Sunday’s win over the Dolphins was a nice start for a Patriots team that’s making a new start without former quarterback Tom Brady. Fortunately, they got off on the right foot and here’s a quick rundown of some thoughts as New England begins 2020 with a 1-0 record.
1) One of the biggest questions coming into Sunday was how Cam Newton would fit into the offense and whether or not he’d have the mental toughness required to survive 16 games with this football team.
So far through one game, Newton certainly did enough to prove he’s up for the challenge. He went out and played well, helping the Patriots remind everyone they may not quite be ready to be dethroned as contenders in the AFC just yet.
On Sunday, he was actually better than most could have been expected. He missed just three passes in the first half after connecting on 6-of-9 passing for 72 yards, including his first rushing touchdown of the game early in the 2nd-quarter.
In the 3rd-quarter, Newton was a perfect 9-of-9 throwing the football as the Patriots started to take control of the game, including the first drive of the second half when New England never faced a third down. On that possession they marched all the way down to the Dolphins’ 11-yard line, which saw Newton finish it off by taking it in from 11-yards out for his second touchdown of the contest to give New England a 14-3 advantage.
But on their next possession, the Patriots started from their own 21 and worked their way all the way to Miami’s 10-yard line and disaster struck. Facing a first-and-goal from the Miami 10-yard line, Newton completed a pass to N’Keal Harry, which saw the second-year receiver get down to the goal line and it appeared he might take it in for the Patriots 3rd touchdown of the day. Instead, Harry lost the football as he was wrapped up while attempting to extend the football and score. It skipped into the end zone and out of bounds, resulting in a touch back.
The Dolphins took advantage. They drove 80-yards on 11 plays before eventually punching it in to cut the lead to 14-11 early in the fourth quarter. That could have been a deciding moment, which looking back to how last year finished, it could have given the Dolphins the turnaround they needed to potentially retake the lead and possibly the momentum.
Instead, Newton kept everyone calm and they got back to work. He led the offense back down the field, including converting a key 4th down on the ensuing drive before Sony Michel eventually ran it in from 1-yard out to put New England up 21-11 and put the game away.
It definitely wasn’t easy. Newton was challenged by Miami all game long and they managed to hit him quite a bit, including two sacks. They even tried to get in his head at the end of the game, including an altercation late where a Dolphins player appeared to try and rip off a chain he was wearing, with another poking fingers in his face while Newton was down on the ground.
It got heated, but Newton managed to keep his cool and remained focused at the task at hand. That was a positive given that he’ll likely have other players trying to provoke him as the season goes on, especially in moments where they’re potentially trailing or on a day where things might not be going quite his way.
Mental toughness remains the biggest question mark but through one week, Newton passed his first test. He admitted afterwards it was a point of emphasis and he’s glad everyone came through Sunday.
“Coach Bill [Belichick] always talks about being mentally tough,” said Newton. “We didn’t blink.”
Newton and the offense got the job done on Sunday.
2) Speaking of Newton, one of the best moments of the day can’t be overlooked and it’s hard not to give Newton credit for the gesture. It came following his second touchdown, which after running into the end zone, Newton saw center David Andrews there to congratulate him. The quarterback, who is aware of Andrews’ back story after the center missed all of last year after suffering blood clots in his lungs, immediately gave him the football and told him to spike it.
Andrews was all smiles and immediately obliged, which was just fantastic to watch and it sort of says a little more about Newton as a person.
The quarterback admitted after the game that the perspective of what he’s been through made him appreciate Andrews’ plight, and he was happy the opportunity came for him to hand the ball off to the veteran and let him handle the honors.
“For one, this is the new normal and I think it’s time for everybody, including myself, to realize this is what it’s like,” explained Newton after the game. “I think it hit me full circle today to realize for me to just kind of realize that I’m a New England Patriot. I’m just going to embrace this whole moment.”
“As far as the touchdown, Dave is a person who was kind of in my boat, a person that has been out of football and for him to enjoy that just as much as I’ve been enjoying just being a witness of how he works. His whole presentation of how he shows up each and every day, how he practices, and he was the first person that I saw, so I knew he would enjoy that.”
