FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Sunday’s opener for the New England Patriots certainly didn’t look normal. That’ll happen when you have no fans in the stands due to the coronavirus pandemic. When the game began, things still didn’t look normal for the Patriots and their new-look offense.
Sunday marked the start of a new era in Gillette Stadium now known as the Cam Newton show.
After only playing two games for the Panthers last season, this 31-year-old quarterback looked fresh and ready to lead this Patriots team into the post-Tom Brady years. The former NFL MVP drove the Miami Dolphins defense crazy en route to the Patriots 21-11 win in the regular-season opener.
The Pats improve to 1-0 behind a dominant rushing attack led by Newton. In his first game as a Patriot, Newton led the Patriots on the ground with 15 carries, 75 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns to go with 155 passing yards. The quarterback was 15-of-19 throwing the ball but had Miami flustered. Newton kept the Dolphins off balance with a mix of play-action passes and designed run plays.
The quarterback scored the Patriots’ first two touchdowns of the 2020 season, which will look very different from the Brady-led offense. Newton’s 15 carries were the most by a quarterback under Belichick since Brady had 10 carries in a 2006 game against Jacksonville.
The Patriots’ opening drive showcased the new-look offense. The first five snaps were all run plays with two coming from Newton, including a 17-yard scamper. Newton’s first pass was a perfect strike to Julian Edelman, but the veteran receiver dropped the ball when Bobby McCain hit him. That stunted the Pats first drive of the season.
The next time Newton took the field, the veteran quarterback put the Patriots on his back en route a 7-0 lead over the Dolphins.
The Patriots went run heavy, again, but Newton also showed off his arm strength with a 25-yard dart to tight end Ryan Izzo. Newton kept the drive alive with a 7-yard gain on third-and-5. Three plays later, Newton scored the first Patriots touchdown of the 2020 season with an easy 4-yard run at 13:12 of the second quarter.
The Patriots’ defense stepped up on the next drive as Stephon Gilmore jumped in front of a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass for an interception at 11:47 of the second quarter. The Dolphins closed the gap to 7-3 when kicker Jason Sanders hit a 46-yard field goal at 3:53 of the second quarter. It looked like Miami might score again before the half, but their momentum was halted when Adrian Phillips intercepted Fitzpatrick with 37 seconds left in the half.
The Patriots got the ball back with 31 seconds left in the half. Newton made two quick throws to James White (9 yards) and Edelman (16 yards) to put the team within striking distance. However, Nick Folk missed his first field goal attempt from the season, badly missing from 45 yards deep.
When the second half started, Newton once again put the Patriots on his back to put New England up, 14-3. This time, the quarterback completed his first three passes of the third quarter for first downs. Every pass attempt Newton threw on this drive came off play action with the quarterback pretending to hand the ball off.
It was similar at 10:21 of the third quarter, but on this play, when Newton faked a hand off to Burkhead, he kept the ball rolled out to his right and kept running for an 11-yard touchdown.
The Patriots’ offense was rolling on their next drive, too. The team was 12 plays in and on the 10-yard line when Newton hit N’Keal Harry, who looked like he was heading for the end zone. Instead, the receiver fumbled the ball through the end zone at 1:03 of the third quarter. That resulted in a touch back for Miami and a turnover for Harry.
The Dolphins brought the score to 14-11 on the next series. This drive saw two defensive pass interference penalties hurt the defense. Gilmore was flagged for a 23-yard pass interference penalty on a fourth-and-2 play. Terrence Brooks was then whistled for the same in the end zone to set the Dolphins up with a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Jordan Howard scored with 10:31 remaining and Ryan Fitzpatrick ran in a 2-point conversation.
The Patriots answered right back and took a 21-11 lead with 5:23 left in the game. Edelman started off the series with a 23-yard run and Miami was flagged for a 15-yard late hit. Newton rushed the ball four out of the next five snaps, including a 4-yard run on fourth-and-1 to bring the offense to the 1-yard line.
That set up a Sony Michel 1-yard touchdown to put the Patriots out of reach.
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