By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
If you blinked during Sunday’s Patriots opener, you might have missed it. With 69 combined carries between the two teams, the clock kept running and the game flew by – it was the first of Sunday’s slate to reach the final whistle.
There was a lot to discuss packed into that short window. The Patriots debuted a new roster, new-look offense, new-look defense, new uniforms, a new field design, and of course, the new normal of an empty stadium.
Now that the dust has settled though, there’s a chance to look back at some of what didn’t make the major headlines. Here’s 21 leftover thoughts from the Patriots 21-11 Week 1 win…
1. Sunday’s win was the 550th all-time for the Patriots (regular and postseason), the third most by any franchise since they began playing in 1960. They’re five behind the Dallas Cowboys and six behind the Pittsburgh Steelers.
2. Julian Edelman’s first catch Sunday was the 600th of his career. He’s the second Patriot to hit that mark, after Wes Welker, who had 672. If Edelman maintains his career average of 4.5 catches per game for the rest of the year, he’ll catch Welker in Week 16 of this season.
3. The Patriots only committed three penalties on Sunday, the 59th time under Belichick they were flagged three or fewer times. They had two such games in 2019. What makes it even more impressive is that despite a number of new players and new formations, with no preseason to practice, there were no procedural penalties (illegal formation, illegal shift, 12 men on the field, etc.).
4. Their 42 runs on Sunday were the most by the Patriots since 2018 against the Bills in Week 16.
5. Bill Belichick was incredibly efficient with his timeouts. The team had all three ready in the first half when they got the ball off an interception with 31 seconds to go, using them to set up a field goal attempt (which missed). There was only one used in the second half, called with the Patriots on the goal line with 5:26 to go in the game. The ensuing play was the Sony Michel touchdown that put the game away.
6. I’m still not entirely sure what happened at the end of the first quarter, but nobody ever called a timeout, so I’m not sure where that came from. It looked like the game clock stopped at 32 seconds when it wasn’t supposed to, and it took a few tries for the officials to get it right. Once they did, the Patriots (who were on offense at the time), chose to let it run out. They showed good mental fortitude though, not letting the pause halt their momentum on what ended up being their first scoring drive.
7. Julian Edelman (College of San Mateo) and Cam Newton (Blinn College) both mentioned their junior college football days when asked about playing in an empty stadium. Was it a coincidence that the two JUCO guys were the most successful offensive players on Sunday?
8. Cam Newton‘s completion percentage (78.9 percent) was the fifth-best of his career when throwing at least 19 passes. Two of the other four came late in 2018 (Newton’s last full season), so as is the case with many quarterbacks, it appears he’s developing more as a passer in the second half of his career.
9. The Patriots ran 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 RB, 1 TE) on 29 of their 63 snaps yesterday, excluding the final kneel-down. That’s 46 percent of the time, a 10-percent decrease from last year’s season average. Expect a heavy focus on the running backs and tight ends in the passing game this year.
10. N’Keal Harry’s fumble late in the third quarter ended up being a 15-point swing in the Dolphins favor. Not only did it cost the Patriots a likely touchdown, but the Dolphins scored on the ensuing possession, capping things off with a two-point conversion. Flip that play in the Patriots favor, and we likely could have ended up with a 28-3 final score. Fun.
11. Yes, I’m confident the Patriots would have punched it in from the one had Harry held onto the ball. The Patriots scored a touchdown on three of their four red zone trips on Sunday, with the fumble being their only miss. That’s a marked improvement from last year, when they scored a touchdown on just 49 percent of their red zone trips (26th in the NFL). Cam Newton is a big presence to begin with, but he looms largest down by the goal line, and that showed in his Patriots debut.
12. Another reason the run game worked so well? Rookie offensive lineman Mike Onwenu. The Patriots rotated him in at right tackle despite the fact he hadn’t played the position since high school. With a run heavy game plan though, it made sense to have essentially a third guard in the game. It worked, as the Michigan product helped plow the way to the 15th 200-plus yard rushing performance of the Bill Belichick era.
13. Don’t look too much into Nick Folk’s missed field goal at the end of the first half. The 35-year-old was perfect from inside 40 during warmups, but once he stepped beyond that everything started tailing right. That tendency carried over to the game, with his 45-yard attempt missing right as well. The Patriots clearly made a point of prioritizing accuracy over power when they chose Folk instead of rookie Justin Rohrwasser. With a 3-for-3 performance on extra points, Folk should still have a firm grasp on the job.
14. The Patriots escaped the game relatively injury-free. Adam Butler and James White both limped off the field at points and were met by trainers on the sideline, but each returned to the game. Cam Newton grabbing at his hamstring after the game remains the biggest issue to keep an eye on.
15. All four of the Patriots running backs got at least four carries. It was tough to tell if this was a continuation of a position battle or concerted effort by the coaching staff to throw the Dolphins different looks, but each guy looked good. Things will only get more crowded once Damien Harris returns from IR, and it’ll be interesting to see how things are divided going forwards.
16. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the running backs was undrafted free agent J.J. Taylor getting four touches, all coming at key points in the game. The Patriots have been traditionally hesitant to use rookie running backs, but Taylor was thrown right into the mix.
17. I’m not sure what the artificial crowd noise sounded like on TV, but you couldn’t hear it at all in the press box. The lack of fans was weirdest on big plays. On Julian Edelman’s 23-yard end around to begin the final scoring drive, the lack of a crowd roar had me instinctively looking back for a flag. I had a similar reaction on Cam Newton’s first touchdown run, and a handful of other plays. It may become normal in time, but it was definitely eerie on Sunday.
18. How about something that helped the atmosphere feel normal? The Patriots managed to get the Minutemen into the stadium – they were firing their rifles from the top of the bridge under the lighthouse. Pat Patriots and the cheerleaders were up there as well, firing up the capacity crowd of zero.
19. If you thought the numbers on the Gillette Stadium field looked different yesterday, you were right. The Patriots changed the font to match the number style on their new uniforms. This is a popular trend among college football teams, but it’s starting to catch on in the the NFL. In the past, the Patriots used the NFL-standard script numbering.
20. I liked the Patriots uniforms more than I thought I would. That being said, it wasn’t anything really new given they’re just last year’s color rush jerseys with a different font. The real test comes next week when we see how they white ones look in person.
21. During the Cowboys-Rams Sunday Night Football broadcast, NBC ran a promo for next week’s Patriots-Seahawks game. It consisted of the Malcolm Butler Super Bowl XLIX interception, Tom Brady celebrating, and the Earl Thomas pass breakup/possible pass interference against Rob Gronkowski to end the 2016 matchup. None of those four players will be playing in the game next Sunday (unless the Patriots sign Earl Thomas this week), but I guess in terms of advertising that’s not important.