NEW YORK (AP) — Tom Brady is long gone and so is the New England Patriots’ seemingly everlasting comfort at quarterback.

a group of baseball players playing a football game

For nearly two decades — 19 seasons to be exact — Bill Belichick had no worries about his signal caller. Even when Brady missed all but one game with an injury in 2008, the answer was always the guy in the No. 12 jersey.

While Brady is now in Tampa Bay and playing like his vintage self, the Patriots have rejoined most NFL teams in the quest to find a franchise quarterback.

Cam Newton is under center these days, but he’s struggling after a strong start was paused by a stint on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He has six touchdown runs, showing flashes of the playmaking ability that made him a star. But he has just two TD passes and seven interceptions. Newton’s late fumble last Sunday in Buffalo sealed New England’s 24-21 loss.

“I’m still jeopardizing this team’s chance to win because of my lackluster performance,” Newton said. “Coach trusts me with the ball in my hand. I’ve got to do a better job of protecting it.”

At a stunning 2-5, New England heads to the Meadowlands to take on the winless New York Jets — who have their own long-range QB concerns — on Monday night with a four-game losing streak.

“Cam’s our quarterback,” Belichick insisted. “It’s the way it’s been all year,”

But what about next year? Truth is, next season’s starting quarterbacks for the Patriots and Jets might not even be on their current rosters.

Jarrett Stidham, the one-time heir apparent to Brady, is the only New England QB under contract for next season. Newton was signed to a one-year deal, but has already been benched once and there’s no guarantee he’ll be re-signed. Same for Brian Hoyer.

Belichick is sticking with Newton a the moment, but the coach could be on the prowl in the offseason. Unless, of course, Newton turns things around and even slightly resembles the player he was when he won the NFL MVP award five seasons ago. That could fetch a contract extension and the Patriots’ quarterback of the present — and near-future — would be in place.

But there’s also this possibility, which seems almost ludicrous now: The Patriots (and Newton) struggle so much the rest of this season that they somehow join the mix for Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields or even North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.

A loss to the 0-8 Jets would certainly fire up the conspiracy theorists who might suggest Belichick and the Patriots have their eyes already set on 2021 — while also potentially damaging New York’s chances of landing the top pick.

The Jets have been in this position before, and way too often. From Richard Todd to Ken O’Brien to Chad Pennington to Mark Sanchez to Geno Smith to Sam Darnold — and the 28 others who have started a game since Broadway Joe’s last appearance for New York in 1976 — finding a long-term, successful and consistent signal caller has been elusive.

And the Jets are there again.

When then-general manager Mike Maccagnan traded up in the 2018 draft and took Darnold at No. 3 overall, the entire franchise believed it had its guy. For the next 10 years, at least.

But Darnold’s inconsistent and sometimes poor play, coupled with injuries to himself and many of the team’s playmakers, and a lack of marked progress in Adam Gase’s offense could have the Jets moving on after just three seasons.

“I have no problem saying that he is our best quarterback,” current GM Joe Douglas said, “and our quarterback for the future.”

But the fact they currently hold the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft and a quarterback many consider a generational talent in Lawrence will be staring at them — if he doesn’t return to school, of course — could force the Jets into making a franchise-altering decision that would have seemed unlikely just a few months ago.

The 23-year-old Darnold has just three TD throws and six INTs along with a league-worst 65.9 quarterback rating. And he’s running out of time to prove he can be a consistently solid — let alone elite — player for the Jets.

“We’re not executing the way that we want and we’re losing too many games,” Darnold said. “For me, I’ve got to play smarter and I’ve got to play better.”

Darnold needs to get on the field first, though. He’s expected to sit out Monday night with an injured right shoulder — and there’s no guarantee he’ll be back any time soon.

It’s also important to note that Douglas didn’t draft Darnold, who’s eligible for a new deal next year. Douglas and the Jets will have to decide by next May if they want to pick up Darnold’s fifth-year option.

That could all be moot if Darnold’s replacement is already in place. And Darnold could then already be someplace else.

Major resets could be in the game plan in the huddles for New England and New York. But both teams’ focus, for now, is on trying to get this season on track under the primetime lights on Monday night.

“Listen, I just want to win, that’s it,” Newton said. “Nothing else matters. October wasn’t good for me. We have to make sure November doesn’t feel like October. So (playing on) Monday night is good, but … we have to win.”


AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower contributed.

New England Patriots rule out Stephon Gilmore (knee) again

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots have ruled out cornerback Stephon Gilmore for Monday night’s road game against the New York Jets, as the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year will miss his second straight game with a knee injury.

Gilmore is one of four starters who have already been declared out, along with defensive tackle Lawrence Guy (elbow, shoulder and knee), linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (groin) and receiver N’Keal Harry (concussion).

Gilmore, Guy and Bentley were among 17 players listed as questionable for the Patriots (2-5), who are in the midst of their first four-game losing streak since 2002. Harry had been ruled out Friday.

In addition, rookie tight end Dalton Keene didn’t make the trip Sunday because of a knee injury, but the club has kept his designation as questionable, with the possibility he could make the short trip to East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Monday.

The Patriots only have one other tight end on the roster, Ryan Izzo, and he is also questionable (hamstring).

In the absence of Gilmore, the Patriots are expected to have J.C. Jackson start in his place at cornerback. He has a team-high four interceptions.

But the absence of Guy might hurt most, as he is a key cog against the run, where the Patriots have been struggled in recent weeks. Carl Davis, who was signed off the Jaguars’ practice squad two weeks ago, has a chance to help fill the void after being sidelined by a concussion since his arrival.

Davis made the trip with the team and is officially questionable.

Meanwhile rookie Josh Uche, a second-round pick from Michigan, is a projected replacement for Bentley at linebacker.

J.J. Watt notches 100th career sack, becoming fifth-fastest player in NFL history to reach milestone

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt became the fifth-fastest player in NFL history to 100 sacks since the statistic became official in 1982, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, when he sacked Jacksonville Jaguars rookie quarterback Jake Luton in the fourth quarter of Houston’s 27-25 win.

The Houston Texans defensive end is the 35th player in NFL history to hit the milestone, and the only players to do it faster are Reggie White (96), Lawrence Taylor (106), DeMarcus Ware (113) and Bruce Smith (115). Watt has 100 sacks in his first 120 games, but said the milestone isn’t as big of a deal because it didn’t happen earlier in his career.

“A lot of people have been talking about the 100 lately,” Watt said last month. “I appreciate the questions, but I think for me it’s not nearly as big of a deal as somebody may think because I think it should’ve happened three or four years ago. Obviously with everything that happened and all the injuries and stuff, it didn’t.

“For me to have a 100 in year 10, doesn’t really register for me because I feel like I should’ve been there a lot earlier. It’ll be cool whenever it comes, but I’m just focusing on winning. I just want to get a win.”

Watt started his career with 74.5 sacks in his first five seasons, but after not missing a single game during that time, he spent time on injured reserve in three of the next four seasons. Because of injuries, he went more than two years — and eight games — without a sack. Watt is the only player in NFL history to record 20 or more sacks in a season more than once.

Watt’s 100th career sack was his fourth of the 2020 season. He also has a forced fumble, fumble recovery and three tackles for a loss.