FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Cam Newton era may have officially begun in New England on Sunday, but SuperCam’s debut still seems to be a few weeks away. Luckily for the Patriots, this Clark Kent version of the former league MVP is more than talented enough to get the job done — beating the Dolphins, 21-11 in the opener — until he soon morphs into his peak self.
Newton’s debut was highlighted by his legs. His stellar red zone rushing ability came as advertised, taking two designed runs in for scores while leading the Patriots ground attack with 75 yards — the most he’s logged since Week 10 in 2017 as a member of the Panthers. That type of rushing production is foreign in these parts as Newton’s predecessor, Tom Brady, hardly rushed the ball at all throughout his two-decade-long tenure, so it was certainly a new wrinkle that Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels were interested to roll out.
“I thought he played well today,” Belichick said of Newton’s debut. “He hit a lot of passes, he ran the ball well, he led the team, he made some good checks and adjustments and I thought he did a good job. Look, there’s room for improvement form all of us so I’m not saying it was the best-executed game in the history of football, but we did some good things today in all three phases of the game. We’re proud of that and we’ll go back to work on the things we need to do better, but I thought he did a good job for us.”
After a somewhat shaky first half through the air, Newton’s passing attack did seem to improve coming out of the halftime locker room. That immediate offensive possession to start the third quarter was arguably his best series of the afternoon — completing all four of his passes for 46 yards before scampering into the end zone with his feet. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels seemed to dial-up more fast releases from Newton on short passes that required a quick pre-snap read before letting the ball loose.
“I think it was still just a feeling (out) process more so for me as well as Josh [McDaniels], Coach Bill [Belichick], as well as Jedd [Fisch] to understand who they have and what I have,” Newton said of how he’s meshing withing the Patriots system through one game. “Josh has been calling plays the same way for a long time — the dialogue that we had on the sideline was unbelievable. Just him being transparent as well as myself being transparent on how we can attack this defense.
“They had a lot of things that we went over and they tried to disguise a lot, but at the end of the day we made the adjustments and we executed.”
Newton did show the ability to come up in the clutch in this one as the club did teeter with giving the game away to Miami late. After receiver N’Keal Harry fumbled the ball in the end zone forcing a touchback, the Dolphins were able to go on a touchdown drive to make it a one-possession game. On the next offensive series, Newton drove the Patriots 75 yards down the field to set up a Sony Michel touchdown to give the club some much-needed breathing room.
“He’s a stud,” said Julian Edelman, who hauled in five of his seven targets from Newton for 57 yards. “He brings an energy. He’s fun to play with and I’m looking forward to compounding and building off this and fixing the things that we didn’t necessarily do well on and adding to the things that we did do well and keeping it going.”
While Newton appears well on his way to returning to top form, personnel may also be an issue for the Patriots passing game going forward. Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry were the only wide receivers targeted in the opener. Part of that may be on Newton, but this unit is lacking a bit of depth as we begin the year, which is something to keep a note of.