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Did Cam Newton's Vaccination Status Impact Patriots' Decision To Start Mac Jones?

FOXBORO (CBS) – Patriots head coach Bill Belichick famously said "dependability is more important than ability." So did that come into play when it came to the decision to go with Mac Jones over a seemingly unvaccinated Cam Newton at quarterback?

Newton was forced to be away from the team for five days due to what the team called a misunderstanding of league's COVID protocols. The quarterback had traveled to a team-approved medical appointment and tested negative each day he was gone, but did not satisfy the NFL's policy.

As a result, he missed three practices, including a critical joint session against the New York Giants. In that practice, Mac Jones thrived while taking all of the first team reps.

On Tuesday, Belichick shocked the football world when he released Newton and handed the job to the rookie Jones.

WBZ-TV Sports Director Steve Burton said his understanding of what led up to Newton's COVID violation is that the veteran quarterback went to Atlanta to have a doctor check on an ankle injury, and also wanted to see his children. The team approved the visit, but according to Burton, Newton left Foxboro without being tested, which violated protocol.

While Newton said earlier this summer that he didn't care to share his vaccination status, his absence indicated that he is not fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated players are only tested once every 14 days, and they don't face travel restrictions. Personnel who are not fully vaccinated must undergo testing through the NFL's approved lab every day, and they face travel restrictions.

"The week that Cam Newton missed was the biggest selling point for Mac Jones. He came through big time that week," Burton said. "I think the vaccination plays a huge role in all of this because you can't tell whether or not another thing is going to happen that catches the Patriots off guard. And this completely caught the Patriots off guard."

There were reports that some in the organization were frustrated by Newton's protocol breach.

WBZ-TV's Levan Reid also said he believes Newton being unvaccinated factored into the decision to go with Jones.

"I think vaccination played a huge part in this," said Reid. "That Wednesday was the first day we got a chance to see Mac Jones play with the whole group, take the first team snaps. I think we can all say that was the best we've seen him all camp long. He looked like a pro."

Following Newton's release on Tuesday, Adam Beasley of The Athletic said Jones' emergence was obviously played into the decision – but so did Newton's vaccination status.

CBS Boston's Michael Hurley also said the possibility of losing their starting quarterback during the season due to COVID protocols made Jones a safer alternative.

"The Patriots learned a hard lesson that given the protocols and everything, and given that the numbers and the cases seem to be going the wrong way, having a quarterback that's not fully vaccinated could cost them," Hurley said. "You go into a game and then Sunday morning you wake up, and your quarterback isn't eligible? That's not something that Bill Belichick can or will or would ever willingly sign up for. So obviously Mac Jones had to be good enough to earn the spot, but I think both of those things definitely contributed to this decision."

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