL since he entered the league in 2016. Thuney has played 4,702 snaps over that span, followed by Eagles center Jason Kelce (4,611) and Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith (4,537).