“A lot of times, having your hand on the ground, you don’t necessarily get the recognition that’s deserved. But none of what happened for me today would have happened without those big guys up front.”
Andrews was certainly appreciative of Newton, who he says has been a great teammate so far.
“It was awesome,” said Andrews. “He’s been a great teammate, man. You’ve got to love watching that guy play the game. The way he plays it and seeing all the work he’s put in. I’m super proud of him. We had some fun out there today.”
Harry’s fumble was a critical mistake on Sunday that fortunately didn’t cost them.
3) Seeing N’Keal Harry back on the field Sunday was encouraging and it’s obvious that he’s earned the trust of Newton, who seemingly had good chemistry with him. The second-year receiver joined Julian Edelman as Newton’s primary target, with Harry and Edelman both leading the team after each having hauled in 5 passes each.
But Harry suffered a setback on Sunday that he was lucky didn’t cost them, after his earlier mentioned gaffe down on the goal line saw him fumble the ball out of bounds and it led to a scoring drive by the Dolphins that could have changed the momentum – and potentially the outcome – of the game.
He also had some moments where he didn’t take advantage of his size to fight for additional yardage. These are all teachable moments that will likely be part of his growth in the coming months but the one positive fans can take away right now is the fact he showed some terrific athleticism and some play-making ability. It’s clear Newton is comfortable throwing him the football and Harry looks improved coming off his rookie season, which is definitely good news. Harry is among a group of young receivers who it’s obvious the coaching staff believes the potential is there. Now it’s just up to them to show it.
For now, let’s just hope Harry got the mistakes out of the way and that we’ll see improvement in the weeks to come.
Newton might have led the way on the ground, but he had some help.
4) New England’s ground game was one of the big stories from Sunday after they put up 217 rushing yards, led largely by Newton’s 75-yards. However, one player who caught some attention was undrafted running back J.J. Taylor, who carried 4 times for 28-yards on Sunday.
But what stood out about Taylor was his explosiveness and his refusal to go down after first contact. The former Arizona standout took advantage each time he touched the football and made a terrific first impression, although he’s no stranger to being a key contributor.
Taylor had a solid career during his collegiate career in Arizona, totaling 3,263 rushing yards on 587 carries along with 18 touchdowns. He was also used in the passing game, hauling in 62 passes for 487-yards and 5-touchdowns. It’s clear this season that the Patriots intend on being physical and running the football and it was fun to see Taylor go out there and inflict some damage against a Dolphins defense that had a tough time bringing him down.
It’s obvious that Taylor plays with an edge and after what little we saw of him Sunday, Patriots fans should be excited to see if he can build from this performance.
Simon was among several bright spots in New England’s defense.
5) However, despite everything mentioned, one of the biggest surprises on Sunday was New Engand’s defense, which really came up big.
One of the areas that was a pleasant surprise was how well the Patriots dealt with Miami’s ground game, with the middle of New England’s defensive line doing a good job bottling up the Dolphins’ running backs. Chase Winovich made his presence felt on Sunday, showing up big up front and bringing an energy that seemed to get everyone else fired up. John Simon also played well, applying pressure while also putting a couple of hits on Dolphins QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
In the secondary, this group remained a bright spot and a reason people should remain optimistic heading into the rest of this season. Despite a couple of pass interference calls, Stephon Gilmore was solid. He often read the receiving route better than the receiver and he finished the afternoon with an interception. Newcomer Adrian Phillips had a pick, as did J.C. Jackson.
But what also stood out is the fact quite a few passes were contested and they were physical all game long, playing a key role in the fact New England allowed just 11 points on Sunday. If we can see the growth we normally do over the course of the season in other areas as they continue adjusting to their personnel losses, they should be fun to watch.
While it wasn’t perfect, it was a terrific starting point and one to build off of heading into their showdown out in Seattle next Sunday night.
Posted Under: 2020 Patriots Season
Tags: Adrian Phillips Bill Belichick Cam Newton David Andrews J.J. Taylor JC Jackson Miami Dolphins N'Keal Harry New England Patriots Sony Michel Stephon Gilmore