I’ve been having a tough time determining what was a more obscure sight, the Patriots playing with no fans, or Tom Brady playing for another team. Both situations were not things I thought would be possible 365 days ago, yet here we are.
Speaking of the Patriots, they got revenge for their 2019 Week 17 loss vs Brian Flores and the Dolphins. It was a true Bill Belichick special, a potent running game followed by swarming defense. Cam Newton looked about as good as we could have hoped for in his first game in New England. The former Panther ran the ball effectively and was much more accurate in the short passing game than I had anticipated. Perhaps this marriage will work better than I initially predicted.
Other than Newton, on the offensive side of the ball, the line was the star of the show. All five starters, including the young tackles, played excellently in both the pass and run games.
In terms of skill positions, Julian Edelman of course led the way in both catches and yards, with N’Keal Harry also having a solid game save for his gut-wrenching end zone fumble. Damiere Byrd was nowhere to be found despite leading the wide receiving group in snaps played. Ryan Izzo surprisingly had a nice game, playing nearly 100% of the snaps on offense. Surprisingly, Devin Asiasi did not see much run at the tight end position, and fellow 3rd round tight end Dalton Keene was inactive. I’d like to see more opportunities for the pair of rookies, who offer much more upside than Izzo.
Red Zone offense, which was a big problem for the Patriots in 2019, was much improved on Sunday, with Newton the catalyst. There were no more fade routes or quick passes on the goal line. The Pats simply ran the ball down the Dolphins throat, and Miami had no answer.
On defense, the secondary led the way as usual. Interceptions for Stephon Gilmore, Adrian Phillips, and J.C. Jackson helped seal the victory for the Pats. The Patriots went into this game with all of their defensive backs active, and they used each and every one early and often. JoeJuan Williams finally got some extended run at slot corner and had a fantastic game covering tight end Mike Gesicki. As I expected, Jason McCourty took over Duron Harmon’s role as the deep safety in big nickel and dime looks. Pat Chung’s strong safety vacancy was filled by both Adrian Phillips, Terrance Brooks, and a sprinkle of rookie Kyle Dugger. All three played a majority of snaps close to the line of scrimmage in hybrid-linebacker roles.
The front seven was the biggest question mark for New England’s defense, and they played far better than anyone could have asked for on Sunday. Chase Winovich was borderline dominant and proved that he can be an every-down player this year. The biggest question was of course at inside linebacker, where Ja’Whaun Bentley has a solid game, playing mostly on 1st and 2nd downs.
Overall this was a very good start for the Patriots in all three phases of the game. The competition will be revved up significantly next week, as they will travel to Seattle to face off against a true Super Bowl contender.