Dancing amid the snowflakes, Cam Newton looked happy.
The 31-year-old veteran quarterback had just caught the first touchdown pass of his storied NFL life, a highlight among many highlights in the Patriots’ season-ending rout of the Jets. Newton threw for three additional touchdowns and rushed for a team-high 79 yards in the 28-14 win, and even if it came against the hapless, hopeless AFC East cellar-dwellers, there’s no doubt it put some pep in a step that otherwise limped to a disappointing, playoff-less finish line.
As he would describe it afterward, “There is nothing, no one, nothing, that was going to get me out of the spirit that I was in.”
If this was, as is widely expected, Newton’s farewell performance as a Patriot, it was a nice way for him to go out. Maybe not good enough to convince another team to give him a long-term contract, but more than enough to remind us why the Patriots signed him in the first place. Newton provided the first bridge out of the Tom Brady era, intrigued as he was by the challenge of keeping the Patriots’ franchise afloat, motivated just as much as he was to right his own listing ship.
But now that the bridge has been crossed, and Newton seems destined to move on, the one-and-done experiment will search for its place in the record books.
How will Newton’s tenure be remembered?
In a season already marked by an asterisk, having been conducted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Newton’s stopover in New England might end up sharing that same strange spot in our memory banks. Like some imagined fever dream, a blip on the radar, a one-and-done eyeblink destined to join company with Shaquille O’Neal or Pete Maravich on the Celtics, Jaromir Jagr or Brian Leetch with the Bruins, Andre Dawson as a member of the Red Sox. An aging star with a diminishing skill set taking one last stab at glory, only to fade into the background.
Twenty years in the future, you can hear it now: Cam Newton was a Patriot?
Bill Belichick may have balked at the postgame question about Adam Schefter’s pregame speculation on ESPN that Newton and the Patriots have agreed they’ll part ways, and even the uber-wired Schefter seemed to back off anything so definitive, but the question is too obvious to ignore and the conclusion to easy not to reach. And a postgame Newton certainly didn’t sound like someone committed to a return, no matter how much he marveled at the opportunity to learn from Belichick or embraced the opportunity to influence the locker room.
“Listen, I have my desires,” he said. “I know where my heart’s at. I know the things, who I am. But as far as that, I can’t really speak on it right now. But just my whole time here in New England has been a blessing. I’ve learned so much about myself, about great teammates, unbelievable coaching. Yeah, so I just see how it goes, go from there.”
Newton’s comments during the week revealed the depth of the difficulties he faced these past months, ones filled with injury, illness, and ineptitude, but above all, with irreplaceable lost time with his family. This was on Thursday, in a session with media that sounded like a farewell address, when Newton pulled the curtain back on how hard it was to miss birthdays for two of his sons, how not having that touchstone of family overshadowed everything else, from his COVID diagnosis to his team’s losses to his too many turnovers.
All of it contributed to this season of failure, an overall one that saw the end of the franchise’s record 11-year playoff streak, an on-the-field one that saw an inconsistent passer whose first and only multiple passing touchdown game came Sunday against the Jets.
Newton has never run from those failures, and he didn’t after Sunday’s win, chastising himself once again for not being consistent enough all season.
“I need to get better,” he said. “That’s what it all comes down to. For me, I’m such a stickler about did you win, did you win, doesn’t matter what the statistics were, did you win, find ways just to win. Yeah, having a game like today is good, but you wish you would have had more games like this.”
That was the plan, but it never really came together. And now it might come apart, without any in-person interaction with fans, without any regular locker room time, over before it ever really got started. A strange and unusual stop in a strange and unusual season.
As Newton said: “2020 was a weird year, man. I think for me, my legacy is all I have as a man. You know what I’m saying? Yeah, we came up short a lot … My focus was to make as much of an impact that I could for the people on this team. I came in with the mentality each and every day to try to get better, to try to impact lives in a positive way, and to be receptive of change … I tried. That’s the only thing I can say at the end.”
If this was the end, it was nice to see that signature smile flashing and shining all afternoon, from a rumbling first-quarter run for one first down to a sliding fourth-quarter slide for another.
“Make no doubt about it, Cam’s been a leader of that group, a captain and offensive leader day in and day out and I was just happy for him,” Devin McCourty said. “I’m happy with the way this year worked out to get to know him. It’s been awesome just to be around him.”
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