Cam Newton turns in so-so performance in third Patriots start, but here’s why that’s encouraging

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Cam Newton is human after all. After a Week 1 win where he rushed for two touchdowns and a Week 2 performance where he nearly threw for 400 yards in a toe-to-toe thriller with Russell Wilson, the Patriots quarterback came back down to earth a bit in his third start with New England. Let’s get this out of the way: No, this is not a “sky is falling” article about Newton and the Pats. Quite the opposite, in fact, as his dip in production from what we’ve seen out of him over the last two weeks is actually a promising development for Bill Belichick’s club going forward.  

Allow me to explain. 

In New England’s 36-20 win over the Raiders, Jon Gruden kept the 2015 MVP in check as Newton completed around 60% of his passes for just 162 yards, a touchdown, and one interception. The longest pass that Newton was able to complete was for just 27 yards and even that came late in the second half. He was also largely bottled up as a runner. 

For his part, Newton wasn’t making the most stellar decisions with the football early. During the Patriots’ third offensive possession of the afternoon, Newton dropped back and threw a dangerous second-and-8 pass down the middle of the field for Julian Edelman. Luckily for Newton, the ball zipped in-and-out of the highly congested area and hit the turf. He wasn’t so fortunate the next play, however. After escaping some initial pressure, Newton rolled out and tried to complete a short pass to Rex Burkhead, but instead tossed it into the arms of Jonathan Abram, putting the Raiders at the New England 14-yard line. 

“I’ve just got to do a better job with protecting the football,” said Newton after the game. “That inexcusable interception was completely my fault. Trying to extend the play, kind of pressing a little bit too much.”

It wasn’t the best day for No. 1 statistically, but what makes this Week 3 showing for Newton so impressive is that he was able to still lead New England to victory even without being Super Cam. More importantly, the Patriots didn’t need him to be. Newton helped direct the Patriots ground game to a 250-yard performance that was largely spearheaded by Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead. Those two combined for 238 yards from scrimmage and three total touchdowns, which is a much different rushing attack than what the Patriots have rolled out over the first two weeks, particularly in the opener where Newton led the team in rushing. 

 “Just finding ways to win. That’s it,” said Newton. “We’ve played three different teams, three different type of teams, and each game there’s been 100 percent consistency in the feel of knowing that we’re going to be in the best situation to win and still having the opportunity to win.”

He added: “For us to be able to attack and stay on the attack all game, it’s something that doesn’t just go unnoticed for us. We understood we had a pretty good passing game last game. We had pretty much of a mixture the first game, which we would kind of prefer, as well as this game was kind of a slow start, but at the end of the day, we find ways to win. When you’re able to do that as a team collectively, as coach said, playing complementary football, then things will be ascending for us as far as success.”

While Super Cam wasn’t with the Patriots wire-to-wire, the Man of Steel did flash his presence a couple of times during New England’s final offensive possession of the afternoon. Up 10 points with 11:17 to play in the fourth quarter, Newton led the Patriots on a 10-play drive that lasted 6:06 and resulted in a touchdown. His best throw of the game came over this period as Newton completed a 27-yard sidelined pass to N’Keal Harry. Newton also danced beautifully in the pocket, evading pressure before scampering 21 yards to the Las Vegas 19. The word to describe his play there is “clutch.”

Again, Sunday wasn’t Newton’s day, but it’s extremely encouraging for the Patriots to know that they don’t live and die at the hands of their new star quarterback. The fact that they can win games against legit opponents when he’s not otherworldly bodes well for where this team could be going. 

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