After Tom Brady left the Patriots and before they signed Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham lined up to be the Pats’ quarterback heir. But with Newton out in Week 4, Stidham still isn’t starting.
The starting nod instead goes to Brian Hoyer on Monday night when the Patriots play at the Kansas City Chiefs. Cam Newton is out for Week 4 after testing positive for COVID-19, and New England’s answer to Patrick Mahomes on the other side is the veteran and multiple-time Patriot Hoyer.
New England will likely lean on its running game Monday night, but a possible big deficit to Mahomes will eventually call on Hoyer to throw. Here’s why he’s the Patriots’ choice over Stidham.
Read the tea leaves
Those following the Patriots closely would have seen this coming. Stidham has been a healthy inactive for each of the season’s first three weeks as Hoyer sat in the backup position behind Newton on the depth chart.
When the Patriots signed Hoyer in March, it made a lot of sense. They expected to start a young quarterback and wanted a backup they were familiar with – this is Hoyer’s third separate stint in New England. But at some point between that signing and now, Hoyer leaped Stidham. If Newton had been hurt in the first three weeks during a game, it would’ve been Hoyer into the game.
Stidham has never started an NFL game. He played in three during 2019 as a rookie and completed two of his four attempted passes. We have to go back to 2018 at Auburn to see the last time Stidham played extended snaps, and even then, his completion percentage dropped without a sizable increase in his numbers from the year before. That’s part of the reason he was available to New England in the fourth round.
Hoyer, on the other hand, has been in the NFL since he joined the Patriots in 2009 out of Michigan State. Overall, he’s played in 69 NFL games and started 38, spending time with the Patriots, Cardinals, Browns, Bears, Texans, Colts and 49ers. The 34-year old quarterback (he turns 35 on Oct. 13) has seen it all.
While it can be tough to truly gauge a backup’s talent when they play sporadically, Hoyer hasn’t been bad in his NFL career, either. He’s completed 59.1 percent of his passes while throwing 52 touchdowns compared to 34 interceptions. Hoyer’s most recent NFL start wasn’t great, though: In Week 10 of 2019 for the Colts, he completed 18-of-39 passes for 204 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.
It also seems worth noting that, while this surely had nothing to do with the decision, Hoyer has a great middle name: Axel.
Dan Orlovsky sides with Hoyer
Orlovsky, a former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst, isn’t associated with the Patriots’ organization. But he’s a well-respected quarterback thinker at this point, and he thinks it makes sense for New England to start Hoyer with Newton out. Orlovsky’s is the most reputable opinion we might get publicly before Hoyer suits up Monday.
“Brian Hoyer is a guy who has started plenty of football games in the NFL,” Orlovsky said on SportsCenter. “He’s one of those players who doesn’t need a ton of reps, either. He doesn’t need the reps week-to-week to understand your exact game plan physically. He has got all the mental preparation that he needs. He has played in plenty of important football games, obviously tomorrow is one that is. I feel that Brian Hoyer will give you the best chance to not lose the game.”
The repetitions part of Orlovsky’s comment is important. Because Newton’s positive test came late in the week, he would’ve been soaking up all the first-team reps during the week. Stidham probably ran more scout team than he ran with this week’s gameplan. As a veteran, Hoyer is likely more prepared to start on short notice.
Stidham can still be the long-term answer
Just because Stidham doesn’t start Week 4 doesn’t mean he won’t start for New England in 2021 or even as soon as Week 5. The quick turnaround was the biggest thing working against Stidham – even if the Patriots were going to flip the two backups on their depth chart soon, short prep time meant Hoyer was more logical in Week 4.
Stidham, unlike a lot of recently high-draft picks out of college at quarterback, limited turnovers at Auburn. That surely appeals to the old-school coaching of Bill Belichick. The most interceptions Stidham threw in a college season was six.
Newton could very well miss multiple weeks while he recovers from COVID-19. Following New England’s game Monday night, a real quarterback competition could ensue in practice as the Patriots try to find the best way to win in Week 5 against the Broncos. And with more time to get ready, that plan could include Stidham.