FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots fans had just about the crappiest offseason a fan base could endure, relatively speaking.
New England seemingly lost half of its 2019 roster to free agency, trades, release or opt-outs and fans couldn’t even leave their homes to distract themselves after Tom Brady announced his departure from the Patriots to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But fans of the other 31 NFL franchises have no need to worry, things might just be OK for the Patriots this season. Don’t feel too sorry for Pats Nation.
New England’s defense didn’t look like it missed their high-profile subtractions while thwarting the Miami Dolphins’ offensive efforts Sunday in a 21-11 win. And much more importantly, Cam Newton replaced Brady about as well as anyone possibly could have imagined in Week 1.
Newton rushed 15 times for 75 yards with two touchdowns while appearing unhampered by a foot injury that caused him to lose most of the 2019 season (that he ironically suffered against the Patriots last preseason). He completed 15-of-19 passes for 155 yards while showing almost immediate chemistry with wide receiver Julian Edelman, who caught five passes for 57 yards after dropping his first target.
“Cam’s been great for us,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after the game. “He’s a very, very unselfish player. He’s a great teammate. He’s earned everybody’s respect really daily. He just continues to do everything that he can to help our team. That’s really all that you can ask from anyone, and he continually does that.
“He puts himself last, and he puts the team first.”
Those in New England media who are employed to stir the pot and read between the lines will have a field day figuring out what that means or meant about Brady.
“I think he’s done a tremendous job here,” Belichick continued. “I thought he played well today. He hit a lot of passes. He ran the ball well. He led the team. He made some good checks and adjustments. And so, I thought that he did a good job.”
The Patriots played the offseason about as well as they could have, even if some decisions weren’t by design. The Patriots were out of cap space by the time they finally decided to add Newton, so, they could only offer him $550,000 guaranteed in a veteran minimum deal with a $1.05 million salary and a contract worth up to $7.5 million with incentives.
Since that time the Patriots freed up $30 million in cap space.
But Newton’s performance Sunday leads you to wonder why the Patriots didn’t actually pounce sooner. They were prepared to go into the 2020 season with Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, Brian Lewerke and J’Mar Smith as their quarterbacks. From the time Newton was released March 24 until he officially signed with the Patriots on July 8, the 2015 NFL MVP was available to 31 other teams. The Patriots were the only ones willing to bring Newton aboard, and it’s going swimmingly.
There’s not a negative word to be spoken about Newton inside the walls of Gillette Stadium. All Belichick could offer Sunday was that it wasn’t “the best-executed game in the history of football.”
Jeez, Bill, isn’t that a little bit harsh?
From the way Newton was talking after the game, Week 1 might be the tip of the iceberg for a Patriots’ offense which suddenly relied heavily upon read option concepts that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wouldn’t have dreamed of calling with Brady at quarterback.
“I think it was just still a feeling process I think more so for me as well as Josh, Coach Bill as well as (quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch) to understand who they have and what I have. So, all in all, obviously, Josh has been calling plays the same way for a long time. So now, knowing — the dialog that we had on the sidelines was unbelievable. Just him being transparent as well as myself being transparent on how we can attack this defense.”
It’s going to be a weird season. But it also looks like it might be a fun one for Patriots fans to watch. Brady had his 20 years. This is Cam Newton’s team now.
Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images