Sticking with Cam Newton gives Bill Belichick cover for Patriots' roster issues

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. QB covers up deficiencies at TE, WR: Coach Bill Belichick decisively said late Thursday night that Cam Newton is the Patriots' quarterback, and then when asked if he still feels the same way the next morning after reviewing the game, doubled down on his answer: "Yeah, I've answered that question for the last time."

Belichick clearly feels Newton gives the Patriots the best chance to win, and he's focusing on those short-term goals -- at Miami (8-4) and then at home against the Bills (9-3) and Jets (0-12) -- more than any big-picture thoughts of possibly getting a longer look at second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham.

While the merits of that decision are debatable, Belichick also provides himself and director of player personnel Nick Caserio some cover by going that route.

Because of Newton's unique skill set as a big, physical runner, he helps mask personnel deficiencies at tight end and receiver in the traditional passing game.

The idea Stidham could have more success throwing to this group of personnel is probably a stretch, and a case could be made it would be detrimental to his growth to put him out there with them.

Bottom line: If Belichick turned to Stidham, and the passing game stayed on its present course, it would only further spotlight the questionable roster-building of Belichick and Caserio at the skill positions.

2. Belichick's point on Stidham: In the immediate aftermath of the Patriots' disappointing loss to the Rams, Belichick was asked about Stidham's back-to-back relief appearances in the fourth quarter and if he's been happy with his development and what he's seen this season. He responded he was happy, noting Stidham's work ethic and trying to take advantage of the opportunities that come his way, before saying, "but that's not really the point."

So what is the point?

Belichick clarified the next morning, essentially saying they aren't putting him into the game to assess development: "Sometimes there's situations in a game when you can put somebody in, but we're trying to win the game. That's what we're here for -- to win the game. The point is to try to win. That's what's important to us."

3. Slater's message: Longtime special-teams captain Matthew Slater, who speaks to the team after wins and losses, shared his message to teammates after dropping to 6-7.

"This is new territory for me as a pro. I'm trying to take it in stride. My message to the guys is that we have to finish what we start. There's going to be things in life that you start, and you envision them going a certain way, and they don't go that way. That's a part of life. You have to find a way to finish what you started, and hopefully at the end of that, you're a better man, a better woman for it. I'm going to encourage the guys to keep fighting to the finish and represent ourselves in the best way possible."

4. Bryant's versatility shows up: Defensive back Myles Bryant (University of Washington) was one of the bright spots Thursday, and looks like another undrafted find at the position for Belichick -- right there alongside Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson in recent years. What has helped Bryant break through in a crowded defensive backfield? "His versatility," longtime captain Devin McCourty said. "Myles knows what everybody has [to do] in the secondary and is ready to go at any position, whether it's been the nickel [in the slot], safety. Any position we've asked Myles to be at, he not only shows up and plays, but he knows what the other guys are doing. ... I think he's going to be a really good player just because of his study habits and how hard he works."

5. Bailey among NFL's elite: If Bryant was one silver lining on Thursday, second-year punter Jake Bailey was one of the few others. Measured up against one of the best punters Belichick said he's ever seen in the Rams' Johnny Hekker, Bailey out-dueled him with a jaw-dropping 71-yarder as part of an overall night in which he punted six times for 310 yards (51.7 avgerage; 50.3 net) and placed four inside the 20. If Hekker is the NFL's best, and Bailey got the better of him, what does that say about where Bailey ranks? "I think Jake is as good a punter as there is in the National Football League," Slater said.

6. How Butler benefits: Fourth-year defensive tackle Adam Butler has been one of the Patriots' most disruptive players in recent weeks, and it's an example of how sometimes short-term pain can lead to long-term gain. Butler was held out of a Week 12 loss at Houston, and the Patriots notably missed him, but that decision has been the springboard for exemplary play ever since.

"From the first week of the season, I had a shoulder issue; whenever you're trying to come back from those kind of issues, it's tough until you get back to your normal self," Butler said. "I was able to rest against the Texans, and really give my shoulder the opportunity to recover and find some stability. Now my shoulder feels better than it has all season. It's allowed me to play with confidence and a strength that I haven't had this entire time. I'm just glad to be back to myself and just glad to be able to help the team."

7. Perkins helped Belichick's career blossom: Former Alabama coach Ray Perkins passed away Wednesday at 79, which meant Belichick was coaching with a heavy heart in Thursday's game against the Rams. Perkins, then the Giants head coach, hired the then-27-year-old Belichick as Giants special-teams coach in 1979, which Belichick has reflected upon as a "great job" and shines through in his coaching to this day as he places a high priority on the kicking game.

Prior to the 2017 Patriots-Giants preseason finale, Belichick took a trip down memory lane to remember Perkins in a notable news conference, saying: "On a personal level, Ray had a huge influence on my life and my career." He revisited those remarks on Friday morning.

Perkins, of course, had two different stints as a Patriots assistant coach (1974-77; 1993-96).

8. Rare streak continues: When Belichick passed up a chip-shot field goal midway through the second quarter, and the Patriots were stopped cold on fourth-and-2 to remain scoreless, it threatened a rare streak. The Patriots entered the game having gone 82 straight contests (regular season and postseason) without being shut out in the first half, which tied for the longest streak in NFL history. It took Nick Folk's 29-yard field goal with 1:08 remaining in the second quarter to keep the streak alive and break the tie.

9. Bon Jovi talks Patriots: Legendary rocker Jon Bon Jovi was interviewed on Instagram Live a little over a week ago by Washington Post reporter Geoff Edgers, who is a longtime Patriots fan (and former Boston Globe reporter). So you can imagine Edgers' surprise when toward the end of the interview from Bon Jovi's home, Patriots owner Robert Kraft walks into the room (the two are good pals).

Before that happened, Edgers made the comparison of the Tom Brady-Belichick breakup to The Beatles, saying he wished the two could have stayed together. Then he asked Bon Jovi if he agreed.

"One side of that argument would be 'sure.' On the other side, if Tommy needs to go on, and when he does lay his head down on his pillow the day that he decides it's over, he has to know if he could have done it again. The same with Bill. I think that's the greatest part of Mr. Kraft's leadership is he said to both of his guys 'Peace, go and do what's right for you.' I think that's the true sign of a great leader."

10. Did you know: After visiting the Chargers (Dec. 6) and Rams (Dec. 11) the Patriots are the first team to play consecutive road games in the same stadium in the span of five days since the 1932 Portsmouth Spartans played the Staten Island Stapletons at Thompson Stadium on Oct. 16 and Oct. 20.