Expect the unexpected. That’s the mantra for an NFL trying to get through a season amid a pandemic.
One day a team is fine, the next, normal gets tossed out the window.
Welcome to Week 4, New England.
While both the Patriots and Chiefs had players test positive for COVID-19, the Pats are left with a much tougher row to hoe.
If the game goes off as expected Monday night, and that remains a big if with testing still to be done, the Patriots not only have to face the great challenge posed by the defending Super Bowl champions, but they’ll have to do it traveling the same day of the game, not to mention try to outgun Patrick Mahomes with a backup quarterback.
With Cam Newton being the one testing positive for the Patriots, basically, Bill Belichick is losing the best player from his offense, and replacing him with Brian Hoyer, who is 16-22 lifetime as a starter, including 10 straight losses.
The Chiefs? With all due respect, not having practice squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu available for the game will have zero impact for Kansas City.
But those are the breaks. It’s not like the Patriots haven’t had to deal with adversity in the past. Basically, a weird season just got weirder.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at the Patriots current plight, and what they’re up against.
Having to travel the day of the game — and this is no short hop to New York — as opposed to the day before will be unsettling for the players, no matter which way you slice it.
Teams are creatures of habit.
This is far from what the players are accustomed to, having to make a near three-hour trip, and then step off the plane to face the Chiefs. Having a skewed routine is not the best recipe for success.
As it is, since 1968, the Patriots have only won once in nine trips to Kansas City.
But then again, it’s the Patriots. They’ve proven to be champions of adversity. Maybe there will be zero impact having to haul to Arrowhead on the same day to play the defending champs.
Without Newton, Hoyer is expected to start against the Chiefs. Why Hoyer? Experience. He knows the offense. It’s as simple as that.
Maybe Bill Belichick pulls a rabbit out of his hat, and goes with second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham. It’s just not the likely scenario.
No matter who it is, Newton is a tough act to follow.
In three games this season, he’s completed a career-high 68.1% of his passes for 714 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s also rushed 35 times for 149 yards and a league-best four touchdowns.
The offense completely revolves around him, and what he does best. So the Chiefs defense won’t have to worry about anywhere near the variables that Newton brings to the table.
It’s going to be a tall order for Hoyer to come on in relief, and outpoint Mahomes and the Chiefs offense, even with his experience and comfort level in the offense.
Assuming its Hoyer, Josh McDaniels will once again have to tweak the offense, and do it on the fly.
It’s not like the Patriots offensive coordinator hasn’t had to go through hoops before. He had to make adjustments in 2008 when Tom Brady went down for the year and Matt Cassel had to take over. He also had to tinker with the offense when Brady served his four-game suspension in 2016, first for Jimmy Garoppolo, who played a game and a half, and then Jacoby Brissett.
In Brissett’s case, he only had a few days to adapt plays that were more suitable to the quarterback, and McDaniels made it work. After installing the game plan and working on it all week with Newton, he now has to flip it for Hoyer and get everyone on the same page in two days. And do it without use of the facility at Gillette Stadium with teams having to clear out.
Hoyer is the polar opposite of Newton in terms of mobility, not to mention he’s not a read-option style quarterback.
No doubt, the Patriots will fall back into a more classic style of offense with a drop-back quarterback. They’ll continue to run the football, but without all the bells and whistles Newton provides. It’s also possible McDaniels could employ Stidham for some of the Newton-based plays but the smart money says it’s Hoyer, working the old Brady offense.
No matter which way you slice it, still not the best scenario.
Even though no one outside of Newton has tested positive, it’s possible some players will feel uncomfortable traveling so soon after a positive test to a prominent player was revealed. As a quarterback, Newton had lots of interaction with players and members of the coaching staff.
Even with negative tests, players might still not want to jump on that plane. Maybe it’s one or two players opting out, maybe more, or possibly none.
This is another unknown, and another possible monkey wrench for Belichick and the coaching staff to deal with.
Perhaps players won’t want to take the risk — completely understandable — and potentially get the virus, and potentially bring it back to their homes and their families when they get back.
The Belichick Factor
Switching the game plan on the fly? Losing the starting quarterback two days before the game? Having no access to the facility during the weekend?
Piece of cake, right?
Let’s just say when Belichick is involved, he’s an X-factor whether he’s operating with perfect circumstances, or if everything gets blown up and turned upside down.
The Hoodie has always had a steady hand on the wheel. He’s always been great at adjustments and dealing with adversity. No one is going to be throwing a pity party for the Patriots.
No doubt, Belichick will have his players believing their Plan B or Plan C is good enough to beat the Chiefs.
Whether it gets the job done, remains to be seen.