What. A. Season. Yes, there are still two games to play. But New England was officially eliminated from the playoffs with this loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
A very up and down season ends with a very up and down game. The Patriots have been known to struggle when in South Florida and that stayed consistent this week. By starting the game with a drive resulting in negative yardage, to ending the game with a turnover on downs. It was the 2020 Patriots in a nutshell.
Coming into this season, the expectations and hopes were high for the first season in 2 decades without Tom Brady under center. The signing of Cam Newton brought a new energy to the team and fans alike, hyping up the season even more. The first three weeks of the season seemed to live up to it all. But it all came crashing down after Newton tested positive for COVID-19.
That seems where the season drastically changed. The team was on a roll, regardless of their loss to Seattle in week 2. They were within one score of beating a team that was performing exceptionally well early on in the season. Continuing their success against Las Vegas was then met with one of the messiest games in Kansas City, a game many believe could’ve been won if Newton had been able to play.
The rest of the season has been consistently inconsistent and the last few weeks are sure to end that way as well. It’s difficult to place your finger on exactly why this season has resulted in this way. And it’s even more difficult thinking how different this season could have been had Newton not caught COVID and the 8 players that opted out were playing this year.
Contrary to popular belief, not everything goes badly this season for the Patriots. Although they are missing quite a few key players this year, whether it was before the season began or throughout the year, many have stepped up in their absence.
It’s been a few weeks since we’ve seen a big game from him, but Jakobi Meyers was once again the most reliable receiver for the Patriots offense on Sunday.
Now being treated as WR1 by both the team and their opponents, Meyers had the difficult task of being covered by Miami’s top cornerbacks all game long. The good thing is he was able to beat them consistently, ending the day with his 2nd game of over 100 yards, with 7 receptions for 111 yards.
Meyers appears to be Cam Newton’s most trusted target this season which says a lot about the confidence they have in Meyers to produce against tough competition. With all of the difficulties this offense has had this year, he has shown he is a reliable receiver and can step up in moments when needed. (especially with Julian Edelman nursing injuries all season)
Even with his productive day, Meyers did make the mistake of fumbling after a great pass from Newton on their first drive after halftime. Miami recovered the football on New England’s side of the field but luckily was not able to get down the field eventually to score.
It’s possible Edelman will return this season with 2 games remaining to play, but Meyers has made a name for himself and will continue to do so the rest of the way. Many are already eyeing the 2021 season, as the Patriots were eliminated from playoff contention due to this loss. And Meyers will be a great option on offense next year and hopefully years to come.
It was announced on Saturday that breakout running back Damien Harris would not be active for this game as he continues to recover from injury. This left the bulk of the workload in the backfield to Sony Michel.
Returning from injured reserve (IR) just two weeks ago, Michel missed a good portion of this season. With Rex Burkhead on the path to having his best season but now out with injury, all eyes were on Sony in Miami. Fortunately for the Patriots, he made up for the holes in the backfield quite well.
Ending the day with 10 carries for 74 yards, Michel had some good runs in this game that were reminiscent of his rookie season. What stood out most in this game was his tough runs and yards after contact numbers. At one point in the 4th quarter, Miami’s defense got on him quickly. But Michel was able to push the pile for an additional 6 yards.
We haven’t seen much from Michel this season, as he was given the backseat to Damien Harris for a majority of the year. But it appears losing the starting role has reignited the Sony Michel of old. Some guys benefit from healthy competition and it looks like Michel has benefitted from it.
With not much of the season left, it’s possible we will see Michel get more playing time, especially with the severity of Harris’ injury being unknown. The running backs have been very productive this season with the new role of a run first team, leaving nothing but excitement for next year.
Regardless of the outcome of any game, you can almost always count on the Patriots’ special teams to be the MVPs of the day.
Over the last few weeks, the standout players on this team have predominately been special team guys and that continued in week 15. It’s a weird season when the most consistency on the team come from your punter and kicker.
Nick Folk and Jake Bailey once again proved their value in Miami. Folk was the savior of the day by scoring the only points for the Patriots with 4 field goals. This was his 24th straight successful FG, not missing one since week 2 against Seattle.
Bailey continued his hot season with a long kick of 56 yards, while getting the assistance from the always stellar Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel. Because of this trio, the Dolphins were unable to return either punt, forcing their offense to start at their own 22 and 2 yard line.
The kick coverage on special teams this season has been outstanding. Bailey has consistently put the ball within the 20, and guys like Slater and Bethel are all over the returner. Or right on that football as it rolls towards the end zone.
