The New England Patriots closed out the 2020 regular season with a 28-14 victory over the New York Jets.
That score Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium brought New England to a 7-9 record. But that score held a different kind of weight as a different kind of season begins.
Here’s a glance back on the finale.
A practice squad presence for the Patriots
Minus the snowfall, there was an August feel to a January game in Foxborough.
The leadup had seen running back Damien Harris join linebackers Josh Uche and Tashawn Bower on New England’s injured reserve. It had seen starting pillars in center David Andrews and guard Shaq Mason ruled out due to calf injuries. And 90 minutes prior to kickoff, Anfernee Jennings and Terez Hall went to the inactives for the defensive front after missing each Week 17 practice.
The Patriots had signed three members of the practice squad to the 53-man roster and promoted two more as standard elevations for Jets matchup. All but 2019 undrafted cornerback D’Angelo Ross would be in uniform. That personnel group included interior lineman Ross Reynolds for his NFL debut. And on the other side of the ball, it included rookies in Rashod Berry and Cassh Maluia as well as August trade acquisition Michael Jackson for his Patriots debut.
One final start behind center brings an all-purpose afternoon
One start remained on the one-year contract Cam Newton reached as the calendar turned from June to July. And the former Heisman Trophy winner, No. 1 overall pick and NFL MVP made it Sunday.
Things began with two penalties in three plays for New England offense. But the quarterback then powered through a sea of Jets for a gain of 49 yards. A seven-yard touchdown pass to fellow captain James White followed on a shake route. That marked the 25th receiving score, excluding playoffs, for White since 2015. And Newton finished 21-of-30 for 242 yards with three touchdowns through the air, including one to running back Sony Michel that made it 28-14. Newton was sacked on three occasions. He carried the ball on 11 occasions for 79 yards.
And in the days after tying Steve Grogan’s 1976 for the most single-season ground touchdowns by a quarterback in franchise history, Newton set a single-season franchise record for ground yards at the position. Amid the all-purpose performance, he reeled in a 19-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Jakobi Meyers in the third quarter. It’d be the second TD strike of the year for Meyers, once a redshirt QB North Carolina State and once a part of Newton’s 7-on-7 team.
Phillips exits New England’s middle due to hip injury
Adrian Phillips started next to Ja’Whaun Bentley at inside linebacker. But the 5-foot-11, 210-pound hybrid went down on the opening series for the New England defense.
Phillips limped to the blue medical tent with a hip injury. He was among those announced as questionable to return before being downgraded. Lenoir-Rhyne product Kyle Dugger moved to an in-the-box role in his absence. The reshuffling would send nickelback Jonathan Jones, who’d later notch an interception, to the safety spot next to Devin McCourty. It would also send undrafted rookie Myles Bryant, who’d later concede a touchdown to tight end Chris Herndon, into the slot. Phillips entered Sunday with two picks, a sack and a team-high 108 tackles. He is signed through 2021.
“He’s been a very valuable player this year,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said during his New Year’s Day video conference. “I’m glad we have him and I’m excited to continue to work with him. I think he will help us. He has helped us a lot this year and I think he will continue to. He’s been really a pleasure to work with.”
Third-round tight end records first NFL touchdown
The last game of the season would bring the first catches for Patriots tight end Devin Asiasi.
The third-rounder by way of UCLA had been held without one through eight appearances and a pair of starts. He had played 178 offensive snaps over that span. Against the Jets, Asiasi’s initial NFL reception picked up 13 yards midway through the initial quarter. Early on in the final quarter, Asiasi found another. This time he found it in the end zone from 26 yards away.
Fellow rookie tight end Dalton Keene, selected 10 picks later out of Virginia Tech, also got in the stat sheet during the meeting with New York. They would be the lone tight ends on New England’s depth chart for it.
Winovich ends second season at the Jets’ quarterback
Chase Winovich hit home for two sacks on Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. They arrived before intermission on first-and-15 and third-and-7 situations. The 25-year-old outside linebacker got a hand on a batted pass to force the New York punt unit on, as well.
Winovich’s name now sits atop the New England leaderboard with 5.5 sacks on the season. That matches his rookie tally. Prior to Sunday, the Michigan Wolverine’s most recent takedown came against Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals in November.
Patriots defensive lineman Adam Butler followed up with a sack in the second half before departing with a thigh injury.
Perriman finds a lane for New York, but Jackson finds a ninth interception
The Jets traveled 75 yards in six plays after halftime. A catch-and-run dig route over the middle for wide receiver Breshad Perriman played no small part. It picked up 53 as he found the lane between underneath cornerback Joejuan Williams and outside cornerback J.C. Jackson.
A straightforward plunge by running back Josh Adams gave New York a 14-7 lead moments later.
Perriman had five receptions for 101 yards and two scores in his previous Patriots encounter with Joe Flacco at quarterback. He had three receptions for 84 yards with Darnold there on Sunday. But Darnold would be picked off when looking for Perriman in the closing seconds of the third. And it was Jackson on the other end of it for his ninth interception of the season.