Months after being cut by the Patriots, Newton made a splashy return to the field with the Carolina Panthers, while New England marches to the playoffs with Mac Jones.

Quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers high-fives fans after defeating the Arizona Cardinals on November 14, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The New England Patriots are back on the road to the AFC playoffs, and Cam Newton is back to showing what he’s still got something to give as an NFL quarterback. Just how everyone drew it up.

Sort of.

When the Patriots systemically destroyed the Cleveland Browns on Sunday to move to 6-4 on the season, it was rookie sensation Mac Jones under center for Bill Belichick’s team, not Newton.

And when the 32-year-old former MVP slammed into the end zone in signature fashion for the first time in the 2021 season, he did it as a member of the Carolina Panthers, the team that drafted him No. 11 overall in 2011, and not the Patriots.


For both the Patriots and Newton, it’s been a long journey from August 31—the day Belichick released Newton and officially made the move to Mac Jones as New England’s starting signal-caller.

“It was great when [the Panthers] signed him and sounds like he had a great day yesterday,” Belichick said of Newton’s two-touchdown return to the quarterback’s old team. “Always happy for Cam, appreciate everything he did and he’s a wonderful guy to coach and be around.”

Yet for all those positive words from the Patriots’ coach, Newton found himself out of a job for more than two months after being cut by New England. Some speculated his time in the NFL, not just as a starting quarterback, might be over after Jones beat him out for the job in Foxborough.

“The reason why they released me is because indirectly, I was going to be a distraction, without being the starter,” he said on his infamous “Funky Friday” YouTube episode following his release. “[Mac] would have been uncomfortable. And they knew. And it comes by the mere fact of me being me.”

Throw in the uncertainty about Newton’s vaccination status–he missed five days near the end of training camp because he violated protocols while unvaccinated–and it was fair to wonder when his next opportunity would come.


Meanwhile, Jones and the Patriots struggled to a 1-3 start to the 2021 season and lost their first four games at home. Though the rookie held his own early on, the whispers couldn’t be avoided: would New England have been better off sticking with Newton longer?

Time has proven both sides wise.

Jones is swiftly making a case to be a top-10 quarterback already in his rookie season, with his dominant performance against the Browns giving national media new visions of the Patriots in late January.

Newton, on the other hand, got vaccinated and bided his time until the Panthers called after the Patriots broke Sam Darnold two weeks ago. Carolina offered him a contract worth up to $10 million with even more guaranteed money than the Patriots offered him this season, and he immediately rewarded them with an energy-filled performance in the Panthers’ 34-10 win over the Cardinals.

What’s more, Carolina will reportedly give Newton a chance to start this week and could view him as the team’s starting quarterback going into next season if he plays well, according to reports by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

No matter what happens with either the Patriots or Newton this year, New England did the right thing regarding its own future.

Jones is what the Patriots wanted and needed: a young passer that can offer stability for years to come and figures to get even better in an offensive system seemingly made for his skill set.


Newton, meanwhile, isn’t what the Panthers wanted — that would’ve been Darnold playing well enough to justify trading three draft picks for him.

But the veteran quarterback is what Carolina needs: a proven option at quarterback and a spark for a season that’s not yet lost for good. Furthermore, the Panthers allow Newton one more chance to prove he can start in the NFL —that there really aren’t 32 quarterbacks better than him.

Of course, Newton still has to prove he can consistently throw the football, which he didn’t have to do in his first week back with the Panthers.

On the other side of things, the Patriots still have tough games coming against the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills (twice) to truly seize control in the AFC playoff picture. Jones will have to continue his ascent if New England is to be the contender people are beginning to believe they are.

But as Newton himself said back in September following his release from New England, Jones should prove up to the task.

“They’re gonna win football games with Mac Jones,” Newton said at the time. “He’s good enough…He proved that he can be productive. And he will be productive.”

As Week 11 looms with the Patriots taking on the Falcons Thursday night, it can’t be denied both New England and Newton are in a better place than they were when the season began.