With the struggles on offense this season and at times inconsistency from the defense, the success of the special teams has been key. Giving opponents difficult starting field position has been beneficial for the defense and the lack of mistakes made by the special teams has been valuable. (As you have seen the L.A. Chargers are an absolute disaster in this area)
It may not be a popular criticism in a general sense, but Josh McDaniels has had a very inconsistent season with his play-calling. It’s been said before and it’ll be said here again; the issue that stands out most is the calls on down and longs and also not utilizing Newton to the best of his abilities.
The game started off with a quick 3-and-out that resulted in negative yardage. In that drive as well as others throughout the game, and specifically on 3rd and long, Cam threw screen passes that obviously resulted in loss of yards or 4th down.
Although Newton’s presence gives them many RPO possibilities, there hasn’t been much creativity this season offensively. Too often opposing defenses are prepared for the play before it happens, halting any sort of success for an already underperforming offense.
Cam Newton may not be the threat he once was as a mobile quarterback, but his ability to run the ball when needed or when a play is designed for it shouldn’t be completely abandoned. With the 2020 Patriots becoming a run first team, it would be good for McDaniels to draw up more plays to involve Newton’s running but disguise it far better than he has.
The result of this game was particularly frustrating because New England had 10 days between games. After being dominated by the L.A. Rams last Thursday, it was assumed there would be a better game plan this week, especially with so much on the line based on the outcome. But it all felt too vanilla and too predictable.
Addressing the quarterback situation will be the biggest story this offseason, whether they keep Cam Newton or go with Stidham. Maybe they will bring in a rookie or pick up a guy in the offseason. But hopefully next season the quarterback will be put in better situations to win the game, not just personnel wise, but with game plans and play-calling as well.
It’s no surprise that Cam Newton struggled once again this week against Miami. In their first matchup in week 1, Newton made it look easy. Ending the day 15 of 19 receptions for 155 yards while also having 15 carries for 75 yards and 2 touchdowns, the future looked bright for the team offensively in 2020.
But the struggles with this offense have continued since that game. From constant changes to the line to dealing with injuries to key players, this season has certainly not been easy. Newton of course deserves blame in all of this, but there’s plenty of finger pointing to go around.
On Sunday against the Dolphins, Newton had a better day passing than weeks prior; he was 17 of 27 receptions for 209 yards. The biggest flaw of course was no touchdowns, not even any rushing TDs from the quarterback. Of course, you cannot win many games in the NFL if you don’t get in the end zone.
Of their 8 drives in the game, the offense was able to get onto Miami’s side of the field 5 times, 4 of which resulted in field goals. The one time the team went for it on 4th down, Newton was sacked and the game was (officially) over.
It’s no secret that his timing and accuracy hasn’t been up to par this season and that was on full display in this game. Too often Newton held the ball longer than he should have, while also not throwing the ball in a way for the receiver to easily make the catch. And when they can make the grab, too often they were left with little to no chance of any yards after the catch. There were also instances where the receiver should have made the catch, but didn’t, resulting in more blame on the QB.
This wasn’t a pretty game by any means and Newton is not immune from criticism or blame. It’s unfortunate how this season turned out, especially not making the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. The offseason will be a hot topic for months and who will be the Patriots quarterback in 2021 is still a mystery. But don’t count out Cam’s return just yet. (Apologies to those who don’t want to hear that but, it’s a possibility)
In a game like this it’s fairly easy to discuss all that went wrong. The consistent inconsistencies of this team are blaringly obvious and frustrating to fans (and surely the team) to watch.
Most expectations for this season were too high. Although it’s been said a million and one times, it is the first season with a new quarterback. The Patriots had a record of 8 players opt-out of the season due to COVID-19 or other personal reasons. There are many rookies and new players starting this year, with a historically difficult playbook that even veteran players struggle with. This season was not built to be incredibly successful.
With that being said, it’s not wrong to be disappointed with many aspects of this team and their play from week-to-week. Keeping in mind all that was just mentioned, it’s fair to criticize and expect more from a usual winning team. As strange as this season (and year) have been, the hope was this team would be better than they have been. But the disappointment felt from week to week continues to linger.
Because this loss officially eliminated the team from the playoffs, it will be a big lesson to many of the guys on the team who are not used to being done with the season after the conclusion of week 17. There is a lot this team can improve on but also many players to build with. And although many of the names that haven’t done great this year were expected to be better, this offseason will give them that time to live up to those expectations.
Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi
With both returning from IR and being activated for this game, there were a lot of eyes on rookie tight ends Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi in week 15.
