Time on Patriots' side for Cam Newton's return to action

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Little has been ideal for the New England Patriots in recent weeks, but here is one silver lining from having an unexpected bye in Week 5: It improves odds that quarterback Cam Newton might return for Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Time is on the Patriots' side, unlike last week.

Had the Patriots hosted the Broncos on Monday, it's possible Newton, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Oct. 3, might have been under center. But at the time the NFL postponed the game, Newton's presence was far from a certainty, which is why the club was preparing for backups Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer to be ready.

Here is what is known about Newton:

  • Newton's father, Cecil, told ABC 11 in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, over the weekend, "[Cam] had none of the symptoms" after testing positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 2. "Him being asymptomatic, he's kind of working his way through it," he said.

  • Newton, 31, is testing daily and continues to take part in the Patriots' virtual meetings.

  • He wasn't cleared to practice on Saturday, the team's most recent on-field workout.

Any player who doesn't show symptoms cannot return unless and until:

  • Ten days have passed since his initial positive test (this is good news for Newton because he first tested positive Oct. 2).

  • Or he has two consecutive negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) virus tests separated by 24 hours.

  • And club physicians, after consultation with the NFL chief medical officer, clear him.

There is one caveat, however, that could help Newton return even if he continues to test positive: Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose guidelines the NFL follow, those deemed to not be severely immunocompromised, and asymptomatic throughout, may return to work when at least 10 days has passed since the date of their first positive viral diagnostic test.

"I think what you’re going to find is that if a person has the COVID virus, they're going to continue to test positive for a significant period of time. It could be, I don't know, 30, 60 days," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on sports radio WEEI. "I'm not a doctor here. It depends on how quickly [the body] sheds the virus, but not at a contagious state. So that's really what it's about."

Because of the multiple variables, Belichick has stressed he is taking a "day-to-day" and "hour-to-hour" approach with everything surrounding the team, which includes others who are on the reserve/COVID-19 list, such as cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell and his situation are comparable, which provides context for Newton's status. Terrell was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Sept. 26 after testing positive. He was activated from the list last Thursday, Oct. 8.

If Newton follows a similar timeline, missing 13 days, he would be activated on Thursday, Oct. 15. That is the second day the Patriots are scheduled to practice this week.

Having prepared for the possibility of being without Newton against the Broncos in a Week 5 matchup, Belichick didn't tip his hand regarding whether he would have started Hoyer or Stidham. Hoyer made multiple costly mistakes in a Week 4 loss at Kansas City, and was pulled for Stidham late in the third quarter.

Because of that, it seemed more likely Stidham would have been the choice. Belichick said the 2019 fourth-round draft pick has improved at "everything" this season, with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels adding, "He has an understanding of the defense that he did not have last year when he first got here, how to handle the protections, understanding where his issues may be."

But the best-case scenario for the Patriots (2-2) is Newton is back under center on Sunday against the Broncos (1-3).

Now time is in their favor.