Cam Newton didn’t make any true big plays in his gritty winning Patriots debut over the Dolphins. But just looking healthy and running effectively were huge in his first game replacing Tom Brady as New England’s starting quarterback.
Most important, Newton showed no signs that his recent past shoulder or foot injuries were issues. He also, as expected, gave the Patriots an element Brady never did — acting like an extra running back with a team-leading 75 yards and 2 TDs on 15 attempts.
Those carries, including a late kneeldown, matched his number of pass completions (15 on 19 attempts). He needed to throw for only 155 yards in a 21-11 win.
Newton did have a few of his flashy “Superman” moments in celebration, but he didn’t try to do too much. He stayed within the Patriots’ offense, didn’t force the ball downfield and relied on his best offensive skill and blocking support. With the Patriots’ defense dominating and taking the ball away from the Dolphins three times, Newton become the ultimate caretaker with his chain-moving running and short passing.
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Consider the Patriots’ biggest offensive gain was Newton’s 25-yard pass to tight end Ryan Izzo. Newton’s longest run was only 12 yards.
New England held the ball for nearly 35 minutes and Newton completed 78.9 percent of his passes with a mighty 100.7 rating. The Dolphins got to him for two sacks, but the Patriots consistently got positive plays to keep them on schedule, going 6 of 11 on third- and fourth-down conversion attempts.
Because it’s the Patriots, Newton’s performance is bound to be overblown as an example of Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels being absolute geniuses for both signing him late and thinking he could fit well in the offense.
But let’s also remember this was the Dolphins, a rebuilding defense whose strength is the secondary with high-priced cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. Miami has a weak front, making it not that surprising New England was able tor rush for 217 yards as a team, led by Newton.
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Newton will need to be ready to do a lot more in Week 2, as the Patriots travel to face Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, who dropped 38 points on the Falcons in Week 1. Seattle is a familiar NFC foe to Newton, and a much better all-around team than Miami.
Unfortunately for Newton, the Patriots’ showed their offensive weaknesses around him. They don’t have much reliable in the passing game after Brady’s two former favorite targets, Julian Edelman and James White. They are still looking for consistent answers from their traditional running game.
The Patriots had the perfect, reined-in gameplan for Newton to get his feet wet, mostly relying on those feet. When Newton faces more defensive resistance and has more of an offensive burden, then that will be a true measure of what he can bring to the Patriots for all of 2020.
So far, so good for now for the most enigmatic quarterback of the season. A few key questions were answered right away, but there’s still much of the Newton mystery yet to be solved.