The New England Patriots defeated the Miami Dolphins in their season opener on Sunday. Cam Newton returned to pre-injury form, scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns and converting a key 4th down to essentially ice the game. Both teams came out relatively slow, resulting in punts on the first three series’ before New England finally broke the tie.
The Patriots’ defense dominated in the first half, intercepting two of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s passes. Unfortunately, the offense was unable to turn those turnovers into points, as Nick Folk missed a 45-yard field goal and New England led 7-3 at halftime.
Newton and the offense came alive in the second half, scoring twice and racking up 237 yards (out of their 357 total yards). However, as the Patriots appeared ready to put Miami away, N’Keal Harry fumbled out of the end zone. This resulted in a Dolphins touchback, which they turned into eight points on the ensuing drive. Fortunately for New England, they redeemed themselves on their next drive, sealing the win with a Sony Michel touchdown.
Here are a few of my other thoughts from the game:
Newton put together quite the Patriots debut, completing 15/19 passes for 155 yards and adding 15 carries for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Newton looked spry after struggling with injuries for the last two seasons. Josh McDaniels’ ability to utilize him in read options adds a new dimension to New England’s offense. It will be exciting to watch Newton as he gets more comfortable in the Patriots offense moving forward.
New England struggled on 3rd down last year, converting just 38% of their attempts (18th in the NFL). They were much better on Sunday, converting 5/10 chances. Cam Newton also converted an extremely clutch 4th down with less than six minutes left that led to Sony Michel’s game-icing touchdown.
All of New England’s running backs produced when called upon, but J.J. Taylor was by far the most pleasant surprise. Taylor — an UDFA out of Arizona — carried the ball four times for 28 yards (7.0 YPA). As Sony Michel continues to recover from offseason foot surgery and Damien Harris struggles with a hand injury, Taylor could help carry the load.
While Bill Belichick’s special teams units are historically great, they got off to a rough start this week. Damiere Byrd bobbled his initial punt return after J.C. Jackson bumped into him while attempting to field the catch. Nick Folk also badly missed a 45-yard field goal attempt to close out the first half. That will definitely be something to monitor moving forward, as New England’s kicker situation continues to look messy.
N’Keal Harry was putting together a nice drive at the end of the third quarter, and then disaster struck. Harry caught a short pass from Newton and fumbled out of the endzone as he attempted to reach for the goaline. Miami proceeded to march down the field and cut the deficit to three, thanks to a pair of defensive pass interference calls down the stretch. Three costly mistakes on back-to-back series’ let Miami back into the game. That won’t fly against better teams.
Overall, it was a solid season opener for New England. They repeatedly answered the bell when called upon, effectively dissecting an improved Miami defense. There are still plenty of things that need to be cleaned up, but the Cam Newton-led Patriots could surprise a lot of people this year.
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