Week 1 is in the books! Only...however many more weeks until the league shuts down to go!
As they have so many times before, the New England Patriots opened up their season with a win. It didn’t quite look the same as it has in the past, but the last time I checked, the size and font of the “W” next to games played don’t change based on who’s under center.
- You’ll have to forgive the sloppiness, brevity, and overall poor quality of this week’s Fan Notes. Not only was I without my usual four game preseason to shake all the rust off, but yesterday saw me watching the game with my father and a few of my high school buddies outside via a socially distanced tailgate. A group of us have been attending the Patriots home opener (or something very close to it) for several years now, and this was our way of keeping that tradition alive. When I’m at the game in person I take notes on my phone or take little voice recordings that I sort out later, but I haven’t seen my dad since Christmas, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I didn’t write anything down yesterday and instead chose to just enjoy the day with my hero and best friend.
- One positive that came out of the experience: we have officially decided that any wing order of 25 or more is officially considered a Mess. So we had three thirty racks of beer, five racks of ribs, and three mess of wings. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.
- In terms of what we can actually glean from the game - as I mentioned during the last few Pats Pulpit Podcasts, I don’t think anyone should take much of anything away from what we see on the field for the next few weeks. All across the league, defenses looked sloppy, offenses have ranged anywhere from strong but incomplete to downright lost, and we’re all just now learning how important training camp and preseason is to kickers everywhere. So while I’m happy to get the win, I can’t help but think that the offense we’ll see in the coming weeks will be a little more complex than what got the job done yesterday.
- And that offensive gameplan made a ton of sense, for all kinds of reasons. When you have a lot of question marks at receiver, limited practices, a new quarterback, and a new offense, of course you’re going to whittle down the play book, keep it run heavy, and allow your QB who hasn’t started a meaningful game in a long time to get his feet under him.
- That said, even I’m surprised at how many times Cam Newton took off, either by design or because nobody was open. Both of his TD ones were designed quarterback runs, the second of which I’m pretty sure was the exact same playcall that sent Jacoby Brissett into the end zone against the Texans back in 2016. The Patriots have called that play exactly twice in their 60 year history, and both have gone for touchdowns.
- Going back to 1989, the Patriots primary starting quarterbacks (not including guys forced into the role due to injury) have been: Tom Brady, Drew Bledsoe, Scott Zolak, Hugh Millen, and then a wild combination of Steve Grogan, Tony Eason, Marc Wilson, and Doug Flutie during an ‘89 season that saw the team go 5-11 and surrender an NFL record 7.6 yards per attempt on defense. I cut it off at 1989 because that’s when our new QB was born, and I think it’s safe to say that Newton was more athletic than all of these guys combined by 1993. I really, really hope this season goes a full 16 games, because Josh McDaniels and Cam Newton could be the most dynamic partnership since Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne.
- I’ve always had one major beef with the RPO style offense, and its that it doesn’t translate from QB to QB. Even if your backup is also highly mobile, it’s never guaranteed that he’s going to make the same reads as the other guy and that everyone will always be on the same page. And as a Patriots fan, I’m completely unfamiliar with rooting for an RPO system to work. But I do think there’s potential there, and if they can continue to buff the rough edges off the schemes, the ceiling for this team could be higher than initially expected.
- Of those rough edges...there were a few on offense and few more on defense, none of which are overly concerning at this point. A missed block for a Newton sack. A N’Keal Harry fumble at the goal line that initiated a 14-point swing in the game. A couple of drops. Some poor tackling and (as usual) questionable DPI calls.
- That said...it was against Fitzpatrick and a fairly lousy Dolphins offense, but the New England D was pretty stellar all game. They operated primarily out of a Cover 1 set with a combination of Adrian Phillips Kyle Dugger, and other DBs in the linebacker spot. And, aside from DPI calls that gave the Fins great field position, the defense more or less shut Miami down the entire game. Myles Gaskin led the team in rushing with 40 yards, and Miami only ran for 87 combined. Just 191 passing yards with no receiver cracking 50 for the day. New England didn’t fare any better through the air, but they didn’t need to; Newton only threw it 19 times all game as New England ran for 217 total yards at 35 minutes of possession.
- Cam Newton rushed for 75 yards yesterday, 78 if you take away a kneeldown. Ironically, Tom Brady had exactly 78 rushing yards total at the end of his first two seasons as a starter.
- Something else to keep in mind: Cam Newton has been a Patriot for a little over two months. In those two months, he was splitting already limited reps with Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham. He’s been with this team for the Alec Shane equivalent of trying to meet a woman at a bar: way shorter than I’d like to admit. That he and Josh McDaniels are already finding the same page in the playbook is amazing.
- One thing I really liked about the total lack of fans in the stands was that you could hear everything that was being said on the field. After I got over my surprise at the relative lack of profanity, I really enjoyed hearing the linebackers passing off players coming over the middle or linemen calling out to watch for backs motioning out of the backfield. It was a cool peek behind the curtain you don’t see every day.
- I have absolutely no clue what it’s for, but there’s an ad in regular rotation that uses “Return of the Mack” to hawk its wares. That song is an absolute banger and it never gets old. If you disagree, you’re just plain wrong.
- Biggest pleasant surprise for me? Joejuan Williams. Two solo tackles, a pass breakup, and some tomfoolery in the end zone that led to a game sealing pick. New England seemed to be rotating defensive backs in and out of the formation like a middle school square dancing class, and there wasn’t one in particular that stood out for the wrong reasons.
- Second biggest pleasant surprise of the day? J.J. Taylor. The little guy only got four carries, but he got 28 yards out of it, including some quick-cut runs that showed some nice vision. No clue how he’s going to fit into the offense, or if he’ll fit in at all once Damien Harris comes off IR, but seeing as how I didn’t even expect him to make the team, it was cool to see him get some meaningful reps.
- I don’t think I heard Kyle Van Noy’s name called once yesterday, which is weird for so many reasons.
- Overall, this was a nice start. The Patriots are not Super Bowl contenders, and they are not bums. They are still where 31 other teams in the league are right now, trying to figure things out. This may be the Overreactioniest Overreaction Monday in NFL history, so please try to keep in mind that very little we see for the rest of the month is going to give us much concrete in terms of where, if anywhere, the Patriots will be in December.
- After the game was over, I hung around for a bit and watched the first quarter of the Tampa Bay/New Orleans game. And Tommy B opened up his Bucs career by going 85 yards on nine plays before sneaking it into the end zone. Watching that drive was one of the more surreal experiences of my football watching life. That kind of drive used to get me ready to run through a wall. All I did yesterday was smile and think, “hell yeah, Tom. Get it.” I guess Brady didn’t fare all that well after that first drive, but whatever.
- Also...don’t expect much Brady coverage from me this season. I’ll check in on him once in a while, of course, but this is a Patriots blog, and he’s not a Patriot. The Pats don’t play the Bucs this season, so it’s not our concern.
Man... writing this was harder than it should have been. I need to work myself back into game shape. Luckily, I still have half a Mess of wings left over to see me through.