It’s the second half of Sunday’s season opener and the Patriots are rolling. Cam Newton, determined to erase any lingering disappointment heading into the break (when a missed field goal squandered a late takeaway) is out there in Foxborough like he owns the place, as if he’s been the one under center the past two decades rather than the one looking for a career encore in this, his first start for New England.
He’s firing away. A 10-yard completion to Julian Edelman. A 16-yard completion to Edelman. Then 11 yards to James White. Handoff to Sony Michel for another 5. Complete again to Edelman for 9 more yards. Then behind left guard for 6 of his own. Another handoff to Michel for another 7 yards.
The half has only just started, and he’s brought the Patriots to the Dolphins' 11-yard line, four shots at the end zone coming.
He needs only one.
Around right end for a touchdown, and now, a slim four-point Patriot lead is up to 11. Too soon to say game over, but hindsight will confirm this as one of the shifts in momentum the Patriots will ride to a 21-11 season-opening victory.
“That was big,” Newton agrees later, yet another video interview reminding you one of the many ways this is a football season like no other. "We were just trying to create some type of space. They were lingering for a long part of the first half.
“When you respond like that, score early in the second half, no matter what the story is, whether you’re down or up, it gives your team an added boost.”
With Newton on the gas, that boost is seismic. With thick legs that run like a back, a strong arm that can hit any target, and a brain fueled by years of experience and excellence, Newton was at the center of it all Sunday. He led the team in both rushing and passing, scoring too. Team-high 75 yards on the ground, most by a Patriots QB since Steve Grogan in 1977, gained on 15 carries, most ever for a Patriots QB in a game.
The TD with 10:14 left in the third quarter was his second rushing touchdown of the day.
It was his first without a celebration. Because rather than recreate the kneel, spike and “Black Panther” roar that punctuated his first-quarter score, Newton did something to give Patriots fans as much reason to be bullish on his future as anything he did on the field.
He handed the ball to teammate David Andrews saying, “Here, you spike it.”
The long-serving Patriots center happily obliged, and though it was an exchange easily lost in the cacophony of a game that ended with Newton jawing, pushing and shoving with various Dolphins players, it is one that should resonate far more strongly than any of the post-whistle silliness. Newton gave his spotlight away, did so willingly, and did so to a new teammate whose scary medical history he did not live through as a member of the team a year ago, but one he clearly took time to learn. Andrews, remember, missed all of 2019 while being treated for blood clots.
“Dave is a person who was kind of in my boat, he’s been out of football, and for him to enjoy that just as much as I’ve been enjoying being a witness to how he works, his whole presentation, how he shows up, how he practices, I knew he would enjoy that,” Newton said. “A lot of times, having your hand on the ground, you don’t get the recognition you deserve. For me, none of what happened today would have happened without those guys up front.”
Bill Belichick didn’t see the exchange (and why would he when he had a next play to focus on?), but told of it afterward, the preseason gushing over Newton sprouted anew.
“He’s a very unselfish player, a great teammate,” Belichick said. “He’s earned everyone’s respect, really, daily. He just continues to do everything he can to help our team. That’s really all you can ask from anyone and he continually does that, just puts himself last and puts the team first.”
As sports so often proves, team above self is a guaranteed winning formula. Not just for results, which of course matter most in the uber-competitive NFL. But for fulfillment, for joy, for making lasting connections and building unbreakable bonds.
These are new times for Newton, an MVP tenure in Carolina abruptly over at age 31, a second act in New England coming not just in the wake of Tom Brady’s six-Super Bowl tenure before him, but after months in free agency limbo he had to wonder would ever end. But here, in the midst of a pandemic, as the first QB to start for the Patriots who wasn’t drafted by the Patriots in 472 games, he pulls off a debut that could not have gone better. That’s good for New England, but good for the league, too, which is better with one of its biggest stars back in play.
“This is the new normal,” Newton said. “It hit me full circle, and I realized I’m a New England Patriot. I’m going to embrace this whole moment.”
Goodbye TB12, hello CN1. Bright yellow suit, contrasting black fedora, electric smile and feisty personality, the man who gives butterflies, doesn’t get 'em. It’s a new era in New England. One game in, it’s looking pretty good.
More coverage from the game:
- Stephon Gilmore, Patriots secondary pick right up where they left off
- Cam Newton says Dolphins tried to come for his gold chain in dust-up after game
- Cam Newton made his own noise in a smashing debut for Patriots
- 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