By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — Things looked a whole lot different inside Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon, except for the final score. The Patriots won — albeit not entirely comfortably — a football game over the Dolphins, riding a ground-and-pound offensive attack and coming up with three turnovers on defense to start the season on the right foot.
The final score of 21-11 more or less indicates the type of game that played out. And considering neither team had any preseason action, and considering there were no fans allowed inside the stadium, what played out on the field was … more or less representative of an NFL football game.
For the Patriots, there were some highs, and there were some lows. Here are the Four Ups and Four Downs from the season-opening victory over Miami.
The new QB did not look like someone who was feeling any sort of pressure. Instead, he looked ready/willing/able to run the ball through the Miami defense, winning races when needed and dropping his shoulder when that was the appropriate call.
He finished with 75 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and he was extremely accurate as a passer. completing 15 of 19 passes for 155 yards. He would have had a passing touchdown, but, well, we’ll get to that later.
All in all, it was a dynamite debut for the new Patriots quarterback.
The Patriots played it cool all summer long, saying their offense looked and felt pretty much the same as it always did. That, of course, was not at all the case, and the offensive coordinator deserves major kudos for reshaping that offense on the fly.
Remember, it wasn’t until the end of June that Newton entered the picture. So McDaniels and the offensive staff — and especially new offensive line coaches Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo — clearly must have been working overtime to get this game plan ready for Week 1.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 13, 2020
It wasn’t perfect, obviously, but the Patriots were wildly effective on the ground, rushing for 217 yards and three touchdowns on 42 attempts. With designed runs and options, it was an entirely new look for a Patriots offense that looked the same for a very long time.
Every now and then — like last December, for example — Ryan Fitzpatrick can beat you. But more often than not, if you sit back and wait for it to happen, he does have a nasty habit of just throwing the whole game to you.
The latter was in effect on Sunday, with the Patriots coming through with three interceptions. The first came from Stephon Gilmore, and the second came from Adrian Phillips, killing a potential scoring drive for Miami late in the first half. Phillips also helped out on the first one, pressuring Fitzpatrick and leading to a rushed throw into trouble.
The final one sealed the victory, with J.C. Jackson picking off Fitzpatrick in the end zone, ending Miami’s hopes of mounting a furious late comeback.
It wasn’t a monster day for the receiver — five catches, 57 yards, plus a 23-yard run — but he hit a milestone by hauling in his 600th career pass. He remains second in franchise history in that category, and with a good season, he can take over the top spot, which is currently occupied by Wes Welker, with 672.
Chase Winovich stepped up with back-to-back plays in the run game, forcing Miami into a third-and-long and, eventually, a punt. … Derek Rivers delivered a massive sack in the fourth quarter, forcing Miami into a third-and-18. … Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead combined for 69 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, sharing the workload in the backfield. J.J. Taylor also made his NFL debut, picking up 28 yards on four carries. … Jermaine Eluemunor filled in ably at right tackle, with rookie Mike Onwenu working in for a series as well.
The second-year receiver thought he was going to score a touchdown late in the third quarter. It looked like he went to reach the ball across the goal line while getting tackled by Jerome Baker, but instead of crossing the plane, Harry lost the football. It bounced through the end zone and out of bounds, turning a would-be score into a turnover.
People may hate the rule that a fumble through the end zone results in a touchback … but it is nevertheless a rule. Harry’s mistake took seven points off the board, and it has generally been the type of error that leads to some extended time on the sidelines during the Belichick era.
That play was … it was just bad. And for a young receiver who was actually having a decent day (5 receptions, 39 yards), it was a real souring moment.
Did Nick Folk do anything to secure his spot as the team’s full-time kicker? Not really. He missed a 45-yard field goal attempt before halftime, a kick that never really had a chance.
Bill Belichick made it quite clear that he hopes to limit Julian Edelman’s workload as a punt returner this year. They won’t be successful in that endeavor if his replacement can’t catch punt.
That was Damiere Byrd’s problem, as he muffed the first punt of the season. After waving for the fair catch, he allowed the traffic in front of his face to distract him enough to mishandle the kick. Fortunately for him, J.C. Jackson was nearby and jumped on the loose ball to prevent any damage.
Byrd successfully fair caught a punt later in the game, but if it weren’t for Jackson’s recovery, that early miscue would have gotten a whole lot more attention.
The Patriots may not have agreed with the calls, but the stat sheet doesn’t lie. It shows that the Patriots were hit with three pass interference penalties — two on Stephon Gilmore and one on Terrence Brooks. If it weren’t for Fitzpatrick’s penchant for throwing back-breaking picks, we might be looking at those penalties a bit differently.