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Dan Shaughnessy

Remember when we thought watching a challenged Patriots team would be fun? Never mind

Cam Newton has been a good guy during a trying Patriots season; he just wasn't a good quarterback.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

I really thought the Patriots season was going to be fun. Finally, we would have something different. At long last there was a challenge to win the division. Without Tom Brady, the Pats could not simply roll out the footballs and automatically win the AFC East. They would not be handed another first-round bye. There would be no Tomato Can Home Game in Round 1 of the playoffs. No more tedious palace intrigue involving Bill, Tom, and Bob. No more same-old, same-old.

It was going to be different. Interesting. The thrill of the unknown.

I was wrong. The 2020 Patriot football season was not fun. The Patriots were effectively out of the playoffs in early December and played out the string over the final four games of the season.


The slog ended mercifully Sunday with Cam Newton finally saying hello just when it was time to say goodbye. Cam completed 21 of 30 passes for 242 yards, completed three TD strikes and caught a touchdown pass in a 28-14 victory over the 2-14 Jets.

Why he was playing remains a mystery to some of us. Before the start of the game, the Pats announced through their ESPN spokesperson that Newton is not part of the plan for 2021. With the playoffs long gone, and Newton not part of the future, it seemed like a fine time to give Jarrett Stidham a start, but no . . . Stid must have pulled a Malcolm Butler at some point this season, because Bill dissed him again.

So we got another full day of Cam who’ll go down in Boston sports history alongside Jaromir Jagr, Shaquille O’Neal, and Andre Dawson as ex-MVPs who’d played their best long before arriving in New England. Cam was a great teammate and ideal employee in 2020. He was also a terrible quarterback.


The highlight of the Patriots’ season was Oct. 5 in Kansas City when it looked as if the Pats might upset the world champion Chiefs at Arrowhead. New England carried a 2-1 record into that game and kept the pinball-scoring Chiefs out of the end zone until late in the third. Playing without Newton, the 10½-point underdog Pats trailed by a mere 13-10 in the second minute of the fourth. The Patriots wound up losing, 26-10 and it was all downhill from there.

The local football season was neither interesting nor entertaining. By the time they faced the Dolphins, Bills, and Jets at the finish, the Patriots were just plain bad. They were 2020 Red Sox bad.

Any of you remember the Stupor Bowl at Memorial Stadium back in 1981? That’s when the 2-13 Patriots lost to the 1-14 Baltimore Colts, 23-21, in front of 17,073 fans. The game featured six turnovers, 12 penalties, and attempts by both teams to intentionally lose the game. The Pats finally succumbed when they ran out of timeouts after “driving” to the Colts’ 15-yard line.

Sunday at Gillette had the feel of Stupor Bowl II for the first two quarters. Two of the worst offenses in the NFL lived down to their reputations before the Patriots rallied for three nifty TDs in the second half. We saw Jakobi Myers’s second career TD pass, Newton’s first TD catch, Devin Asiasi’s first career TD catch, and Sony Michel’s first career TD catch.


It felt like the last day of school.

Drop-kicks, anyone?

Let the record show that few of us saw this coming. Mesmerized by Belichick’s genius and two decades of AFC East buffoonery, just about all of us went Full Rochie before the start of this Bradyless season. In early September, when Globe scribes submitted preseason predictions, five of us had the Patriots winning the AFC East for the 12th consecutive season. Only the estimable Tara Sullivan had the Patriots out of the playoffs (8-8). Yours truly projected a nifty 13-3 regular-season mark with a win over the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl. Hope none of you took that one to Vegas.

My inch-deep analysis concluded with, “The Belichicks haven’t been this interesting since 2001, when they opened the season with Drew Bledsoe at quarterback and a second-year kid named Brady on the sideline … We’re finally going to learn whether New England’s coach can intimidate his rivals without Brady … It is the ultimate challenge for the head coach. Being right can be as much fun as being in first place.’'

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. It was not interesting. Belichick’s powers of intimidation were gone without Brady. And what we just witnessed was not nearly as enjoyable as seeing the Patriots in first place, planning for the playoffs later this month.

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Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.