Cam Newton's on fire from long range, but he's missing too many layups

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Cam's short-game inaccuracy: If Cam Newton's recent play was compared to a basketball player, he'd be on fire from behind the 3-point line, and he'd even have a successful half-court heave to show for his effort. But when it comes to layups and slam dunks, it would be a disappointing mixed bag.

In other words, Newton made the low-percentage throws look easy in last week's loss to the Houston Texans, but too many easy pass attempts were surprisingly tough on him.

This was a topic brought up to him leading into Sunday's home game against the Arizona Cardinals (1 p.m. ET, Fox), asking him if he knew the reason, and it didn't seem like he appreciated it too much.

"Coach talks about it all the time, to have great fundamentals when you need it the most. Sometimes the ball just gets away from you ... you throw a bad pass," he said. "I just have to be more conscientious of those type of throws."

If Newton can clean up his inconsistency on the layups, and continue to be efficient from long range, it would give the Patriots their best chance to be a well-rounded offense heading down the homestretch of the 2020 season.

Accuracy can be subjective, but taking away batted-down passes, throwaways and throws deemed to be decisively influenced by pressure, I had Newton for six clearly inaccurate passes within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage last week. They are throws you'd expect an NFL quarterback to make more often than not.

What made those stand out even more was how pinpoint accurate he was on midrange throws (6-of-6 from 10-19 yards) and longer attempts (2-of-2 from 20-plus).

2. Patricia reunion in Foxborough? When the Lions fired head coach Matt Patricia on Saturday, one of the first questions closer to home in New England was whether coach Bill Belichick might quickly bring him aboard as a consultant-type presence, similar to when Josh McDaniels rejoined the organization in January 2012 after being let go by the Rams. That, of course, assumes Patricia would even be interested in such a scenario instead of just stepping away to spend more time with his wife, Raina, and the couple's three children before pursuing his next career move. Similar to when McDaniels returned and didn’t want to step on the toes of then-offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, Patricia could possibly do the same with outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick -- or even take on a more general role as an assistant to the overall coaching staff (e.g. similar to Michael Lombardi in 2014-15). Patricia has a background on offense and defense in the Patriots' system, and such brainpower could be helpful to ease Bill Belichick's burden in this COVID-19 year and into 2021. So it's a possibility that could benefit both if there were two-sided motivation to make it happen.

3. Kirk and Patriots WRs: The Patriots' lack of firepower at receiver and struggles to adequately address the position in the draft have been a hot-button media-based topic. Cardinals receiver Christian Kirk, who comes to town Sunday, represents another of the team's recent "what-could-have-beens" in this area.

Had the Patriots stood pat with the 2018 second-round pick (43rd) they acquired from the 49ers in exchange for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the speedy Kirk could have been the pick, as he was one of a small number of players under consideration at the time after having visited the team's facility leading up to the draft.

But the Patriots instead traded down twice, then after Kirk was selected by the Cardinals (47th), they traded up to select one of the only other players they viewed as having second-round value -- cornerback Duke Dawson (56th).

He lasted one year with the team before he was traded. Something to think about when watching Kirk (34 games, 142 receptions, 1,776 yards, 12 TDs) against the Patriots on Sunday.

4. Sony's fresh legs: In a reminder of how quickly things can change in the NFL, the discussion last week was how the Patriots might integrate Sony Michel into a stocked running back depth chart. But now the opening is obvious with Rex Burkhead suffering a season-ending knee injury, and Newton said one thing that stood out to him with Michel in practice was "fresh legs." Meanwhile, here's another running-back-related question: What has happened to undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor? He had flashed a spark in a Week 3 win against the Las Vegas Raiders but has essentially disappeared since. If coach Bill Belichick was soliciting suggestions, here's one: Find a way to integrate Taylor modestly into the offense, where his potential big-play ability -- and contrast to Damien Harris, Michel and James White -- might provide a spark.

