It was the perfect first week of regular season football in the world of Bill Belichick. The Patriots, now quarterbacked by newly signed free agent Cam Newton began the season 1-0 after a 21-11 win over the Miami Dolphins. Though it was a low scoring affair, New England won the game more handily than the final score would suggest, and there’s some good news to give fans hope during a down year for this franchise.
Before diving into coverage of the game, let’s check in on some familiar faces;
the departed Tom Brady lost his debut with the Buccaneers, throwing two interceptions, while also reestablishing his connection with tight end Rob Gronkowski, who hauled in two catches for 11 yards on three targets. Former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s Detroit Lions blew a 23-6 lead in the fourth quarter and lost. Former Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins was ejected from his Lions debut by making contact with an official, though it was a questionable call as he merely bumped the referee with his helmet.
Former special team’s coach Joe Judge lost his debut as head coach of the New York Giants. Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts lost their debut with the Dolphins against their former team and totaled only eight tackles between the two of them. Former kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed four kicks in his Titans debut, going 1-4 on field goals and 1-2 on PATs — he did however make the game-winning kick. Gostowski’s terrible outing plummeted him from his spot as the fourth-most accurate kicker in league history down to ninth, showing just how quickly a change of scenery can end a career. With all these things considered, despite Belichick constantly saying he is not worried about what is going on with other teams that are not relevant to the Patriots’ schedule, deep down he likely loved seeing all of that go down in week one.
Top to bottom, it was a very complete opening week for New England. Newton looked the healthiest he has in over two years, rushing for 75 yards and two touchdowns while completing 15 of 19 pass attempts for 155 yards. The run game for New England looked impressive, giving split carries to Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead and JJ Taylor. Center David Andrews returning to the offensive line after missing all of 2019 made an immediate presence, and the whole line looked stout even with multiple starters sitting out the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Defensively, there were numerous question marks in the front seven, after losing linebackers Collins, Roberts and Van Noy to free agency, while perennial Pro Bowler Dont’a Hightower opted out of playing this year, but somehow the unit rose to the occasion. Second–year defensive lineman Chase Winovich looked a lot stronger than he did in his rookie campaign, where he was essentially only used as a situational pass rusher. Winovich was a three–down lineman throughout the entirety of the game and even lined up at nose tackle for their goal–line sets, which is something not many would have predicted a year ago. The Patriots held the Dolphins to only 87 rushing yards on 27 attempts, giving up just over 3 yards per carry. Free agent signee safety Adrian Phillips, formerly on the Los Angeles Chargers, put in a strong outing to open up his career in New England. Philips impacted both the pass and run game, contributing nine tackles, one interception and one pass defended in his Patriots debut. Phillips appears to be a great addition to what is already one of the best secondaries in the league. Along with Phillips, cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and JC Jackson hauled in interceptions off Ryan Fitzpatrick. Even though they were picking the ball off from an almost 38-year-old journeyman in what is likely to be one of his last seasons, the Patriots’ secondary showed that they will hold the title of best secondary in football for at least one more season, if not more.
As great as week one was for New England, their win was against the Miami Dolphins, who are certainly better than last year, yet nowhere near a contending status and most likely will not be making a run at this year’s postseason. Their first true test will be a game on the road against the Seattle Seahawks, which could be very telling on who the Patriots are as a team when they stack up against one of the best teams in the league. They will have the benefit of there being no fans in the stands at one of the loudest stadiums in the entire country, which will minimize the home-field advantage. However, traveling to Seattle could make the contest difficult. Head coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson finally have a squad that truly looks like a real threat to make a Super Bowl run since their heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl 49 against the Patriots. Although the Patriots and Seahawks both are completely different teams than they were when they met in the Super Bowl six years ago, you have to imagine there is some level of anger that Carroll and Wilson, along with linebackers Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright who are still around since that game, have that may push them to want this victory more than their typical regular-season games. Overall, most experts will be picking Seattle in this matchup, which is certainly a fair assumption to make. But you can never count out a squad coached by Belichick. Often when everyone bets against the Patriots and completely rules them out of winning a particular game, they end up shining. This will be the first underdog test for the post-Brady New England Patriots.