Coming off of Sunday’s loss to the 49ers, the Patriots definitely have a lot of problem-solving to do if they hope to salvage their season. After a frustrating defeat, here are some thoughts after their 33-6 defeat to the 49ers at Gillette Stadium.
1) It’s amazing how Cam Newton went from being a potential MVP candidate to a player who ended up being benched on Sunday and will likely find himself under the microscope for the remainder of the season given the dire situation the Patriots suddenly find themselves in.
A lot of the talk has centered around their lack of personnel but Newton has been a completely different player than the one we saw during the first two weeks, which is fairly concerning. Granted, it’s hard to really make a judgement on what happened against Denver last week given that the club had just two practices in two weeks and Newton was coming off of his coronavirus diagnosis, especially since we still don’t know how it affected him. Reports said he was asymptomatic, but it’s possible there could be lingering effects.
Newton finished Sunday’s game just 9-of-15 for 98-yards and 3 interceptions, giving way to Jarrett Stidham in the fourth quarter after his final interception resulted in another field goal for the visitors.
Something is obviously not right with the veteran QB. There were the reports of Newton suffering a potential hand injury a week ago after NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry spotted him favoring it following a throw where it struck an opposing player’s helmet. There have also been questions about whether or not he might possibly be dealing with a shoulder injury. Newton hasn’t said much about it and to this point claims to be fine while not making any excuses. However, his throws have been so inconsistent that you’d have to believe there has to be a physical reason for the miscues. He threw a couple in the dirt well short of the receiver and the ball doesn’t seem to be coming out of his hands anywhere near as clean as his first two outings.
Newton hasn’t looked like himself in weeks.
Meanwhile, their offense has suffered badly. The Patriots find themselves averaging 352.2 yards per game, which puts them 24th in the league. They’re 28th in the NFL in passing yards per game averaging 197.2 yards with a 6.11% interception rate, which is worst in the league. They’re also averaging 19.2 points per game, 4th worst ahead of just Washington (19.0), the New York Giants (17.4) and the lowly New York Jets (12.1).
At 2-4 with 10 games to go, what he does from here will ultimately decide how the script will play out for the Patriots in 2020. The AFC East is at best a long shot, with the Bills sitting at 5-2 after their win over the Jets while the Dolphins are behind them at 3-3. A win in Buffalo would certainly be a good starting point but this doesn’t yet look like a team ready to make a run. That could change, but it’s going to require quite the turnaround at the quarterback position and it remains to be seen whether or not Newton is going to be the player they need him to be.
Newton has said he’s pointing thumbs not fingers and appears confident he can fix it. Whether or not he can back that up on the field might be another story.
New England’s defense had a tough time on Sunday.
2) Sunday’s outing against the 49ers was the first real crack in the armor of a Patriots defense that had played pretty well prior to this game. Their secondary struggled against Kyle Shanahan’s offense and they had difficulty containing running back Jeff Wilson Jr., who rushed for 112-yards on Sunday including 3 touchdowns. They also allowed five plays of 20+ yards, with rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk, finishing with 115-yards receiving.
That ended up being a career-high outing for the rookie, who the 49ers moved around all over the field and the Patriots had a hard time adjusting. It kept them off balance and San Francisco’s offense just rolled all afternoon, punting just once the entire contest, which didn’t happen until there was just 3:14 left to go in the game.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo finished the day with nearly 300-yards passing, missing just five passes after finishing 20-of-25 for 277-yards. New England did manage to force two turnovers with Devin McCourty and J.C. Jackson each picking him off during his return to Gillette Stadium. Unfortunately, the Patriots offense couldn’t take care of business on the other side of the ball.
But overall, it was frustrating to watch. What made it even tougher was the fact they couldn’t get off the field on third down and allowed San Francisco to convert 5-of-9 (56%) of their attempts, with two of the ones they didn’t get resulting in field goals.
However, one thing to keep in mind is obviously the fact that with the offense doing nothing to support them, they spent 38-minutes on the field. But either way, it would be easier to feel a little better about this one if it hadn’t been such a lopsided affair.
3) One bright spot on Sunday was the fact that we saw rookie tight end Dalton Keene see some action, with the rookie hauling in his first career NFL pass early in the third quarter. The rookie out of Virginia tech was lined up on the right side and sprinted out before turning and catching a strike from Newton, which picked up 8-yards.