5. Closing book on Rivers: It seemed like only a matter of time before defensive end Derek Rivers' time with the Patriots would end, as he had slipped into a niche role as a situational pass-rusher with limited special-teams contributions -- a luxury for a team with notable holes across the roster. So it was hardly surprising when Rivers was waived last week and then claimed by the Rams, as a fresh start/different scheme might be exactly what he needs to revive his career. Rivers faced some higher expectations than the norm for a third-round pick, in part because he was the Patriots' top overall draft selection in 2017 (No. 83 overall). Two torn ACLs (rookie year, third year) naturally stunted some of his potential growth, but his personal optimism never wavered, and he was widely respected throughout the organization because of it.

Hindsight is 20-20, as they say, but the Patriots' big mistake in that '17 draft was trading out of the No. 64 spot late in the second round (in exchange for Kony Ealy and the No. 72 pick). That would have been the spot they could have selected running back Alvin Kamara (No. 67), whom Belichick spent time with one-on-one before the draft and knew had the potential to be special.

6. Trickle-down effect of Wynn injury: Starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn will miss Sunday's game with a knee injury after being placed on injured reserve Saturday, which will break a streak of five straight games in which the Patriots started the same O-line combination. That was a big change from early in the season, when the Patriots had four different starting configurations in the first five games. So they're back to moving some pieces around again, and these are the questions they are likely asking: Do they simply insert Jermaine Eluemunor at left tackle despite him looking overmatched as an injury replacement last Sunday, or do they kick guard Joe Thuney out to that spot, move Mike Onwenu to left guard and put Eluemunor (or rookie Justin Herron) at right tackle? The latter choice seems most appealing.

7. Roster flexibility shows: The Patriots have had 69 players dress for at least one game this season, as the NFL's more liberal injured-reserve rules, coupled with practice squad elevations, have created more opportunities for players who otherwise might have remained behind the scenes. Defensive tackle Akeem Spence, who was elevated from the practice squad Saturday, will be the 70th (assuming he plays at least one snap). That number figures to grow even more with six games remaining in the season -- especially if the Patriots are out of contention and want to take a closer look at some developmental prospects. For context, the Patriots had 67 different players dress for at least one game last season, including the postseason. In 2018, it was 68 across the regular season/postseason. So they've already eclipsed those numbers with a lot more football to be played.

8. Froholdt heads to Houston: When the Patriots waived 2019 fourth-round pick Hjalte Froholdt last week, and the Texans claimed him, it probably cost the Patriots some fans from Denmark. Froholdt's international roots made him a popular player among the Danish media corps the past two years, with his last videoconference split into two parts -- one for the English-speaking media, the other for those from Denmark. The breakthrough of 2020 sixth-round pick Onwenu, who has quickly elevated to a starting role at guard, contributed to making Froholdt expendable. But more than that, Froholdt's performance when thrust into emergency duty seemed to show he still had a long way to go -- putting his roster spot in jeopardy. Expect the Patriots to sign former Iowa and San Francisco 49ers guard Ross Reynolds to the practice squad to fill Froholdt's void, which probably isn't much of a difference from a talent standpoint.

9. Kyler on the Cape: Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray played for the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2017, and he reflected on the summer experience leading up to Sunday's visit to New England. That was before the Oakland Athletics picked Murray in the first round and before Murray became the No. 1 overall pick of the Cardinals in the 2019 NFL draft. "It was different -- didn't have a car, slept in a basement, showered outside," Murray said. The 2001 romantic comedy "Summer Catch" was based on the Cape Cod Baseball League, and Murray -- who has been limited all week with a right shoulder injury that could potentially force the Cardinals to turn to backup Chris Streveler on Sunday -- said he wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.

10. Did You Know: Belichick will coach his 454th NFL game on Sunday when the Patriots host the Cardinals, which will tie him with Tom Landry for third most in NFL history. Only Don Shula (526) and George Halas (506) have coached in more.