Patriots quarterback Cam Newton has been removed from the team’s COVID-19 reserve list and is expected to rejoin the team Thursday. Newton will arrive in time for the Pats’ first planned practice since the weekend, when their home game against the Broncos was again postponed after a fourth player tested positive for COVID-19. Thursday will mark 13 days since Newton’s positive test.
The Patriots are also hoping to activate Stephon Gilmore off the COVID-19 reserve list, where he remains with defensive tackle Byron Cowart and practice-squadder Bill Murray. Gilmore could practice as soon as Thursday.
In order to return, Newton must have received permission from a team physician. If he remained asymptomatic throughout the initial infection, Newton’s only other requirement was to wait a minimum of 10 days before receiving clearance. If he showed symptoms, NFL protocols mandated Newton wait at least 72 hours from the time his symptoms first disappeared.
Newton missed the Pats’ last game, a 26-10 loss at Kansas City on Oct. 5, when Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham committed four turnovers in his absence.
Newton instantly gives the Patriots offense a major lift. Through three games, the former MVP was on track for one of the best statistical seasons of his career. Despite sitting out the Kansas City game, Newton remains the Pats’ leading rusher and passer.
He’s completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 714 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of picks. He’s run for 149 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Newton has also completely rejuvenated the Pats’ short-yardage offense, pushing them to a top-5 success rate on plays with two or fewer yards to go on third down, fourth down and in goal-to-go situations.
Had the Patriots hosted Denver last weekend, Newton would have missed a second straight game entering the team’s bye week. Instead, the NFL switched the Pats’ plans for Weeks 5 and 6, and now coming off their bye, they will receive at least one significant reinforcement against the Broncos.
Players returned to Gillette Stadium on Wednesday after three consecutive off days for a staggered schedule of workouts. Players were split up by position group, with some reporting in the morning and others waiting until the afternoon. It is unclear if Newton was among them.
Gilmore did not work out with the defensive backs, according to defensive captain Devin McCourty.
“Nah. I mean, he’s still going through the process, so I’m not sure exactly how that works because we’ve all been in at different times,” McCourty said. “So, I’m not really sure if he’s allowed back in or not. I haven’t talked to him yet today.”
On Tuesday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised the adaptability of his players, assistants and support staff in light of all the team’s schedule changes. Last week, he repeatedly said the team is working “hour by hour” now, instead of day to day. The Pats have routinely altered their plans to ensure the safety of their players, starting with the two planes they took to Kansas City, separating personnel who came in close contact with Newton shortly before his positive test from those who did not.
“Whatever we’ve had to do, we’ve done,” Belichick said. “We’ve tried to make the best out of our opportunities, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. We know we’re going to have to be fluid and flexible. I don’t think that’s going to change, and so we’ll just kind of take it day by day and do the best we can with each opportunity that we get.
“If we have to change off our normal routine — with what’s been normal this year, let’s put it that way — then we’ll do that.”
On Wednesday, several players thanked Belichick, for prioritizing their health ahead of game preparation. Most recently, Belichick canceled three practices last week after Gilmore’s test, and eased players back into their on-field preparation with a Saturday walkthrough. Once Cowart’s positive test surfaced hours later, Belichick again sent players home for three straight days.“He really has just put our safety, our family’s safety first, and he’s been in constant communication with us on doing whatever he can or whatever the team can to put in things in place to keep us safe,” said Pats running back Rex Burkhead. “And that’s great, just knowing he has our back in these situations and these times.”
Pending further test results, Thursday’s practice will mark the Patriots’ second practice in 13 days. It could also be their first padded session in more than two weeks, back when Newton bounced freely about the practice field as COVID-19 slowly and silently sacked him and temporarily took his new team down, too.