FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick gave quarterback Cam Newton the early hook in an embarrassing 38-9 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Monday night, turning to Jarrett Stidham with 8 minutes, 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Now it's time for Belichick to turn the ball over to Stidham for the regular-season finale against the New York Jets.
At this point, what is there to gain by sticking with Newton?
Newton finished 5-of-10 passing for 34 yards, with his highlight being a 9-yard touchdown run on a scramble after dropping back to pass.
It was tough to watch. Newton's 34 passing yards are the fewest by a Patriots starting quarterback since 1993, when Scott Secules had 13 yards in Week 10 (also at home vs. the Bills).
Stidham might not be the long-term answer, either, but giving him his first full week as a starter would benefit the team with 2021 in mind, because he could be thrust into that type of situation at a moment's notice.
And 2021 is what it's all about at this point for the Patriots, who dropped to 6-9 and hardly looked competitive against the Bills (12-3), the new kings of the AFC East.
The lowlights for Newton:
He completed five passes, none traveling more than 7 air yards. He was 0-for-4 on deeper passes.
He was blitzed six times, with the Patriots losing 10 yards on those dropbacks.
The Patriots averaged 4.8 yards per play with him in the game.
Stidham didn't light it up, either (4-for-11, 44 yards), but entering the game while trailing 31-9 and the outcome hardly in doubt is not exactly a fair evaluation.
Which is one reason Stidham deserves a chance to start the finale.
Describe the game in two words: Role reversal. The Patriots pounded the Bills so many times over the past two decades, and the shoe was finally on the other foot. That had to feel satisfying for coach Sean McDermott's club, as it is playing some of its best football entering the playoffs.
Pivotal play: When receiver Damiere Byrd dropped an accurate long strike from Newton on the opening drive of the game -- Byrd was wide open on the trick play -- it set an early tone for what was to come. The Patriots had to settle for a field goal on the drive, and the way the Bills' offense has things going, it wasn't going to be close to good enough.
Sell on a breakout performance: Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson, who was touted as a Pro Bowl snub after totaling eight interceptions through Week 15, got off to a solid start against Bills receiver Stefon Diggs before things turned quickly. Diggs' 50-yard catch-and-run touchdown, in man coverage against Jackson, was a backbreaking play in the second quarter. It was a reminder that when Jackson has to step up as the No. 1 corner (with Stephon Gilmore on IR), it's a challenge for him.
Troubling trend: Rookie linebacker Josh Uche, the second-round draft pick from Michigan who the Patriots hope will be a centerpiece of a revamped defense in 2021, left the game in the second quarter with a foot injury and didn't return. He wasn't spotted on the sideline in the second half, which seemed to indicate he was undergoing further testing.
Silver lining: Sony Michel and J.J. Taylor ran hard, as the running game was one of the few areas of the team to produce consistent positive plays. Paired with Damien Harris in 2021, that's a solid trio to build around. And with one game remaining, with New England eliminated from the playoff race for the first time since 2008, determining which players fit best in 2021 is now one of the most important things the Patriots can do.