The New England Patriots may not have played a perfect game — something head coach Bill Belichick pointed out during his postgame press conference — but they did have enough positive moments to come away victoriously against the visiting Miami Dolphins. The 21-11 victory ensures a 1-0 start, and gives the team a good foundation to build upon heading into the 2020 season and a new era of Patriots football.
There will be a lot to dissect in coming days, but for now let’s just take a look at some of the players who stood out on Sunday, without the benefit of a film review.
Winner: QB Cam Newton
The Patriots are Cam Newton’s team now and the game against Miami was clear affirmation of that: the offense was built around his strengths as a dual-threat quarterback, and he thrived within it. Newton did not only complete 15 of 19 pass attempts for 155 yards, he also was New England’s most effective ball carrier by taking off and running 15 times for 75 yards and two touchdowns. There is plenty of room for improvement, but the first signs of him in a Patriots uniform are certainly positive.
Winner: G/OT Mike Onwenu
When the Patriots selected Mike Onwenu in the sixth round of this year’s draft, the belief was that he would be a developed as an interior option behind the scenes. Week 1, however, showed that New England’s coaching staff has different plans: Onwenu was on the field for 22 snaps — leading the team’s rookies — and was used exclusively as an edge blocker. Onwenu played not just as a tackle eligible, but also rotated in and out of the lineup as the top right tackle option alongside Jermaine Eluemunor. It was a good start for the youngster.
Winner: TE Ryan Izzo
New England picked two tight ends on the second day of the draft with the expectation that they would serve as the one-two punch at the position from early on in their respective careers. On Sunday, however, third-year man Ryan Izzo was the clear number one at the position: he played all but one of the Patriots’ 64 offensive snaps, and finished with a 25-yard catch and some good in-line blocking. Izzo may lack the upside of Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, but he made the most out of his playing time against Miami.
Loser: K Nick Folk
The Patriots’ kicker position remains one of uncertainty one week into the regular season. Nick Folk was picked as the top option heading into the season opener over rookie Justin Rohrwasser — he was elevated as part of the increased game day roster and automatically reverted back to the practice squad — but he had an up-and-down game. The veteran was successful on all three of his extra point attempts, but also missed a 45-yard field goal attempt in the late first half wide to the right.
Winners: CB Joejuan Williams & CB J.C. Jackson
New England’s secondary remains a strength, and two young cornerbacks contributed to the unit’s success against the Dolphins’ aerial attack: Joejuan Williams and J.C. Jackson. Both saw prominent action in the defensive backfield, with Williams helping fill Patrick Chung’s old coverage role against tight ends and Jackson continuing as a top-four cornerback. The two men did a good job along the way, as Williams limited Miami tight end Mike Gesicki and Jackson registered the game-clinching interception.
Loser: WR Jakobi Meyers
The Patriots carried only four true wide receivers on their game day roster, with all but one of them seeing regular snaps. Jakobi Meyers, however, was the odd man out: he was on the field for a mere seven snaps on offense and was not targeted even once by Cam Newton. Furthermore, he did also not contribute in the kicking game. At this point in time, Meyers is a depth option and it will be interesting to see how his role develops once Gunner Olszewski returns off injured reserve.
Winner: S Adrian Phillips
As noted above, New England had to replace Patrick Chung after the veteran strong safety opted out of the 2020 season. One of the key players in this process was Adrian Phillips: the offseason acquisition did not just play 43 of 62 defensive snaps in Chung’s old role during his Patriots debut, he also looked good whenever on the field. Phillips was active in both the passing and the running game (as well as on special teams), and finished with a team-leading nine tackles as well as an interception.
Winner: RB J.J. Taylor
Other running backs may have seen more prominent action, but back J.J. Taylor still caught the eye when his number was called. The undrafted rookie running back was on the field for nine offensive snaps in his first ever NFL game, and touched the football five times: he registered a 4-yard catch and also added four rushing attempts for a total of 28 yards and an impressive 7.0-yard average. Taylor is the last level of depth on a strong running back group, but his potential is intriguing.