By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots lost. We get it. Wins are better. They made some mistakes. They could have made a play here or there, or benefited from a better play call in this spot. Boo hoo hoo.
Surely, we’ll get to all of that in the hours and days and weeks and months to come. It is football after all, and that’s what we do.
But if you came away from Sunday night’s game thinking anything other than “holy moly, the Patriots have got themselves a quarterback,” then you, my friend … you got caught sleeping on the platform as the train buzzed right on by.
That train was the towering, imposing, indefatigable Cam Newton. Yes, he was flipped over on the game-winning attempt on the game’s final play. Yes, he could have possibly made a better read and finished off a rare walk-off victory. And yes, he threw an interception that was not exactly the picture of excellence.
No, Cam Newton was not perfect. But he was a monster.
And the bottom line is … if Cam Newton is capable of playing like that after spending just 120 minutes as the quarterback of the Patriots, then what’s he going to look like in October? Or December? Or January?
Think of it this way: For the majority of the 2020 calendar year, Cam Newton has been urgently trying to tell the world that he’s healthy. The Panthers didn’t listen; they cut him. Every single other NFL team didn’t listen; they passed up on him before the draft, after the draft and for two months beyond. The 2015 MVP of the NFL was left floating in football no man’s land, desperate for one team to give him a chance.
Eventually, Bill Belichick smelled a value that was too good to miss. Even then, though, the Patriots merely dipped their toes in the Cam Newton waters.
Through two games in the weirdest NFL season we’ll ever see, they’re sure glad they did.
And Cam Newton is no longer telling people that he’s healthy. He’s showing them.
Consider that on Sunday night, Newton threw for 397 yards. He’s thrown for more yards in a game exactly twice before. He hasn’t done it since 2011, when he was a 22-year-old rookie. During his MVP season in 2015, he only topped 300 passing yards three times, and the highest he racked up was 340. Now at the age of 31, after surgeries and rehab and endless workouts, he turned in one his most prolific passing nights.
And as was impossible to miss, the man remains an absolute bowling ball in the run game. He ran 11 times for 47 yards, scoring two more touchdowns to bring his season total to four through two games. For perspective, as spectacular as he was in 2015 as the league’s MVP, his rushing touchdown total was 10 that year.
Through two games, Newton is a very efficient 45-for-63 (71.5 percent) for 552 yards with a touchdown and a pick. He’s only been sacked three times, and he displayed some uniquely Newtonesque escapability to spin out of several would-be sacks on Sunday night.
And that’s all in an offense that he didn’t start learning until July. With coaches and teammates he hadn’t met until July. In a new place with a new team, Newton is adapting better than anyone could have reasonably expected him to adapt.
Most encouraging if you are the Patriots in the trying-to-move-on-from-Tom-Brady phase of your franchise is the fact that Newton fearlessly stood down deficits in a road environment (albeit without fans) against a team that wanted to inflict pain upon him on every single snap. He didn’t flinch, and his bid to win the game in the final minutes should not get flushed because it came up one yard short.
After throwing the not-so-special pick and falling behind 28-17, Newton’s next drive looked like this:
Pass complete, deep middle to Julian Edelman, 49 yards
Pass complete, short middle to Ryan Izzo, 16 yards
Run up the middle, 6 yards
Pass complete, short left to N’Keal Harry, 3 yards
On a third-and-1 from the Seattle 3-yard line, Newton ran to the right side and got the Patriots to the goal line. On the next play, he faked the same run before flipping a pass over everybody and into the hands of Jakob Johnson.
The two-point rushing attempt by Newton failed (which perhaps should have sent an alert over to the Patriots’ sideline in case a gotta-have-it goal line opportunity arose later in the game), but that blink-and-you-miss-it 77-yard scoring drive turned a bleak situation into one of hope.
Do not discount the power that comes therein.
The final drive, which came after Newton engineered yet another lightning-quick touchdown drive to buoy the Patriots’ chances, was equally inspiring.
First-and-10 from his own 19: a 13-yard completion to Harry.
First-and-10 from the 32: Complete to Izzo for a short gain, out of bounds to stop the clock.
Second-and-7: Complete to Harry for 17 yards.
Two plays later, Newton scrambles for 12 yards.
After a defensive penalty, Newton connected with Edelman deep up the left sideline for 18 yards, setting New England up with a first-and-10 at the 13-yard line. Unfortunately for the Patriots, Edelman was tackled just inside the boundary, thus keeping the clock rolling.
Belichick didn’t spend his final timeout, and a gassed Edelman went up and had a chance to make the game-winning catch. He just missed.
Easy catch? Nope. Understandable that a winded Edelman was a split-second off? For sure. Pass ever-so-slightly behind the receiver? Yup.
Yet you can bet that both No. 1 and No. 11 think they should have that one. And if they had pulled it off, then they’d have themselves an incredible victory.
But they didn’t, and so they don’t.
The fact that they’re that close to that type of win this early? Folks, that is something that ought to keep everyone involved with any business at 1 Patriot Place rather enthused as they look ahead at the season’s schedule. A Week 2 trip to Seattle was expected to be one of the hardest tests of the year. It lived up to the billing, and the Patriots were one play short of escaping with a win.
They’re that close because Newton is that good. That he’s that good this soon … it kinda-sorta puts an entirely different spin on the prospects of this entire Patriots season.