Cam Newton didn’t want to talk about his experience with COVID-19, uninterested in any obvious explanation for how rusty he looked Sunday against the Broncos.
He wasn’t keen to dissect how two weeks of upheaval around the Patriots might have contributed to a lackluster 18-12 home loss to Denver, how much an injury-plagued offensive line looked disjointed or a thin receiving corps looked blanketed, or how much a mere two days of team practice across two weeks left the offense he runs so muddled.
Those excuses are easy to find, and there is no disputing their accuracy. But no matter how much this 2020 NFL season is destined to be defined by the pandemic in which it is being played, no matter how many games we will watch like Sunday’s, a twice-postponed contest that pitted a Broncos team with two full weeks of practice against a Patriots team with two socially distanced days of practice, that is not the story Newton came to New England to write.
“I’m here for one reason and I didn’t get the job done today,” the quarterback said in Sunday’s disappointing aftermath. “So you can just imagine how I feel. But yeah, I don’t want this to be a pity party.”
Newton came here to restart his career. He came here to win a Super Bowl with New England. He came here to take over where Tom Brady left off, to bring his own MVP résumé from Carolina and prove it can work at Foxborough. He came here to learn from Bill Belichick, to work with Josh McDaniels, to write a second football act that would be the bridge to one more lucrative coda. He came here to prove anyone wrong who thought an injury-riddled finish with the Panthers foretold the end of a once-brilliant career, to remind us all he is among the best one or two run-pass quarterbacks of all time.
So put aside the annoying interruption that COVID brought, because that’s not what Newton came here to discuss. Distractions aside, he is on a mission. And while Sunday’s chapter was far from what he intended, his story is far from written.
“Honestly for me right now I’m just trying to move forward, obviously respectfully that was two weeks ago, still bitter over the game and just trying to focus on ways to just get better,” he said.
“Obviously everybody knows what the situation was and it is what it is and I just know for me here moving forward I just got to play better football and that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
The question was fair, however, given Newton’s extended absence and this being his first game action since isolation and quarantine, and thus the first time he spoke publicly about his experience.
“I know exactly what it is,” he said, “it’s just respectfully for the sake of where we are right now I don’t think it’s beneficial for me to speak on that being obviously the performance today it showed a lot of much needed — the time off showed. But yet like I said, I have to be better and I will be better.”
It’s what his coach expects. Not that Belichick was here to single out Newton, whose 17-for-25, 157-yard passing day was tainted by two interceptions (both tipped at the line of scrimmage but both probably held onto a little bit too long) and included a team-high 65 yards to running back James White rather than any of his wide receivers. Belichick took aim at everyone, including himself.
“We didn’t do anything well enough today to win,” the coach said. “Yeah, we need to do a better job in all areas of the game. We need to play better on offense, defense, and special teams and coach better and we just, we need to be better on everything.”
But the offense bore the brunt of this one. While the defense bent, it never broke to the tune of a touchdown, six Brandon McManus field goals accounting for all of the Broncos' points. Denver scored a field goal on each of its first six possessions, while the Patriots matched (or failed to match) that with an interception, a punt, a field goal, a punt, and a fumble.
Their first four possessions of the second half? Three plays, zero yards, punt. Four plays, 33 yards, fumble. One play, interception. Three plays, nine yards, punt. Not good.
Some trickery with Julian Edelman and some tuck-the-ball-and-go running from Newton brought the game to life late, but as much as Edelman upped his profile as a prolific NFL passer, completing both attempts Sunday including one to Newton, the unorthodox plays only indicate just how creative McDaniels has to be to generate yards with this roster.
And now, with the Pats at 2-3, looking up in the standings with a losing record after five games for the first time since 2001, it may not be time to panic, but it is time to wake up. Newton is intent on his own alarm clock being the loudest.
“For us, the first thing, the No. 1 thing is protecting the football,” he said. "That’s what it comes down to, from the turnovers, those are drive killers and those are game killers. And it starts with me, I’m extremely frustrated in myself and my performance moving forward.
"Nobody cares about what it was or what the reasons were and to be honest with you I don’t care either. I’m not expecting people to care. My job here moving forward is to find ways to win football games and to put this team in the best situation and it just starts with protecting the football. That’s what this game came down to. No matter what the sputtering was on the offensive side, the defense gave us opportunities by holding them to field goals and that’s all we can ask for as an offense.
“We just let this game slip away by the lackluster performance of protecting the football.”
Not the story he came here to write.
More Patriots coverage
- As it happened: Broncos upend rusty Cam Newton, Patriots, 18-12, in postponed matchup
- Loss to Broncos underscores the Patriots' lack of help on offense for Cam Newton
- How limited was the Patriots' offense? Even when gimmick plays worked, they couldn’t take advantage
- Chad Finn: The Patriots need some help at receiver, and other thoughts from the loss to the Broncos
- Patriots forced to shuffle on offensive line before — and during — loss to Broncos
- Stephon Gilmore on COVID-19 experience: ‘It was unfortunate, but I’m past it’