Steve Grogan saw a little of himself when he flipped on the Patriots game Sunday.
The former New England quarterback, who was under center from 1975-90, remains the only quarterback in franchise history to rush for 300 yards in a season; he did it four times, including 539 yards in 1978. So he was interested to see how Cam Newton would do in his first game with the Patriots.
It wasn’t as if Grogan was unfamiliar with Newton’s work — after all, the former NFL MVP has put up impressive rushing numbers over the course of his career, topping 500 in a season on five separate occasions with the Panthers.
But watching Newton run so effectively in a New England uniform? After years of watching Tom Brady, to see a Patriots quarterback running like that was a little different.
“I was impressed with the way he handled the game the other day,” Grogan said of Newton, who had 75 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 15 carries in the 21-11 win over Miami. "He can throw, and he can run the football.
"I’m not sure if 15 or 16 carries a game is going to keep him around very long, but so far, it looks like it has worked out.
“He has that ability to not only run well out of designed sets, but also notice that if something isn’t working, he can tuck it and run. And I noticed he was able to do that a few times on Sunday pretty effectively.”
Grogan, who holds every major franchise record for rushing yards by a New England quarterback, had three games in his career where he topped 75 yards, including one 100-yard game on Oct. 18, 1976, against the Jets, when he ended up with 103.
Tweeted this one a few times, but in the wake of Sunday's performance from Newton, thought it was worth revisiting. Grogan had a career-high 103 rush yards in this game, one of only a handful of occasions where a Pats' QB rushed for more yards in one game than Newton did Sunday. https://t.co/EPG1B4VukW— Christopher Price (@cpriceglobe) September 15, 2020
Another thing that stood out for Grogan about Newton’s performance? His ability to execute within the framework of a new offense despite a unique offseason and no preseason games.
Newton not only ran for 75 yards, he was 15 of 19 for 155 yards passing; one of the incompletions was a drop by Julian Edelman.
No fumbles, no interceptions, no penalties. And a win. Not bad for a first game.
“Without any preseason games, and not much of an offseason, I thought he handled himself well,” said Grogan, who specifically pointed to Newton’s ability to work with his offensive line as an important asset.
“The team seemed to respond to him nicely as well. If he can keep it going, he should have a good year.”
There are some comparisons: Grogan (6 feet 4 inches, 210 pounds) and Newton (6-5, 240) are bigger guys, but Grogan was and Newton is relatively nimble for the position. And like Newton, Grogan’s accuracy as a passer was questioned (he had a career completion rate of 52 percent). But Newton shows the same knack for good field vision and an ability to make something happen when a play starts to break down that Grogan did.
The one area where Grogan would like Newton to find some differentiation? His equipment.
In his later years, the wear and tear on Grogan left him sporting a protective neck roll, which many found to be the most distinctive part of his uniform. Grogan laughs at the memory, as well as the tongue-in-cheek idea that Newton should add a neck roll as a tribute.
“I hope he doesn’t have to wear one at all,” Grogan said with a chuckle. “That would mean he’s been able to stay healthy.”
Christopher Price can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.