The Patriots fell to the Seahawks 35-30 on Sunday night to fall to 1-1 under the Newton regime. A matchup that has delivered thrillers in the past came through once again, as it wasn’t decided until the waning seconds on the one-yard line.
What did we learn?
There is Hope for the Patriots’ Pass Game
The Patriots’ ground assault on the Dolphins in the opener begged the questions. Would this offense be able to counter when defenses sell out on the run? Does Cam Newton still have the ability to beat defenses with his arm?
Facing off against a vaunted Seattle run defense that has allowed the second fewest rush yards in the league over two weeks, the offensive script was bound to change. It had to — and that’s a good thing. This Patriots team is still deciphering its new identity, and what better way to figure it out than against a defense that forces your hand? In Week One, Newton ran the ball fifteen times for 75 yards and two scores. In Week Two, his attempts (11) and yards (47) were both down, but he picked up another pair of touchdowns. No other Patriot had more than seven carries, largely because of the coverages Seattle threw at them.
They were daring Cam Newton to beat them with his arm, and he almost did. Completing 30 of 44 attempts for 397 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, Newton answered those questions. The offense was able to counter, and Cam Newton remains a passing threat. His 397 pass yards was his third-highest single game mark, and the most he’s thrown for since his second career NFL game back in 2011. His fifteen completions at least ten yards downfield were the most by any quarterback in Week Two. And taking only one sack, Newton’s ability to create opportunities with his feet proved instrumental down the stretch.
The Patriots faced a 3rd-and-10 from their own 25 on the opening drive of the second half. Seattle stacked the box and brought the blitz, but Cam Newton had other ideas.
Great QB play by Cam bails out the right side of the OL. Mason and Eluemunor get crossed up by the blitz and basically both guys end up blocking nobody. Cam gets out of the sack, keeps his eyes downfield, draws the LB in, and finds Edelman. Bailed them out big-time. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/46RXdm0I7O
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) September 21, 2020
The rapport between Newton and second-year receiver N’Keal Harry is growing stronger by the week. Harry caught eight balls for 72 yards, setting career-highs in both categories in arguably his best game in a Patriots’ uniform. The evolution of Harry will be fascinating to watch this season, as he already has more receiving yards (111) through two games than he did in seven games last season (105). And he’s not the only one benefitting. His counterpart Julian Edelman set his career-high for single-game receiving yards with 179 on 8 catches and was the focal point of the Patriots’ fourth quarter resurgence that came up just short. The concerns about the lack of weaponry around Cam Newton were there. They still are. But it’s fair to say they’ve been pacified after Week Two.
Success through the air will manifest differently for Cam Newton than it did for Tom Brady. That much is certain, and nothing new, given the two contrasting styles of play. From the last two weeks, it’s clear that the Patriots will call upon Cam Newton’s legs at will. The Patriots not only can hold their own through the air. Cam Newton’s ability on his feet opens up more passing opportunities than any other quarterback in the league. When you score four touchdowns in two games on virtually the same QB-Power play design, defenses start to anticipate the run, because it works. And if anyone knows how to zig when others zag, it’s Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
cc: @patsdeutsch 🇩🇪
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 21, 2020
This is almost a mirror image of the play used to produce Newton’s four rushing touchdowns. The fullback lines up on the right, presumably as a blocker. Newton keeps his eyes forward, biding his time, and shows run. The second line of the defense took the bait, and Jakob Johnson was wide open to catch his first career touchdown. For as many one-yard power runs we will see from Cam Newton, you can count on Josh McDaniels pulling this one out of his back pocket a few more times.
The Patriots can Hang with the Best of Them
As I mentioned in last week’s Lessons Learned, the Patriots were due for tougher competition than the Miami Dolphins. And they got it in Week Two. The Seattle Seahawks pose a threat on both sides of the ball, and it showed. They scored 35 points and allowed just 67 rushing yards to the tune of 2.7 yards/carry. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Patriots, with a brand new offense, were one play, and one yard, away from winning. It’s easy to look at this team and call them .500 with a loss in the first two weeks, but the only true takeaway from this game should be encouragement. This was a critical early test for a team still finding themselves, and to hang thirty on the Seahawks with a great chance to win, this team passed the test.
It’s Too Early to Overreact
The play-calling down the stretch. The decision to run the same play Seattle had already seen twice before with the game on the line. The Seahawks exposing weaknesses in this defense. All valid concerns, but let me remind you: this is only the second week of a new season. With a new quarterback. And a drastically renovated defense. And an entirely different offensive strategy. When all was said and done, the Patriots lost by five to a team with an MVP candidate at quarterback and years of repeated success. There’s no reason why the Patriots should not have called the play they did at the end of the game. Cam Newton is their best offensive player and he already had four touchdowns from that play-call alone in two games.
And let’s be honest. Was Bill Belichick really going to throw from the one-yard line against the Seattle Seahawks with the game on the line? We’d all seen that story before, and I guarantee the reactions would not have been so benevolent had the Patriots lost on a pass attempt.
The Patriots (1-1) return home for a matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders (2-0) next Sunday at 1:00. Through two weeks, The Raiders defense has allowed the fourth-most passing yards in the league (285/game) while sitting in the middle of the pack for rush defense. Will New England dial up another air-raid or will the offense come back to equilibrium? Whatever happens, this team showed everyone that there’s more to this offense than designed quarterback runs.
–Ethan Roy is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @_EthanRoy