Opinion: Cam Newton’s critical mistakes have become a disturbing problem for the Patriots

Turns out that Superman was his own Kryptonite. Again.

Cam Newton had a chance to save the day and lift the New England Patriots out of the misery of the franchise’s longest losing streak in 18 years. That’s what the money players will do.

Yet with the game on the line Sunday and his team driving deep in Buffalo territory in the final minute for a would-be game-winning touchdown, Newton coughed up the football.

Bills defensive tackle Justin Zimmer punched the ball out of Newton’s hand as the quarterback tried sweeping around the left corner on a second down from the 19-yard line, and that was that. The Bills recovered with 31 seconds on the clock. Ball game. Losing streak extended.

“I’m still jeopardizing this team’s chance to win because of my lackluster performance,” Newton said after the 24-21 setback marked the fourth loss in a row. “Coach trusts me with the ball in my hand. I’ve got to do a better job of protecting it.”

Newton sighed, then reminded himself for all to hear on his Zoom conference.

“Keep the ball high and tight,” he said.

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New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) reacts after fumbling the ball during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Orchard Park, N.Y.

It’s become part of the routine for Newton, trying to revive his career by joining forces with Bill Belichick. The man who once walked out of a Super Bowl news conference after a blowout loss humbly hung in there and faced the music after another close loss. He pointed the finger at himself, self-critical to the max. He knew he blew it and would hardly sugar-coat it.

“It’s unacceptable on my part,” he said. “I know it sounds like a broken record.”

True. The Patriots (2-5) haven’t started a season like this since 2000.

Even worse, the loss at Buffalo was the third one that was decided when the Newton-led offense was positioned to win at crunch time but came up short.

If two times is a coincidence, three times is a disturbing trend.

Especially for a franchise that broke a lot of hearts in pulling out last-minute wins with Tom Brady.

No, Newton is no Brady, who used last-minute comeback jobs to pull out four of the franchise’s six Super Bowl victories.

Deal with it, New England. The Patriots are no longer the team that can keep it close, then bank on some last-minute poise and precision to pull out a clutch win. Now, they are the team that leaves their followers holding their breath in crunch time.

And know this: Belichick is not about to bench Cam and insert second-year pro Jarrett Stidham.

Coach Hoodie has this ride-or-die thing going with Newton.

“Cam’s our quarterback,” Belichick said when asked if he’ll switch to Stidham. “That’s the way it’s been all year.”

As bad as it looks now for the Patriots, the fact remains that there is too much of the season left to throw in the towel. If Newton previously gave the Patriots their best chance to compete in the first year of the post-Brady era, then he’s still the best option — especially if they can regain the form that Newton possessed for much of the first three weeks of the season.

On Sunday, even without the top two wide receivers  in Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry, the Patriots had their best offensive performance in a month, rushing for 188 yards. Damien Harris ran for 102 yards, while Newton rumbled for 54 yards with a touchdown. Newton had zero picks and flicked a two-point conversion throw.

If only Newton’s blunder didn’t override all of that.

“This is the third time we’ve been in this situation this season and unfortunately haven’t made the plays to win,” Belichick said. “We’ve had our opportunities.”

Of course, it’s not all on Newton. But there’s a reason why there are stats that trumpet how many fourth-quarter comeback victories a quarterback – like, well, Brady or Russell Wilson — has achieved.

Newton knows.

“We have to be better at situational football,” he said. “It’s up to me to execute better.”

For sure. On the game-sealing play, Newton’s fundamentals are open to some serious second-guessing. Running to his left, he carried the ball in his right hand, exposing it for the disaster that happened rather than switching it to his left hand.

“I tend to always want the ball in my right hand,” Newton explained. “Just more comfort.”

In this case, though, it was more risk, too, as Zimmer – a journeyman who has spent time with four NFL teams and one CFL squad in four-plus years since leaving Division-II Ferris State – came crashing in from the side with the perfect angle to throw a jab at the football.

Sometimes, like with a chance to win, protecting the ball trumps comfort.

Perhaps that’s the lesson Newton will take from the loss.

“I’m not feeling sorry for myself,” Newton said. “I just have to get better and play 60 minutes of premium football.”

Which, in crunch time, is the difference between Superman and the Joker.

Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.

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