FOXBOROUGH — Never have the sounds of silence been so loud.
Cam Newton made a ruckus in his debut Sunday afternoon, leading the Patriots to a 21-11 victory over the Miami Dolphins before a mostly empty Gillette Stadium.
The coronavirus pandemic prevented fans from being in the stands, but Newton served notice there’ll be plenty to cheer when the faithful are allowed back in their seats.
Newton rushed for a pair of touchdowns and led three impressive second-half drives, including a momentum-changer after Miami had cut the lead to 14-11 early the fourth quarter.
He was large and he was in charge.
Newton turned back the clock and flashed the form that made him one of the NFL’s most dangerous players of the last decade and the MVP in 2015. He answered all the questions about his health after shoulder and foot woes cut short his 2018 and 2019 campaigns.
Throwing high velocity and high percentage passes, Newton completed 15 of 19 thrown for 155 yards. He also rushed for a game-high 75 yards and a pair of scores.
He kept the revamped Dolphins defense, which had a bunch of familiar Foxborough faces in the front seven, off balance all afternoon.
The 6-foot-5-inch, 245-pound Newton zigged when the defense zagged, finding all kinds of running room. When the openings didn’t appear, the 10-year veteran leaned into defenders and pushed them around for extra yards.
He showed poise in the pocket and didn’t force throws.
Most importantly, Newton showed leadership, keeping his offense calm and orchestrating a 10-play, 75-yard drive to ice the game after Miami had cut its deficit to 14-11.
It was a crucial juncture as N’Keal Harry’s fumble through the end zone forced a touchback and the Dolphins capitalized by marching 80 yards for a big momentum swing.
Newton swung right back. He rushed for 25 yards on the drive before Sony Michel’s 1-yard leap gave New England a two-score lead and effectively iced the game.
“That was big,” said Newton. “Coach Bill [Belichick] always talks about mental toughness and we didn’t blink.”
With Newton in command, the Patriots piled up 357 yards of offense and converted 5 of 10 third downs, and also converted its only fourth down try — on a Newton run, naturally.
“He’s a stud,” shrugged Julian Edelman.
Here are some other observations as the Patriots prepare for the first of their cross-country flights to Seattle.
▪ Play calling
Josh McDaniels continued his tradition of sitting with his quarterback during defensive series discussing strategy and adjustments and it paid off.
McDaniels called a brilliant game, with 42 rushes and 19 passes as his offense outmuscled and outfinessed the Dolphins.
“The dialogue we had on the sideline was unbelievable,” said Newton. “[McDaniels] being transparent, as well as myself, on how we could attack this defense. They had a lot of things we went over, tried to disguise a lot but at the end of the day, we made the adjustments and we executed.”
▪ Terrific in the trenches
David Andrews back at center was a boost for an offensive line that took a number of hits last season. Andrews called the assignments and protections nearly flawlessly as New England controlled the trenches. As a bonus, Andrews, who missed last year with blood clots in his lungs, got to spike the ball after Newton’s second TD and it was obvious he learned from watching Rob Gronkowski.
“God has been good to this kid from Georgia,” Andrews said. “I am just extremely thankful.”
Newton said the men up front have been “selling out” over the last month as they build a chemistry and it showed as New England rumbled for 217 yards on the ground.
▪ Chips on their shoulder
With all the talk about the hits the New England defense took through free agency and opt-outs, the front seven played as if it felt disrespected, stifling the Miami ground game and forcing Ryan Fitzpatrick into three interceptions.
Lawrence Guy, Byron Cowart, and Adam Butler were stout in the middle and Chase Winovich played like his hair was on fire. Winovich got penetration through gaps and around the edge to consistently land the first blow on ballcarriers.
▪ Superb secondary
The Patriots rotated defensive backs — they dressed 11 — frequently and they provided excellent coverage most of the afternoon. Stephon Gilmore and Adrian Phillips had first-half picks and J.C. Jackson sealed the affair with an end-zone pick in the final seconds.
Gilmore, the defensive player of the year, was hit twice for pass interference, though both were of the ticky-tack variety as there was plenty of mutual jostling.
“It was big for us — we had to bring our own energy. We’re used to the fans being here, but it is what it is, the situation,” said Gilmore. “We knew we had to bring our own energy and feed off of each other and make plays for each other. I think we did that today.”
▪ Flag-free football
The Patriots were whistled for just three penalties (all pass interference) and that is a huge testament to the discipline instilled in a shortened camp.
“The players did a great job staying focused,” said Belichick. “Certainly playing penalty free or minimal penalties is always one of those goals, glad were able to do that today. Game got a little chippy at times, but we didn’t have any retaliation penalties and guys kept their composure, especially toward the end of the game.”
More coverage from the game:
- Cam Newton says Dolphins tried to come for his gold chain in dust-up after game
- Cam Newton rushed for more yards in one game than Tom Brady did in two regular seasons combined
- Instant analysis: Patriots win, and Josh McDaniels hasn’t unleashed the full Cam Newton experience yet