Their lack of production at the tight end position has been a bone of contention to this point, with Ryan Izzo seeing the lion’s share of the targets heading into this game. Keene joined Devin Asiasi as the other player the Patriots selected in April’s draft to try and bolster that position, but Asiasi also has seen limited action to this point and hasn’t been involved. Sunday’s game was Keene’s NFL debut and aside from his one reception, he was spotted on other occasions doing a decent job blocking in the running game. Meanwhile, Asiasi was among the team’s inactives.
The fact we saw him out there is certainly encouraging as they’re going to need all the help they can get down the stretch.
Harris ran the ball well again on Sunday.
4) One player who continues to impress is running back Damien Harris, who put up a pretty good performance on Sunday. Harris finished with just six carries for 19-yards, but he once again ran the ball hard and was especially tough inside, plowing through defenders and he fought for every single yard.
He’s been surprising since getting back into the line-up after suffering a hand injury prior to the season, but he’s done a great job. The biggest problem for him on Sunday was the fact that with the game getting away from them, the Patriots were forced to abandon their ground game but they just couldn’t get anything going consistently on the offensive side of the ball.
The good news is, New England has seemingly found a potential gem in Harris, who has seen more playing time after Sony Michel has continued dealing with an injury. Overall, Harris currently leads all running backs with 33 carries for 177-yards and has averaged 5.4 yards per carry, putting him second among running backs behind Michel (6.7ypc) and ahead of Rex Burkhead (3.9ypc), J.J. Taylor (4.4ypc) and James White (4.3ypc). Newton remains the team’s leading rusher with 50 carries for 244yds and 5 touchdowns.
5) Chase Winovich ended up in the dog house on Sunday, which likely stemmed from a bad mental miscue that saw him in a verbal disagreement with Belichick on the sideline.
The play in question was a penalty by Winovich following Devin McCourty’s early interception, which saw the second-year player come over and put a hit on Garoppolo, who was completely out of the play.
Winovich went over and foolishly gave Garoppolo a good shove, knocking him to the ground and drawing both a flag from the officials and Belichick’s ire.
The two were seen going at it on the sideline, with Winovich waving his arms and trying to plead his case, while Belichick was visibly frustrated. The worst part was the fact that Winovich didn’t seem ready to just accept the error and spent more time than one might have expected seemingly trying to justify it.
He might have already been in trouble prior to that play. Mike Reiss pointed out after the game that Winovich was also seemingly not on the field on the fourth play of the game, which left the defense with just 10 men out there. Winovich ended up playing just 13 snaps on Sunday, down from playing 22 last Sunday against the Broncos.
Needless to say, arguing with Belichick isn’t the way to go. Sometimes it’s wiser to just take the “L” and move on.
Sunday was seemingly a frustrating day for Edelman.
6) Patriots receiver Julian Edelman continues to be missing in action but then again, the receivers in general remain a big question mark thanks largely to Newton’s struggles. To make matters worse, N’Keal Harry suffered an apparent concussion in this one after taking a vicious shot early in the contest, which saw him go into the blue medical tent and he ended up heading to the locker room. He didn’t return.
That elevated Jakobi Meyers into the line up and he ended up finishing as the team’s leading receiver, hauling in 4 passes on 6 targets for 60 yards. From there, it was Rex Burkhead who caught three passes for 35-yards, while 8 other players each finished with a single reception. Edelman was among that list after hauling in one pass for 13-yards from Stidham with just 2:00 left in the game.
One of the notable moments from this game was Newton’s final interception, which was thrown well behind Edelman, who reached out and tried to make a play but the ball tipped off of his hand and into the arms of Jullian Taylor, who snagged the errant pass for the turnover. Edelman was visibly frustrated coming off of the field, slamming his helmet down before heading to the locker room. He returned shortly after.
He’s been banged up all season and this has to be extremely frustrating. Through six games last season he had 38 receptions for 449-yards and two touchdowns. This season he has 21 receptions for 315-yards and has yet to reach the end zone.
It’s just a bad situation all around and it isn’t helping that their best receiver hasn’t been involved all that much in the offense. Newton said after Sunday’s loss that the “Wi-Fi is definitely off” between the two players. At this rate, Newton may find the Patriots looking for a new provider if they drop a few more games, which barring a significant turnaround might see the club take an extended look at Stidham if things reach the point of no return.
For now, the Patriots will get ready to head to Buffalo for what is essentially a must-win game with the fate of their season on the line. The playoffs have seemingly started a little early here in New England, with every week now feeling like a potential elimination game heading into the final 10 games. We’ll find out next weekend if they’re up for the challenge.
Posted Under: 2020 Patriots Season