This seems to happen to me every year.
Here I am, minding my own business, keeping myself occupied throughout the offseason with various reports and rumors about signings and trades, and then all of a sudden I sit down to continue the countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of the previous year and suddenly realize I’ve entered into the Top 10. I feel like I’m ahead of schedule this year and I usually don’t get into the Top 10 until at least mid-June or so when the dead time on the calendar hits, but I’m basing that on absolutely nothing and won’t be doing the three minutes of research it would take to validate that statement.
Regardless, here we find ourselves. In this rollercoaster of mediocrity that was the 2020 New England Patriots season, here come what I think are the 10 most memorable moments.
But first, the list so far:
20. A diving N’Keal Harry grab in the end zone makes it a game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
19. A last second 51 yard Nick Folk field goal caps off a comeback win against the New York Jets.
18. Two red zone trips, zero total points against the Kansas City Chiefs.
17. A fourth down option read to James White puts the Patriots on the board against the Arizona Cardinals.
16. A last-second goal line stand prevents the Patriots from stealing a game on the road against the Seattle Seahawks.
15. A nonsensical blindside blocking flag negates an 82 yard punt return for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals.
14. Derrick Carr is strip sacked in the end zone to put six points on the board and put the game away against the Las Vegas Raiders.
13. A goal line stand just before halftime keeps the game close against the Arizona Cardinals.
12. The Patriots debut the RPO offense against the Miami Dolphins.
11. Rex Burkhead hurdles into the end zone just before halftime against the Las Vegas Raiders.
To kick off the Top 10, we have what wouldn’t be that big a deal to most franchises, but for the Pats, it was borderline unprecedented.
10. The Patriots sign Cam Newton.
With the exception of a Bernard Pollard induced blip in 2008, the New England Patriots have had two starting quarterbacks since 1993. From 2019 all the way back 26 years, two men stood under center. One of them is the greatest quarterback of all time, and the man he succeeded is for sure in the Hall of Fame conversation himself. Courtesy of Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe, one question Patriots fans never had to ask themselves was “what is the team going to do to address the quarterback situation this offseason?”
However, with 2020 came Tommy B’s departure down to Tampa, and the league would never be the same.
In Brady’s absence, the Patriots had two quarterbacks on the roster - Jarret Stidham, who had done very little in limited action to inspire much confidence that he was going to be the guy going forward, and journeyman extraordinaire Brian Hoyer, who Patriots fans only wanted to see on the field as a Human Victory Cigar when games were out of reach or they needed a few kneeldowns to close it out.
Patriots fans who were 26 and under literally weren’t even alive the last time New England didn’t have any security at quarterback. Those of us who were kids when Drew Bledsoe came into the league tried to think back to those hazy memories of blacked out games, jerseys with “Millen” and “Zolak” on the back of them, and what it used to be like in the 80s and early 90s as we tuned into Sportscenter not to see if the Patriots lost, but how many points they lost by this week. The older fans who were around for the debacles that were the 60s and 70s likely had flashbacks of what a laughingstock this team used to be and couldn’t help but wonder if it was back to the basement for this franchise for the foreseeable future. Sure, the team still had Bill Belichick...but there is only one Tom Brady.
As the offseason went on, as the draft came and went, and as teams started to materialize, it looked very much like the Patriots would be rolling with Stidham, assuming the season even happened at all. COVID wreaked absolute havoc on the NCAA, NHL, NBA, and MLB schedules, and nobody had any idea how a sport that literally ends in a massive pigpile of bodies after every single would find a way to continue during a global pandemic. So if there was ever a year to have uncertainty at QB, 2020 was as good as any.
Until July 8th, that is, when the news broke that New England had signed Cam Newton to a one year deal. The former NFL MVP was only 31 years old, but injuries had set his career back and the market for his services wasn’t overly high. His contract was very incentive laden, with a base of just $1.05 million, the minimum salary for a player with his amount of experience, with a ceiling of just $7.5 million if he hit certain benchmarks of stats and playing time.
The deal seemed to make perfect sense for both sides; the Patriots needed a quarterback, and Cam Needed the chance to bet on himself to show the league he could still ball. In terms of reaction around the league, most folks were excited by the prospect; Newton’s athleticism, mobility, and ability to run represented a complete departure from Tom Brady’s pocket passing style, and the general consensus was that Belichick and Josh McDaniels would be able to have a field day designing packages around Cam that they just couldn’t around Brady.
Overall, the Cam Newton experiment of 2020 didn’t go all that well; the Patriots finished the year 7-9, Newton had just 8 TD passes against 10 picks, didn’t crack 3,000 yards passing, and was incredibly streaky in his 15 games as a starter. His critics didn’t waste any time pointing to his indecisiveness, sloppy throwing mechanics, and inaccuracy as indicators that he was washed up and a lousy player. His defenders pointed to his complete lack of weapons, coming into a new system in July with zero offseason or meaningful practices, and the fact that he got COVID as indicators that he never really got a fair shot to prove himself. Ultimately, I think that both sides are partially correct, and I’ll be curious to see how he does in 2021 now that the Patriots have brought him back. With a revamped line, two great TEs, and an upgrade at receiver - not to mention some solid QB competition from a highly touted draft pick - this year will be Newton’s time to really prove himself.
Regardless of how you personally feel or felt about the Newton signing, there’s no doubt that it was hands down one of the most memorable things to happen to the Patriots in 2020, and the Cam Newton era is one that we’ll never forget, for better or worse. So this signing is well placed here at Number 10.
Check out some of Cam’s Patriots highlights here.