What just happened?
That was certainly not the performance most expected from this game. What happened to the defense from last week that held Denver to only field goals? What happened to the Cam Newton we saw in the first couple weeks of the season?
It is completely fair to have concerns about this Patriots team. There is a lot to criticize and scrutinize and worries to be had. However, holding this 2020 Patriots team to the same incredibly high standards that have been had over the last two decades is just a bit unreasonable.
Tom Brady is gone. He may not have had his best season in 2019 of all his time in New England but losing him is a big hit to the team. It also cannot be forgotten that the Patriots had the most opt-outs this year, with 8 players (mostly on defense) choosing to not play due to COVID-19.
But, at the same time, many teams had opt-outs. Many teams have had to deal with unfortunate circumstances surrounding the pandemic. Some excuses can only be used so many times before you must really look at what the issue is.
And what exactly is the issue with the Patriots? With a relatively normal practice schedule this past week, lack of preparedness cannot be to blame. There were no more players added to the COVID-19 list before this game. No new injuries. So, what is it?
THE SILVER LININGS
Usually it is not difficult to find good moments in losses, but this game has really put that idea to the test. The team was not successful in any phase of the game this week, very unlike a Bill Belichick led team.
The 49ers are a well-rounded team. They did represent the NFC in the Super Bowl just this past year. And even though much of the focus in this game will be on all that went wrong, let’s not ignore the players that shined on Sunday.
With the receivers continuing to be the topic of discussion for the Patriots, Jakobi Meyers was finally given a chance after not playing since week 2. Ending the game with 4 receptions for 60 yards, Meyers was one of only two players for the day with more than one catch in the game.
Meyers was the only bright spot in the receiving corps this week which then begs the question, why has he not been used more? Other than Rex Burkhead, Meyers was the only receiver to see the ball more than once in this game, receiving passes from both Newton and Jarrett Stidham. After N’Keal Harry was injured in the first quarter, Meyers then seemed to get his workload. Because of his success in this game, will we see more passes thrown to Meyers in the next few weeks?
It’s clear both quarterbacks trust Meyers and with Harry injured, rare throws to Julian Edelman and virtually no production from the tight ends on the roster, Meyers could possibly provide the much needed help this offense is looking for.
The Patriots special teams is usually one part of the team that 1. Isn’t talked about often and 2. Is pretty solid as a unit. They didn’t do anything particularly spectacular in this game, but Justin Bethel was able to have a shining moment on Sunday.
As the 49ers scored their second touchdown in the 2nd quarter, Bethel was able to get his fingertips on the football as Robbie Gould kicked the PAT. With the PAT failing, Bethel was able to help the Patriots stay in the game, as the score then became 16-3.
It didn’t help much as the game went on, with the Patriots not scoring a single touchdown all evening. But the determination and effort put in by Bethel once again is worth noting.
Would it be wrong to say almost everything went badly in this game? Because it seems that is the best way to describe what happened.
Coming off an embarrassing loss to the Denver Broncos last week, it was assumed the team would have a reset and be back to playing better in week 7. But that was not the case at all, in basically all aspects of the game.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly all of the issues are the team is dealing with and therefore not easy to know what needs to be done to fix them. The struggles of the past couple weeks continued in this game, like quarterback production and wide receivers making plays. But the rest will leave you scratching your head, trying to figure out what’s going on with this team.
After being placed on the COVID-19 list and missing a game, Cam Newton’s mediocre play against Denver was mostly blamed on those reasons. Looking forward to week 7, despite its obvious challenges, it was hoped we would see the Cam of weeks 1 and 2.
Unfortunately, that was not the case.
It was quite a rough game for Newton, as he ended the day being benched for Jarrett Stidham in the 4th quarter. Through the quarters he did play, Cam was 9 of 15 passes for only 98 yards and 3 interceptions. Looking at those numbers, one would assume the interceptions were the biggest issue offensively for the day, but it sadly is not that easy.
The Patriots offense was of course going to be much different this season. The team has not had to worry about the quarterback position in many years, so bringing in a new guy for that position is bound to be different. But with a veteran like Newton, optimism was high for the quarterback, especially after seeing his great performances early in the season.
