Patriots

Bedard: With Cam Newton ineffective, why won’t Bill Belichick just let Jarrett Stidham sink or swim?

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Up until that night, the kid hadn't proven a damn thing, and there were way more questions about him than answers, even to the coaches around him.

In two seasons, he had only appeared in five regular-season games and completed 15 of 31 passes, zero touchdowns and one interception. His longest playing stint came in a 35-0 blowout loss to the Patriots, when he was just as forgettable as the game: 4 of 12 passing for 32 yards while being sacked three times.

More than two years into his NFL career, the kid seemed to be closer to oblivion than stardom.

"After his second preseason, if they had released him, I don't know that anybody would have been shocked," an NFL scout told a reporter in 2012. "I mean, he wasn't a very good player. He couldn't make a play."

That was the backdrop when he entered a huge Thursday night game in his third season, with his team trailing 27-10 after the aging starter played terribly (5 of 14, 56 yards, two interceptions) and was at least somewhat injured.

The player who no one knew anything about took the field and played magnificently, completing 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards, a touchdown and rushing five times for 30 yards. He rallied his team to within three points, but the initial deficit proved to be too much in a 37-27 defeat.

The player never took another snap that season, but he was named the no-doubt starter to open the next campaign. The head coach said repeatedly that what the player showed that Thursday night against a 10-1 opponent gave them the confidence that he could be a starter in the NFL.

The player? Aaron Rodgers. The game? Dallas 37, Green Bay 27 on Nov. 29, 2007.

I didn't tell you this tale to insinuate in any way that Jarrett Stidham will be an NFL starter, let alone a future Pro Football Hall of Famer like Rodgers. In case anyone reading this is especially dense, I am not comparing Stidham to Rodgers, even though you could definitely say both had proven about the same thing in their respective careers at that point — diddly.

I'm telling you this to illustrate what one game, a Thursday night national game with playoff implications like last night's game between the Patriots and Rams, can do for a player and the future prospects of a team. Without that Thursday night affair that I witnessed in old Texas Stadium, perhaps the course of NFL history is changed. Perhaps the Packers would have welcomed back Brett Favre with open arms when he sent word he wanted to unretire before training camp in 2008, instead of giving Favre the Heisman in favor of the heir apparent.

I couldn't help but think of that game watching the Patriots fall behind the Rams 17-0, and then 24-3, with veteran Cam Newton ineffective to the point it was obvious Josh McDaniels was trying to do everything he could to hide Newton for the third straight game — I mean, the Patriots' best drive in the second quarter was 12 plays and 66 yards, and featured just one Newton pass (after a penalty that made it 1st and 20) ... what does that tell you? — as New England clung to hope of making the playoffs.

Rodgers got a chance to prove himself on a big stage and the Packers knew they were set at the most important position, for 13 years and counting.

Bill Belichick left Stidham on the bench until there was 10:12 remaining at 24-3 and the game was all but over.

Oh, and Belichick said after the game — in full, defiant snark mode — that Newton will start a week from Sunday against the Dolphins.

"Great question. Really glad you asked that. Cam's our quarterback," Belichick retorted with sarcasm to Mike Reiss.

The question is, why?