PATS INSIDER

Curran: What constitutes success for Cam in 2020?

PATS INSIDER

The marriage of convenience between Cam Newton and the New England Patriots remains in its honeymoon stage.

“A match made in heaven,” is how Newton described the union Monday morning on WEEI’s Greg Hill Show.

“Just knowing I am at a place where everything is pulling in the same direction and everything is geared towards winning,” Newton gushed. “Coming from a person that has won at all levels, I feel as if that if I do the things the right way, trusting the same people who have gotten me to this point and trust their coaching, I think this is something that when you look at an opportunity in a timely manner, it can be accomplished.”

Best attempt at translation? Newton thinks the Patriots are going to win.

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We’ll start finding out this week. Newton will start against the Miami Dolphins, playing in front of 70,000 seats.

There’s so much symbolism in that if you give a crap about that.

The Dolphins — not the Titans — are the ones that really exposed the 2019 Patriots, winning in Foxboro in Week 17 in a game the Patriots had to have. Miami, a team the Patriots bludgeoned in Week 2, a team the whole country presumed was tanking the season in September, took out a Patriots team that had everything to play for.

That result convinced me it was all over but the crying when it came to Tom Brady’s days in New England.

Newton and the Patriots start with a clean slate, empty stands and a chance to build something brand new. And they begin with the team that, in my mind, dropped the curtain on what was.

 

Which leads to this question: What constitutes a successful season for Cam Newton?

If you think it’s Super Bowl or bust, you may have spent your early years gnawing window sills. Too much turnover, too much inexperience, too short a run-up to this season for everyone — and that includes Newton, who’s only been here since just before Independence Day.

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Is it an AFC East title, a playoff berth, a winning record? Is it statistical?

Is it a vibe he and the Patriots give off — regardless of wins and losses — that says, “Oh, shit, Cam and McDaniels are starting to get it now… if he sticks around for more than just this year…”?

Is the goal more personal for Newton: signaling to the rest of the NFL he’s healthy and capable of performing at a high level so that he can follow the path blazed by Darrelle Revis in 2014?

Or is it intertwined with the Patriots' fortunes, not just for 2021 but for the foreseeable future? Are the Patriots auditioning for his services as well?

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Nobody thinks more highly of Cam Newton than Chris Simms. The former quarterback studies the hell out of signal-callers for NBC Sports and Simms had Newton ranked 10th among all quarterbacks when Simms did his Top 40 rankings earlier this summer. And that was BEFORE Newton even signed here.

I, admittedly, thought Newton was closer to done-zo than being a factor this year. So, after watching Newton at camp and learning I was not entirely correct, I defer to Simms’ appraisal.

What does Simms think a successful season will be?

“Consistent good play,” he said via text. “No emotional meltdowns. Continues to be a good leader. Patriots make playoffs, although even if they just miss out on playoffs, as long as he does those first few things, (it’s a success).”

Even though the learning and assimilation have no doubt been a bear, the past 40 days or so have been the easy part for Newton.

Almost all the prep has been away from prying eyes and reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. But facts is facts. Joining a team in late June is hard in a normal year. Newton had no preseason games or joint practices to test drive this offense. There are rookies at tight end, a virtual rookie at fullback (Jakob Johnson), a wide receiver group that’s little-improved from the 2019 crew which Pro Football Focus said “collectively had the worst season of any receivers in the 14 years PFF has been grading every snap of NFL games.”

To think Newton’s going to come out Sunday against Miami, complete more than 60 percent of his passes, help the offense convert more than 40 percent of its third downs and have things moving like clockwork is to be detached from reality. Could it happen? Yes. But I’d be gobsmacked if it did.

 
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That’s why measuring success for Newton is about consistent progress, not passing yards, completion percentage, TD-INT ratio or any of it. By the end of the year, is the arrow pointing up relative to the way things were in September? Pointing down? Flatline? Are Belichick and Newton as enamored with each other then as they are now — presuming Cam can make it through mostly unscathed?

A successful 2020 for Cam Newton? We’ll know it when we see it. And opinions may vary.