The popular talking point this year, (and even last year, too) has been the “lack of talent” at wide receiver. But the pass catchers are not all to blame. In this game and the last, Cam has made very questionable throws and decisions, many of which have resulted in interceptions that could have been avoided. In this game against San Francisco, Cam overlooked or completely missed passes to open receivers, not helping to move the chains.
Not being satisfied with the production from receivers on this team is not an incorrect feeling to have. With such a receiver heavy draft the past couple years, many were not thrilled with the team’s choices and constantly compare those drafted to other teams. It’s not unfair to do so, but it must also be remembered that despite the obvious issues in the receiving corps, Newton is not living up to his capabilities.
His play these past few weeks is worrisome. What has changed since the start of the season? Is Cam’s talent regressing? How much can be blamed on the receivers, especially when often they are being overlooked or missed? Only time will tell, but the Patriots will continue to have Newton as their QB1.
The defense spent a lot of time on the field in this game, with the 49ers time of possession being 38:23, which would make sense for some mistakes here and there. But it looked as if they forgot how to tackle in this game.
With 8 of Jimmy Garoppolo’s completions and 103 of his 277 passing yards being behind the line of scrimmage, the 49ers were really not making too many deep passes down the field. Seeing this throughout the game, the defense was still not able to get to the receivers fast enough, ending the day allowing an average of 7.4 yards per play.
The biggest sore spot for the defense in this game was allowing 189 of the 277 passing yards to occur after the catch. With Garoppolo making small passes to receivers, the defense did not have to go far to make a tackle. They just didn’t do it.
The pass rush was also a struggle in this game. On the opening drive, Ja’Whan Bentley missed a sack on Jimmy Garoppolo on 3rd down, allowing him to run for a 1st. This drive continued for a touchdown with the defense allowing San Francisco to score in the first five minutes of the game.
Stopping the Run
Over the last couple seasons, the Patriots run defense has struggled to successfully stop/slow down running backs and this game was no different. With one of the Niners best backs out, (Raheem Mostert) the bulk of the carries were given to Jeff Wilson Jr. who ended the game with 17 carries for 112 yards and 3 touchdowns.
With all 4 of San Francisco’s touchdowns coming on the ground, the Patriots made it easy for them all game. Ending the game allowing 197 rushing yards wasn’t the biggest issue for the defense, though. The Patriots allowed 132 of those yards to occur after initial contact.
The struggles of not turning the ball over reared its ugly head once again in this game, as there were 4 interceptions and 2 fumbles. Fortunately, the fumbles were recovered by the team, but the issue of ball security is still poignant.
Cam Newton’s struggle with turning the ball over continued in this week, making it a total of 5 interceptions for him over the last two games. Since returning from the COVID-19 list, it seems as if Cam’s awareness has taken a turn for the worse. It’s difficult to decipher what has caused this, as Newton himself has said he is not feeling any lingering effects from the coronavirus nor any injuries. But with many of his interceptions resulting in drives for points by opponents, this is definitely another sore spot for this Patriots offense.
It is difficult to be optimistic about your team when it feels like nothing is going right. Feeling that way about the Patriots right now is justifiable of course, but it’s easy to forget that the 2020 team was not going to be something Patriots fans were used to.
The past two decades of success completely spoiled Patriots fans. Every year was Super Bowl or bust, anything less was a massive disappointment. But it is completely unfair to hold this year’s team to that same standard.
Cam Newton is not Tom Brady. To expect him to be is setting yourself up for disappointment, not to mention an unfair standard to hold for Newton. This is a year of growth, and with that comes growing pains. Expectations were set extremely high for Cam, and we’ve seen flashes of outstanding play from him this year. However, there are a culmination of factors hindering success for this team.
As the next game against the Bills is crucial, especially for playoffs implications, the Patriots will really need to examine their struggles and get them sorted out quickly.
(Photo credits to Ollie Longo – @ojl.photo on Instagram)
–Sara Marshall is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow her on Twitter @sarmarxo