New England has struggled filling the position since Rob Gronkowski “retired” a few seasons ago and those struggles have continued this season. Since both are rookies and are coming back from injury, expectations shouldn’t be set too high for the pair to be incredibly productive. However, when they were given chances in this game, it was a mess.
Asiasi has not yet made a reception this season, but Newton threw to him early on in this game. The pass was a bit fast and high but appeared to be catchable. It went through his hands resulting in no further passes made to him on the day.
Dalton Keene had two targets in the game, making one reception for a measly 2 yards. Late in the 4th quarter, he made the catch but then fumbled the football, fortunately being recovered by James White to save the drive.
It’s clear that Belichick likes the duo as they were drafted back to back in this last draft. But so far we haven’t seen much from them. With the offseason approaching, it will be important for the two to continue improving and hopefully be integrated more into games next season.
Defensive Line – Stopping the run
Despite coming into this game ranked last in yards-per-carry, Miami had their way on the ground on Sunday, running all over this Patriots defense. Ending the game with 42 carries for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns, there was no stopping the Dolphins’ running backs all game long.
Not only was this a career day for Belichick, as this was only the 4th time during his tenure as the Patriots’ coach that his team allowed their opponents to rush for 250+ yards. But, this was also a career high day for Salvon Ahmed and season high day for Matt Breida.
Ahmed took advantage of the Patriots’ poor tackling and exposed New England’s lack of edge coverage, as the Patriots have allowed a league-high in yards-per-rush on off-tackle runs this season. Because of this, Ahmed was able to rush for 122 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in this game.
Matt Breida also made a splash in this game, totaling 86 yards on 12 carries. Although he’s had a lackluster season in Miami this year, he was a great second option behind Ahmed on Sunday, leaving Patriots fans scratching their head in confusion knowing the Dolphins have not been a good rushing team this year.
This game can be marked down as one with zero interceptions from Newton, but the fumbles are a different story. Technically the Patriots fumbled three times in this game; once by Newton, once by Meyers and once by Keene. Fortunately for New England, only one of them counted.
The first fumble came at the hands of Newton shortly before halftime. As he was scrambling to gain more yards on the play, the football was knocked out of his hands and run back 86 yards for the touchdown. After the replay, the call was reversed, and the Patriots were able to score with a field goal.
With Newton’s struggles this season with ball security, it was crucial for the replay officials to overturn that call. But the fumbling issues did not stop there.
On their first possession after halftime, Jakobi Meyers made a great 20-yard catch. But as he was backing away from Xavien Howard, the football was knocked out and recovered by Miami’s Elandon Roberts. Starting the second half with such a disappointing play really set the tone for the Patriots the rest of the game.
Then near the end of the game, Newton made a short pass to Keene that was then fumbled. Fortunately, once again, James White was able to recover the football and keep the drive going.
This season for the Patriots has very much been determined by the turnovers in each game. With no turnovers, the team has been successful. With even one turnover, they haven’t been. As the season is nearing its end, the team has two more games to protect the football and one can only hope they will do just that.
The patriots offense took a big hit this week when it was announced that Damien Harris would be inactive for their trip down to Miami. As the most productive offensive player this season, it left the Patriots vulnerable in the run game on Sunday.
Before halftime we saw a potentially scary injury for Stephon Gilmore, as he went down grabbing his knee and did not return to the game. Ja’Whaun Bentley was also injured in this game and also did not return to action.
Towards the end of the game it was said David Andrews and John Simon also sustained some sort of injury. The severity of all injuries is not known at this time, but the hope is none of them have suffered anything major.
It’s hard to not be disappointed with this 2020 season. Having 20 years of consistent success followed by the complete opposite is not what Patriots fans are used to. Winning doesn’t last forever and most knew with Tom Brady leaving the team there would be down years ahead.
This was certainly a year of growing pains and that will surely continue into the 2021 season. Although it may be difficult to to see right now, not all was lost this year. There have been plenty of great players that have emerged: Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Michael Onwenu, Damien Harris and Adrian Phillips just to name a few, and that should make fans excited for the future.
There is always room for improvement and the Patriots have plenty to improve on. But that is what an offseason is for. That is what a rebuild is for. Don’t lose hope on this team! 2021 will be a totally different Patriots team, guaranteed.
(Photo credits: Jakobi Meyers – Mark Brown of Getty Images, Cam Newton – Chris O’Meara of AP Photo, Cam Newton fumble – Jasen Vinlove of USA TODAY Sports)
–Sara Marshall is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow her on Twitter @smarshxo