By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — After a quarter of football on Sunday, the Patriots were losing to the Raiders. It was weird.

After 18 minutes, they were tied. A few minutes later, they led by three. It still wasn’t right.

They opened up a 10-point lead before halftime, and things started to normalize; then they allowed a 75-yard touchdown drive in 28 seconds, narrowing their lead to three at the break.

It just wasn’t right, and it seemed like the Patriots were going to be stuck in one of those games in which they had no business being. One bad mistake — a muffed punt, a bobbled snap, a tipped interception — and the Patriots could have found themselves scrapping from behind, against Jon Gruden’s Raiders. It didn’t feel right.

Yet instead of slipping back, the Patriots charged forward with not one but two signature drives in the second half.

The first was a seven-play, 69-yard drive to stretch the lead back to 10, a drive which came immediately after Daniel Carlson missed a 41-yard field goal that would have tied the game. Cam Newton went 2-for-2 for 21 yards, Sony Michel broke free for a 38-yard gain, and Rex Burkhead got back-to-back carries inside the five, finishing off with a Supermanesque touchdown dive.

The Patriots authored another game-defining drive in the fourth quarter, after a Las Vegas field goal cut the lead back to 10. Just before getting hit, Newton threw an absolute bullet to N’Keal Harry for a 27-yard gain. Newton later scrambled for 21 yards on the exact moment when the Raiders’ defense eased up on controlling him in the ground game. And after Burkhead slipped his way to a 14-yard gain, the offense rushed to the line and gave it back to No. 34 for a two-yard touchdown plunge.

The Patriots’ coaches and players would have probably liked for those two drives to have come earlier in the game, but they nevertheless did come, which is what seems to matter most.

Was the Patriots’ 36-20 win the best game in the history of organized tackle football? Not exactly. Are we going to swim around in a sea of seven-thousand leftover thoughts? You betcha.

–Honestly, people, it’s been a while since we’ve celebrated a Ferocious Juke around here. The days of Dion Lewis living inside the Matrix and the days of Julian Edelman stealing men’s souls and the days of James White evaporating an entire defense feel as though they haven’t been around for a while.

Fortunately, Rex Burkhead restored the world of #FerociousJuking for us all:

Rex Burkhead (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Whewee. That was ferocious.

–Sunday was not “The Cam Newton Show” the way the first two games were. The QB made a dreadful goof in throwing a first half interception, he had his fewest rushing attempts of the young season and his worst completion percentage, too.

Yet the throw to N’Keal Harry in the fourth quarter is worth another look, because it was dynamite.

Here’s how it looked in live speed on the broadcast:

Cam Newton to N’Keal Harry for 27 yards (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

It likely stood out most to viewers at home because Harry actually caught a pass downfield and broke some tackles for a big gain. But that shouldn’t overshadow Newton’s ability to stand in the pocket and deliver an absolute missile just before getting run over by the 265-pound Clelin Ferrell.

Cam Newton delivers a pass while getting hit by Clelin Ferrell.

There was no replay of the hit Newton took, but he got pummeled. It’s plays like that which don’t necessarily end up on highlight reels, which then leads to confusion on whether or not Newton is a pocket passer. But when it comes to standing tall, waiting for a receiver to break in his route, and delivering a strike despite impending pain, it’s hard to be better than that right there.

–If there’s one reason for alarm in the past two weeks it’s in the secondary, which is weird. The secondary was supposed to be the strength of the defense. It still should be the strength of the defense. Yet through three games, the secondary has been making a surprising number of gaffes.

On Sunday, Stephon Gilmore committed (intentional) pass interference after getting beaten up the sideline by Nelson Agholor. Jonathan Jones got caught peeking into the backfield and allowed Hunter Renfrow to make what was at the time a game-changing catch before halftime. Joejuan Williams had an ill-timed defensive holding penalty. There were some weaknesses over the middle when they played zone, and Derek Carr capitalized several times.

It wasn’t disastrous, of course, and they did a good job of eliminating Darren Waller. But with Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins due up next week … it’s perhaps something to keep in mind while looking ahead.

I do suppose this is one effect of the weird offseason and no preseason. Based on results around the league, the Patriots aren’t alone. Teams are averaging 25.4 points per game, up almost three full points from last year. It’s obviously a tiny sample size, but it’s the highest scoring average ever. Teams averaged 23.6 points per game back in 1948 (and who can forget the ’48 season, baby?), and 23.4 points in 2013, and 23.3 points in 2018.

That’s sure to normalize in time, sure. But early on, it seems as though catching up to full speed on defense is difficult to do.

–I keep saying that I’m going to stop keeping track of the zip on Newton’s passes, because he’s proven his shoulder is plenty healthy. And yet, here I am, showing off another SPEEDBALL to Julian Edelman:

Cam Newton to Julian Edelman for 15 yards (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

That puppy was hummmmmmmming.

