If you came here for my weekly exaltation of Cam Newton, you might have to look elsewhere.
But…I will take the time to give him the credit he deserves for a great win.
Despite Newton’s lackluster performance on paper, the Patriots were able to pick up a 36-20 win over the undefeated Las Vegas Raiders (does it still feel weird saying that?) in Foxboro on Sunday. He threw for a below-average 162 yards & added in a touchdown; he was also picked off once and sacked twice. Just two weeks after setting a franchise record for most rushing yards by a New England quarterback with 75, Newton rushed 9 times for 27 yards; a far cry from his previous – and, for the record, outstanding – performances.
Newton’s help came from his fleet of running backs this week; we’ll get into that shortly.
Even after a subpar Week 3 for the 31-year-old quarterback, I’m loving Cam’s confidence. I love that even when he’s not having his best performance, he’s still positively contributing to the success of his teammates. Newton has a truly incredible attitude towards the way he goes about his business, especially with his role as the successor to the most prolific New England Patriot of all time.
Take it from his postgame press conference, when Cam Newton was asked what he loves most about this team. “We just find ways to win. That’s it,” he said to the press in a baby blue blazer after the game today, coupled with the matching fedora and browned-out Wayfarers. “We’ve played 3 different types of teams so far. Each game, there’s been 100% consistency in the feeling of knowing you’re going to have the opportunity to win. We’ve got guys that play for each other, and play for the common goal, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Also, let's not sleep on the fact that Cam gave us HANDS DOWN the best GIF of 2020. N’Keal Harry clearly had something funny to say once the win was locked up.
As usual, here’s your good & bad takeaways from a solid Week 3 win over the Raiders.
Run, run, run! What a performance from two guys that were due for a big day in the backfield: Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel. As I tweeted earlier today, Burkhead gave me nostalgic feelings of 2010 Danny Woodhead; he led the way with 2 touchdowns & 98 all-purpose yards, all while adding in some flashy plays like this one.
I mean…come on!
As for the rest of the backfield, Sony Michel racked up 117 yards on 9 carries; a breakout performance was much needed for the second-year running back. In weeks 1 & 2, Michel’s numbers (or lack thereof) were certainly not desirable – he rushed for only 56 yards on 17 carries. After his performance, Michel gave well-deserved credit to the offensive line, who were without center David Andrews.
“You always want to create big plays,” Michel noted in his postgame press conference. “It’s good for our guys to know that we’re capable of doing it. It builds confidence and we want to continue to do it. When we do it, it brings that energy.”
Meanwhile, undrafted rookie JJ Taylor chipped in 43 yards of his own. I wrote in Week 1 that I loved his “scrappy and speedy” style of play, and that it “could be dangerous if he syncs up well with Newton in the coming weeks.” Exhibit A: it took Taylor two weeks to see any real share of the rushing effort, but he proved to be a nuisance for the front seven.
Speaking of the front seven…WOW. One of my favorite things to do during football season is to scream at the Patriots defense. I think they may officially be my scapegoat for anything that goes wrong with this team. But today on the defensive front, it was tough for me to get mad at anyone that wasn’t the secondary. Sure, the amount of tackles were comparatively low to previous weeks – JC Jackson 6, Jonathan Jones 5, Adrian Phillips 4, Chase Winovich 2 + 1 sack (I can go on) – but there were zero irreversible defensive flaws committed by any Patriot linebacker or defensive lineman. They manned their coverages incredibly well (we’ll get there), they put a ton of pressure on Derek Carr, and they made heads-up plays the entire day.
Cue the strip-sack, fumble, and touchdown (originally called a safety) from Deatrich Wise Jr., which gave the Pats some major insurance to thwart any late-game heroics from the Raiders.
Waller? ….(long pause)… Waller?
Yes, this is what I’m going for. Thanks to all you Chicagoans & movie buffs that will get this.
Although my affection for Darren Waller runs deep (in other words, I watched HBO’s Hard Knocks last year), I very much enjoyed watching Waller be absolutely locked down by everyone who guarded him all afternoon. Waller, who was ranked by ESPN as the #3 tight end in Week 3, was held to 0 targets and – by virtue – 0 catches in the first three quarters. He finished the day with 9 total yards on 2 receptions. No matter if it was a secondary defender like Devin McCourty & JC Jackson, or a linebacker in the form of Chase Winovich or Ja’Whaun Bentley, removing Darren Waller was clearly a part of the Patriots game plan.
Jon Gruden, Raiders head coach, doesn’t think Waller’s practical absence was the reason why Las Vegas couldn’t get their offense cooking. “We have a lot of good receivers,” said Gruden after the game. “We didn’t come in here today to target Waller every play. Credit New England, they had a nice game plan. They got pressure on our quarterback a few times. We had Waller open. The film is out there for everybody to look at. But New England did a nice job, they did a better job than we did today.”
Longtime New England veteran & defensive captain Devin McCourty says it was the “constant communication” between the rotation of defenders covering Waller that made the difference.
This is a great sign for the defense, and I hope they can build on the momentum against a Chiefs offense that has about 5x the offensive firepower than Waller does.
Anyone else think Stephon Gilmore isn’t looking like himself? I am not a Gilmore hater; I just think the reigning Defensive Player of the Year should look a little better against a team that certainly has weapons, but a far cry from some of the guys he guarded last year. He didn't wrap up a single Raider today, keeping his total tackle number at 7 (with one tackle assist) for the year. Gilmore's lone interception was the product of Ryan Fitzpatrick's dismal 2020 debut for the Dolphins two weeks ago.
Look no further than the performance of Vegas wide receiver Hunter Renfrow: for most of the game, that was Gilmore's guy. That resulted in 6 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. Renfrow - while not a WR1 by any stretch - has a concerning amount of speed for any defensive back. Although very early on in the year, we've seen Gilmore struggle with skill players like this.
I'm not asking him to be Ty Law. I'm just asking him to be better.
Below, some good insight from ESPN's Mike Reiss, and a good fan take from Brady Gardner.
Passing offense numbers declined sharply. Look at Brady's tweet above and you'll have a good idea about why. After both Julian Edelman and Damiere Byrd had big weeks against Seattle, it feels as though the momentum they picked up from last week has essentially stagnated. The wind was out of the sail. To be clear, I'm not dissatisfied with the total offensive performance; you can't blame Bill Belichick & Josh McDaniels for the strategy they took today (after all, they scored 36 points!). It would've been nice, though, for Cam to at least come close to the 397-yard performance he whipped out last week.
And for those that want to blame the success of the Raiders defense, look elsewhere. According to PFF, the Las Vegas secondary is ranked #24 out of 32 for the 2020 season. Credit where it is due, Jonathan Abram and Damon Arnette both look to be promising long-term solutions for Gruden and the Raiders...but it shouldn't have been this hard.
NEXT WEEK: The Pats head to the Midwest to take on the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs. Two big things I'll be looking for:
After a pretty solid day for the Patriots run defense, let's see how they react to potential Rookie of the Year candidate Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Coming into Monday night's matchup against Baltimore, the first-rounder running back from LSU got the nod 35 times for 176 yards, and added in a touchdown in the opener against Houston. I'm looking for Deatrich Wise Jr. to build on a great Week 3 performance, and for Chase Winovich to step up against a KC offense with no shortage of firepower.
Who does Stephon Gilmore guard? If it's Tyreek Hill, I'm concerned. With news reports surfacing this week that Gilmore's name came up in trade talks this offseason (and still might be to this date), this could be a make-or-break game for Gilmore's future with the Patriots.