It’s inevitable that we’re going to hear things said about Cam Newton in 2020 and pass it through the “Well, what’s that supposed to mean?” filter.
Following this team over the years, we’ve become attuned to reading inferences and focusing on what’s unsaid almost as often as what is said.
Newton’s replacing a legend. And Tom Brady owned the position so completely it’s unavoidable we hear praise for the new guy and find ourselves reflexively wondering, “Wait, was that a shot?”
Newton’s almost-perfect start was so stylistically different than the Brady-led Patriots, the dynamic was placed front-and-center.
There was this from Bill Belichick early last week: “Everything we’ve done for the last 20 years, and rightfully so, was for Tom Brady.
"Everything was dedicated to him other than the games he didn’t play in,” said Belichick. “Like when (Matt) Cassel played or Jimmy (Garoppolo) and then Jacoby (Brissett) when Brady was suspended. There were times when we had to plan differently, but when your starting quarterback has things that he’s good at or things that you can take advantage of then I think you try to take advantage of them.”
And this from Josh McDaniels: “Anytime you’re doing something a little different than what you’re used to and you put a lot of effort and work into it, and you see the guys go out there and have success it’s a lot of fun.”
Do either of those comments stand as a rebuke of Brady? Do they insinuate that the “dedication” to shaping and staffing the offense around Brady’s skills was a labor? Or that the team was yearning to do something “a little different”?
They could, sure.
But the greater reality is that football life goes on. And life with Newton – after one enjoyable game – doesn’t undo 20 years and six championships with Brady. We can’t expect them to wear black armbands all season to remember Tom.
So noting Belichick’s over-the-top praise of Newton a few weeks ago relative to how he usually spoke of Brady or contrasting Newton’s interactions with N’Keal Harry relative to Brady is ultimately fruitless. And exhausting.
That doesn’t mean the comparisons should cease. Like I said, they’re inevitable. But this season of Newton – Cam’s New England Cameo – has the potential to be the most compelling story in the NFL this year. More compelling, even, than Brady in Tampa Bay.
Brady is trying to breathe life into a corpse of a franchise. Newton – once a superstar – is trying to get back to that spot while the Patriots are trying to maintain their reign as the longest-running NFL dynasty. And Newton’s presence demands the Patriots reinvent themselves. Which they love doing.
For McDaniels, getting in the lab and cooking up new formulas for this offense is the kind of challenge he probably yearned for at this point.
He is positively enamored with Newton. And when he speaks about Newton, it’s almost with a, “You guys should really appreciate this ...” tone.
“He brings a lot to the game,” McDaniels said last week. “People talk about his athletic ability but I could sit here and talk about how intelligent he is, what he saw on the field in the course of each series, his communication from one series to the next, his accuracy in the passing game, his poise in the pocket, … going through his progressions. He’s a pretty complete player. Like I said before, you don’t have the kind of success in our league at that position without being able to do those things. (I’m) really enjoying it.”
There’s no way to read anything in the above quote and wonder, “What about Brady?”
That is a standalone tribute to Newton and it points out how much we might have been missing about how good he’s been in his career and how good he might be this year.
The Brady-Newton compare-and-contrast exercise is going to be in the national spotlight Sunday night when the Patriots play the Seahawks on NBC.
Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth are blessed with a Week 2 matchup that absolutely drips with fascinating storylines: Is Russell Wilson the league’s best quarterback; Pete Carroll vs. Bill Belichick; a SB49 rematch. But the one they figure to wring the most from is what McDaniels is doing offensively with Newton, how it looks relative to Brady and whether the Patriots championship window is still ajar.
In New England, we’ve been here and done that. We’re already a week into the post-Brady era and have digested the image of someone other than Brady under center for an entire game.
And honestly, it wasn’t as jarring as we thought. Because Newton and the Patriots are a marriage so compelling, nostalgic pangs for Brady were pretty much numbed.
It’s not better with Cam Newton. Just different.