–Sony Michel obviously catches a ton of crap in this media market. As a first-round pick at running back, such is going to be the case.

Some criticism has been fair, sure, in that he’s not a dominant, game-changing type of back. At the same time, he’s been pretty damn productive. In the regular season and playoffs, he’s played 36 games. He’s rushed for 2,413 yards and 20 touchdowns. He showed as a rookie that he could be the lead back for a championship team that leaned heavily on its running game.

The point is that he’s not so bad. Some might say he’s pretty good. In any event, busting free for a 48-yarder and a 38-yarder might have helped spotlight that fact a little bit more.

In particular, the lateral movement and then the open field juke was impressive here:

The full-speed one-step cut to turn poor Jonathan Abram into a matador on the 48-yarder was pretty sweet, too:

Maybe Abram isn’t the world’s best open field tackler. Maybe Abram is actually just an enthusiastic Patriots fan. I don’t know. But that was still an impressive showing.

–Joe Thuney is making a shade under $15 million this year. He might have earned his entire paycheck with that performance on Sunday.

If we all should have learned anything a year ago, it’s that replacing David Andrews is difficult. Ted Karras did … okay. And when James Ferentz had to fill in for a game and a half, it was … ugly.

While Sunday’s offensive start was slow, the work of Thuney — along with rookie Mike Onwenu stepping in at guard — turned out to be dynamite.

–The Patriots rank first in the NFL with 178 rushing yards per game. Their seven rushing touchdowns is likewise tops in the league. They’ve rushed for 37 first downs, which is … most in the NFL. and 35.2 percent of their 105 rushes have led to first downs. That ranks — you guessed it — first in the NFL.

I’ll be the first to admit that I just did not see that coming. The Patriots ran like a bulldozer to the Super Bowl two years ago, but after losing Trent Brown, James Develin, Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen and David Andrews in 2019, the running game fell apart.

Getting Andrews back figured to help, sure, but the thin tight end group and the inexperience at fullback and the opt-out of Marcus Cannon all seemed to indicate that 2020 would be a repeat of 2019.

Yet the work of Onwenu, Jermaine Eluemunor, Ryan Izzo and Jakob Johnson has allowed the rushing offense to flourish. That has obviously been impacted greatly by Newton’s threat on the ground, but that would be for naught if it weren’t for the impressive work going on up front.

–J.J. Taylor is 5-foot-6, 186 pounds. He frickin’ rocks.

Maurice Hurst is 6-foot-2, 291 pounds. He likely spent the night wondering how he got run over by the little fella.

J.J. Taylor runs over Maurice Hurst. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

J.J. Taylor frickin’ rocks, people.

–It’s fun watching Josh McDaniels’ creativity with Cam Newton at work. Sometimes if we’re not paying attention, we can take for granted just how monumental the shift of so many principles of the Patriots’ offense has been. The misdirection in the backfield, the option runs, the pitches, the designed runs … it’s all quite a sight to behold. And the fact that it’s clicking without any preseason is bananas. (I actually am not sure the Patriots would have done much of it in the preseason, to be honest. But the fact that it’s working early despite little game experience is the point.)

There are still some duds, like this one:

Cam Newton third down run (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Or this one:

Cam Newton to Damiere Byrd (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

But that’s to be expected as the Patriots’ offense not only redefines itself entirely but also adjusts week-to-week based on their opponents. It’s really a sight to behold.

“That’s exactly what we want to do. We want to put defenses in fits, knowing that we have so many different ways to beat you and a plethora of different type of schemes,” Newton said after the win. “We want to run downhill. We want to run on the edge. We want to throw it deep. It doesn’t matter. I think that’s been our biggest edge, for the most part, just having that ability to attack the teams in so many different ways and to still be successful.”

What Sunday showed was that it doesn’t have to be Newton doing the damage. The mere presence of Newton keeps defenses honest, and the second that they get lax in that discipline? Boom. He gone.

The early results are good, but it’s still so early. The potential of what McDaniels might be able to cook up by the end of the year is a rather enticing thought to entertain.

–We’d also be remiss to not shine a light on Carmen Bricillo and Cole Popovich for their work in replacing a legend in Dante Scarnecchia. The offensive line hasn’t been perfect, but few ever are. That unit has been prepared every week thus far, despite changing circumstances and varying challenges.

–If you thought we’d get through this story without highlighting the fullback hurdle, then you’re a bozo. Plain and simple. No offense.

Alec Ingold hurdles J.C. Jackson (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

It was great because it’s not like J.C. Jackson got duped and went for the knees. Jackson kind of read it properly. Dude still hopped him like a parking meter.

Alec Ingold: Gold star for you, pal.

–OK, then. Pats are 2-1. They look pretty good. If they continue down this path, they should rack up a double-digit win total. 

In conclusion:

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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