Cam Newton returned to the practice field and he immediately returned to his role as the first quarterback in drills. However, his workload was significantly reduced, although that appeared to be more circumstantial than anything else.
After sitting out five days due to COVID-related protocols, Newton was back in uniform on Thursday for the second of two joint practices with the Giants in steaming hot Foxborough. Newton led off both the 7-on-7 red zone work as well as the full team 11-on-11 periods.
But after leading the Patriots on a quick touchdown drive, Newton watched Mac Jones take the reins for an extended period over the next two drives. The first was a choppy, 20-play marathon that ultimately ended with a pretty touchdown catch by a toe-tapping Kendrick Bourne in the back of the end zone. But that positive finish came after three straight negative plays – including a pick by former Patriot Logan Ryan – so it wasn't nearly as solid a performance by the rookie as was witnessed a day earlier.
Newton didn't show many signs of rust in his return. He used Jakobi Meyers effectively over the middle, hitting him twice sandwiched around a Giants penalty for illegal hands the face while trying to cover him. Newton's best throw followed as the fired a laser to Bourne, who went up to snare the throw in traffic for a 20-plus-yard gain.
A couple players later he found Bourne dragging across the field toward the right sideline for another sizable gain before capping the drive with a handoff to Damien Harris for the touchdown. Newton was on the field for just eight plays but it was a relatively efficient drive that resulted in six.
Once Jones took over things bogged down, thus the need for the extended reps. Three times he converted fourth downs, although at least one likely would have resulted in a sack. At times the periods seemed to be strict down-and-distance exercises while others saw some stumbles overlooked to allow for the drive to continue.
That was the case on Jones' marathon. While the rookie wasn't nearly as sharp as he was on Wednesday, he wasn't without his moments. His best came when he sent a perfect lob down the left sideline to Gunner Olszewski, who had a step on the coverage inside the Giants 10. Olszewski grabbed the pass over his shoulder but was unable to hold on as he went to the ground at about the 5. He was quite upset with himself and certainly should have been able to make the play, which would have resulted in a 40-yard pickup.
Despite the stops and starts – as well as the departure of David Andrews, who left in the middle of the drive with an apparent right ankle/foot injury – Jones kept at it. He used James White effectively to convert the fourth downs and gradually made his way to New York's goal line.
He was aided by a tremendous catch by Meyers around the 1 when the receiver outfought a Giants defender to make the grab. The ball was placed back at the 6 and after a pair of incompletions and a false start penalty on Isaiah Wynn, Jones found Bourne for the touchdown.
The play was a bit off-script as Jones was forced to hold the ball a bit before finding Bourne, who stopped near the backline and grabbed the high pass while managing to keep his toes in bounds. Jones then rolled to his right and flipped one to Meyers in the flat for the 2-point conversion.
It was another long, hot day but also another opportunity for the young quarterback to gain valuable experience competing against another team under pretty competitive conditions. Despite the struggles, Jones fought his way through.
Beyond the offensive performance, here are one man's impressions of Day 19 (and last) of Patriots training camp.
*The Patriots welcomed a couple of players back on Thursday but also saw a couple leave practice early once again. First, the PUP (Jarrett Stidham, Stephon Gilmore, Terez Hall, Byron Cowart) and NFI lists (Joshuah Bledsoe, Cameron McGrone) remained unchanged. Also, N"Keal Harry (shoulder), Matt LaCosse (head), Justin Bethel, Nick Thurman and Kahale Waring were all absent. Waring was with the team for just one day before missing Thursday's session.
*In addition to Newton, the Patriots also got Josh Uche and Tre Nixon back in the lineup. Uche missed Wednesday's practice before returning to full-time duty on Thursday. He enjoyed a strong practice against the Giants (more on that later). Nixon missed six practices with an undisclosed ailment before getting back on the field. He took part in individual drills but did not get any 11-on-11 reps.
*Both Wynn and Nelsoe Agholor were in full pads after leaving Wednesday's practice early for undisclosed reasons. Both took part fully in Thursday's work and saw extended work with the offense.
*Hunter Henry, Myles Bryant and Brandon Bolden continue to wear red, non-contact jerseys.
*Tedy Bruschi once again made an appearance.
*Robert Kraft stepped out of a helicopter on the nearby helipad next to the practice fields and spent the rest of the morning watching the session and interacting with friends and families outside of the VIP tent.
*While much of the focus has been on the play of the offense and more specifically the quarterbacks the last two days, the Patriots defense was outstanding in both practices against the Giants. New York quarterback Daniel Jones struggled to generate much rhythm on Wednesday and Thursday started out much the same. Heavy pressure from Uche and Christian Barmore, as well as a corner blitz by Jonathan Jones, stalled any early momentum by the Giants attack. Uche has flashed some pass rushing ability at times but really showed up Thursday, using his speed to loop around and inside while disrupting the pocket consistently.
*On the back end, J.C. Jackson showed some tight coverage throughout, and Matt Judon did a nice job diagnosing a couple of screens and was in position to force the Giants into minimal gains. Jackson really shined while covering Dante Pettis on a deep ball down the left sideline, jumping to break up the potential connection. Eventually Jones improved and got things going, but not before the Patriots defense set the tone with some solid work.
*Speaking of the Patriots secondary, it appears as if the group will be adding a cornerback. Various reports indicate the Ravens are trading rookie fifth-round pick Shaun Wade to New England. Wade, a 6-1 corner out of Ohio State, evidently was caught in a numbers game as part of Baltimore's deep secondary and will look to add some depth to a spot that really needs it with Gilmore remaining on the sidelines.
*Making matters worse for the secondary, Jonathan Jones left practice early and was not part of the defense down the stretch. Jones missed some time in Philadelphia as well, although it's unclear what injury he may have suffered.
*Jones' second possession was the polar opposite of the first, lasting just three snaps. A pair of handoffs to Damien Harris resulted in minimal gains, and his third-down pass toward Meyers fell incomplete after the receiver got tangled up with a Giants defender. That led to a Jake Bailey punt.
*New York's final drive in the two-minute drill saw Saquon Barkely, wearing a red, non-contact drill, showing his stuff. Barkley caught a pair of passes, the second of which would have been a huge play as he caught a skinny post with a lot of green in front of him before officials stopped the play. Jones then hit Jake Hausmann down the seam for a big gain, leading to a 48-yard Graham Gano field goal as time expired.
*For the second straight day the Giants took to the hills for some conditioning runs after practice. The Patriots gathered around Newton during this time before retreating to the locker room.
*Dont'a Hightower, Brian Hoyer, Mac Jones, Kyle Van Noy and Kristian Wilkerson spoke to the media after practice.
*Thursday's practice was the final session of camp for fans and the media. The team will continue under a regular-season schedule with media allowed to attend just the opening portion of practice moving forward. The Patriots and Giants will conclude the preseason Sunday evening with kickoff set for 6 p.m.