After an unprecedented offseason (and year, really), the 2020 NFL season is finally upon us. Without any preseason games and many adjustments to training camp, this year of football will certainly be an interesting one. On top of all the changes made to the entirety of the NFL, the Patriots have had some major changes of their own, most notably at quarterback. All eyes were on Cam Newton this Sunday as he made his New England debut against the Miami Dolphins. But Newton wasn’t the only one to keep watch of during the game as there were many players that stood out amongst the others.
The most obvious answer to, “which players had a great game?” on Sunday would have to be Cam Newton. Since he was signed to the team in June, the conversation regarding the quarterback was all about the forthcoming offensive changes that would inevitably come with a more mobile quarterback. There were also many questions looking to be answered throughout the season. How would Cam perform in a brand-new system with new coaches? Would we once again see the guy who won the MVP award in 2015?
Cam answered some of these lingering questions by making his presence known early in the game. At the start of the second quarter, he rushed for four yards to score his first touchdown as a New England Patriot. As most would probably guess, he did not stop there. Later in the third quarter, Newton scored another touchdown with his legs, rushing for 11-yards to increase the New England lead to 11 points over the Dolphins. At the end of the game, he totaled 15 carries for 75 yards, which was noted to be the highest total rushing yards in a game by a Patriots quarterback since Steve Grogan in 1977. His first game in New England and he is already setting records!
Not only was his mobility an asset to the game, Cam’s shoulder seemed back to normal as he finished the game 15-for-19 for 155 yards. His performance displayed how much the Patriots offense has changed from what the league has seen from the team over the last two decades. The variety of a Cam Newton led offense was great to see and will be exciting to watch for the rest of the season.
Adrian Phillips is in his first season with the Patriots and had a standout first game with the team. With Patrick Chung opting out of this season, Phillips seemingly won the starting job in his place and had a great game in Chung’s absence.
The Patriots defense showed once again they are a force to be reckoned with. At nearly halftime, Phillips was able avoid the rush and was left uncovered in the middle of the field. This allowed him to secure an interception on New England’s 39-yard-line and return it for 5 yards. He also led the team in tackles with 8, one of which was for a loss and allowed 3 catches on 3 attempts for only 24 yards.
A big takeaway from Phillips play would have to be the potential he has to be a key factor for the rest of the season. The Patriots’ secondary is already elite as it is, and if Phillips is able to continue having shining moments like this, the secondary will continue to be unstoppable.
Having only played in nine games his rookie year in 2019, Joejuan Williams has not had the opportunity to create his identity on the Patriots just yet. Because the team is loaded at the cornerback position, it could be difficult for up-and-coming players to stand out from stars Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson. But in the first game of the 2020 season, Joejuan’s impactful play had people talking.
Allowing only one catch on three targets for 9 yards, and having a pass break up (PBU), Joejuan was dominant in tight coverage throughout the game. On most days and for most players, this stat line at the end of a game would be great. But Joejuan had one of the biggest standout moments of the game late in the fourth quarter.
Many fans will remember the heartbreak felt from the Patriots loss to the Dolphins in week 17 of the 2019 season. Miami sealed the win with a touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to tight end Mike Gesicki with just 24 seconds remaining in the game. Probably not realizing this in the moment, Joejuan helped to ensure this game didn’t end in a similar fate.
Miami tromped down the field late in the fourth quarter and had the chance to possibly close the score gap to only two points. Fitzpatrick threw a pass intended for Gesicki but was picked off by J.C. Jackson. This interception would not have happened had Williams not made such a great stop on Gesicki, creating an inability to catch the ball. Because of this huge defensive stop, the Patriots were able to seal the win, beating the Miami Dolphins 21-11.
EXTRA: Offensive Line
As an extra shoutout for the game, the offensive line deserves a lot of praise for their fantastic performance on Sunday. The line was able to successfully block the Miami defenders to allow a total of 217 yards rushing on 42 carries by all players on the Patriots. The return of David Andrews was also very impactful, helping to ensure Newton was only sacked twice throughout the game. Obviously, the plan is to not have the quarterback sacked at all during a game. But this is quite the improvement from the struggles of the line last season.
It is not an easy task to decide which players did not have an A+ day in a week one game. There were not any standout bad plays, but there were some moments that could have, and in some cases should have, been avoided.
The Patriots have been quite the mystery with their plans for a kicker this season. As the team was trimmed down to the standard 53, the team released both kickers they had and eventually brought them back to the practice squad. Because of the unique circumstances of this season however, teams are allowed to move up and move down players as often as they choose to the practice squad and it seems that may be the team’s plan going forward.
A few days before the game, the Patriots announced they were bringing Nick Folk up to the main roster. The team and fans are quite familiar with Folk, as he was one of the many kickers seen on the team last year. Since Stephen Gostkowski was placed on injured reserve (IR) in October of 2019, the Patriots have struggled to find a reliable replacement at the position. The familiarity with the team is a definite plus for Folk, but his consistency is not always there.
The game was not a horrible day for Folk, either. He made all three of the extra points needed. However, he did miss a field goal from 45-yards right before halftime. Despite it not greatly impacting the game, getting those extra three points going into halftime would have given the team a bit more cushion to their lead over the Dolphins.
Something that needs to be mentioned before anything else concerning N’Keal Harry is this; week one was one of the better games he has had as a pro. Missing most of last season made it difficult for Harry to get into the groove as a receiver and therefore not living up to some of the expectations and excitement surrounding him since being drafted.
For the majority of the game, Harry had a pretty good day. Ending the game with 5 receptions on 6 targets for 39 yards, he had the second most receiving yards behind Julian Edelman. However, the dark cloud hovering over his day would be his great run in the third quarter that ended with a fumble in the end zone. This resulted in a touchback for the Dolphins and reminding everyone of one of the most hated rules in the NFL. Also because of this play, the momentum shifted in favor of Miami, leading them to score a touchdown and closing the Patriots lead to only three points.
This mistake could be attributed to a few things, (lack of preseason to work out the rust, getting too risky with the ball, etc.) but it is not something that cannot be learned from or avoided in the future. You should still count on Harry to have a great season, especially with the great chemistry he has with Cam Newton.
This may be an odd choice to some for a player that had a down day, and for the most part he didn’t really. But there were a few moments that impacted the game caused by Stephon Gilmore.
Gilmore was off to his normal good start in the game, grabbing an interception from Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second quarter and returning it for 15 yards. Later in the game he was flagged twice in the fourth quarter for defensive pass interference for a total of 42 yards. On the first call, the Dolphins were able to get down the field and score and succeeded on a 2-point-conversion. Fortunately for the Patriots, they were not able to score the second time around.
At the time of both flags, the Patriots were winning the game and luckily were able to keep the lead until the end. But for Gilmore to give up that much yardage on two plays that could have possibly been avoided was a dark spot for the defense. Don’t expect for this to continue throughout the season, as we know Gilmore is the reigning defensive player of the year. It should also be noted that at least one of these calls was a bit iffy to be made and Gilmore is not generally penalized very often.
This season for the Patriots is definitely one worth paying attention to. If the players who had a standout game can keep up their performances week to week, the team will be on the road to great success. Those who had the “not-so-good” days shouldn’t worry anyone. It is best to remember this was the first game of the season. There was no preseason to get back into the swing of football, so don’t anticipate the same mistakes to continue on this season.
Photo credits to Steven Senne of The Associated Press, Brian Fluharty of USA TODAY Sports and Stew Milne of The Associated Press
–Sara Marshall is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow her on Twitter @sarmarxo