We’ll get to Cam Newton and the brand new, wicked good friend he’s found that gets him at a really deep level in a second.
But first, the Patriots defense.
When I’ve been asked the past few weeks how the Patriots will do, I’d say, “Not so good. You lose Dont'a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Danny Shelton from a defense that feasted on bad quarterbacks last year? Slippage. We know the offense is gonna be challenged. But the defense is going to have big issues. Nobody’s talking about that!”
Week 1 A.T. (anno tommy), the defense and the much-discussed (not really) Chase Winovich, Byron Cowart, Ja’Whaun Bentley, J.C. Jackson, Adrian Phillips, Derek Rivers and Joejuan Williams helped throw a blanket party for the Miami offense.
What Newton did in his collaboration with offensive coordinator/soulmate Josh McDaniels was outstanding. But they got to take BP against the Miami defense because they kept getting the ball back. And when they had to punt it away, they knew they’d probably get it back before long.
We still don’t know what kind of coaching mind-meld is running this defense – two parts Belichick with a side of Mayo? – but we salute their gray matter. Because even with all the turnover, the Corona constraints and the limits on hitting, the rebuilt Patriots defense didn’t skimp on the complexity.
And they undressed an offense that undressed them at the end of 2019. They held Miami to 269 total yards, 36 percent third-down conversions and 3.2 yards per carry. They also picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick three times. The Jackson and Stephon Gilmore picks were brilliant individual plays. Phillips’ pick in the first half came because of scheme.
Miami scored 11 points and the only reason there was any drama at all was because of a bizarre succession of plays that began with N’Keal Harry.
Barely three weeks ago I detailed the wild ride that is the N’Keal Harry Experience. He lived it on Sunday. With a minute left in the third, Harry made his fourth catch on what was going to be a game-icing drive. But as he was being hauled down, he started to reposition the ball as if he might be about to stretch for the goal line. The world may never know. It got punched out, rolled out of the end zone for a touchback and Miami took over on their 20.
Instead of 21-3, the Dolphins had the ball and – after a 23-yard DPI on Gilmore on a fourth-and-2 and another on Terrence Brooks in the end zone – they got their only touchdown. At 14-11 early in the third, there was a big chance for the momentum shift to spiral at that point.
And now we get to Cam and McDaniels. CamDaniels.
The first snap of the ensuing drive was a jet sweep to Julian Edelman that picked up 23 (38 when the penalty for a hit out of bounds was walked off). So why does Edelman get so much room to run on that play? It’s the diversity of the running game.
When Cam Newton’s at quarterback – and he’s already run 10 times – you have to wait a beat when you’re at linebacker because Newton might run a quarterback draw or turn and hand to a back. Everything has to be respected a little bit.
The rest of that drive was a tribute to landlocked diversity and the new way to salt a game away. James White got 7. Rex Burkhead got 4 on third-and-3. Newton scurried for 12. Sony Michel got 5. Newton got stacked up for a 1-yard loss then picked up 5 to give the Patriots fourth-and-1 at the Miami 5 with 6:08 left.
The Patriots went heavy with two rookie offensive tackles added to the line as beef. And he rumbled for a stunningly easy 4 yards. Michel scored on the next play and that was pretty much that.
What do we take from this game that will travel? What happened against Miami that will happen all season?
To me, it’s one thing. The power and efficiency of the offensive line. They played their asses off in helping the offense run 42 times for 217 yards and go 3-for-4 in the red zone, 5-for-10 on third down and 1-for-1 on the aforementioned fourth down. That was a tribute to their conditioning, toughness and talent.
The offense is built to run and run it will. The only issue with that? They aren’t built to rally. What happens if they’re not staked to a 7-0 lead where the whole playbook opens wide to CamDaniels and the clock is their friend?
We’ll probably find out pretty fast. Next week, it’s on the road to Seattle. That’s a step up from Miami. In short order, the Patriots will also see Vegas and the Chiefs, both of which scored 34 this week. Harder tests are coming.
But to pass this one so impressively with all the young players who were thrust suddenly into bigger roles? They should savor it for a few days.