By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
In a primetime spot, the New England Patriots came three feet short of a comeback win against the Seattle Seahawks.
Down by five, a single yard away from the endzone and with time for just one final play, the game was in Cam Newton’s hands. But Newton was stuffed at the line of scrimmage — he was driven backwards, actually — and the Seahawks’ goal line stand sealed the deal on a victory at an eerily-silent CenturyLink Field.
And to be honest, that’s A-OK.
No longer tasked with championship or bust expectations that made Week 2s feel like an AFC championship games, peddled-as-legitimate hopes of 19-0, and worrying about the legacy of the greatest quarterback of all time, breathing is a bit easier these days. (It’s downright relieving not having to dread what nonsense the Kellermans and Wrights of the nauseating take-world were going to say about Tom Brady after a loss.) And on a night with their secondary struggling and without a running game, Newton and the Patriots successfully hung with one of the best quarterbacks and most physical defenses in the league. Right down to the wire, and again, three yards short of completing the double-digit comeback.
Unless you’re a hardo of the highest order, you can absolutely celebrate the moral victory of Sunday’s near-comeback. (When’s the last time you were able to say that and not get shouted down? Spoiler: It’s been about two decades.)
Because this team is straight-up fun. And that begins with Newton.
While Julian Edelman (a career-high 179 yards in the loss) remains the focal point of the Patriot air attack, Newton was not afraid to get the Patriots’ other options into the mix; Fullback Jakob Johnson scored the first touchdown of his NFL career. N’Keal Harry has already surpassed his 2019 catch total, and did it by way of an 8-of-12 for 72 yards performance, including the clutch catch that set-up the potential Newton walkoff. Damiere Byrd finally got involved after a donut last week, and finished with six catches and 72 yards on nine targets, and even Jakobi Meyers added a seven-yard catch.
Even when these guys failed to haul in a grab or turn a catch into a big-gainer, Newton remained confident and kept looking their way. It didn’t devolve into an Edelman at all costs attack. (That has to be the play, really, as the Patriots cannot afford to put Edelman’s body through another 2019 grind.) The 31-year-old Newton also turned back the clock to his MVP days and balled out to the tune of nearly 400 yards, with downfield bombs looking effortless.
It was the Newton-to-Harry connection, fresh off Newton fiercely defending the strangely-polarizing second-year wideout’s Week 1 performance, that felt like a point of emphasis, too.
“[N’Keal] has grown in front of everyone’s eyes,” Newton offered. “For him to gain confidence in himself, I think that’s a start. And I think that’s what he’s doing. I think today’s game was a great indication of that and what he could potentially be. Yet through it all, he still has to keep building to become the best version of himself.”
Now juxtapose these comments with last year’s post-Philly press conference from Brady (which was actually after a win) or when Brady essentially said that young players have to make it on their own, and that there’s nothing he can do for them. That was almost damning your futures from the start, no matter its ceiling, be in the case of a first-round pick like Harry or a lotto ticket like Meyers.
It was downright miserable, and it grated on everybody as the year dragged on. Looking back on it, I refuse to believe that anybody actually enjoyed last year after the Week 2 Miami game. And if you did, you’re a sick and dangerous person who pours the milk before the cereal. The Titans thumping the Patriots in the wild card round almost felt like a mercy killing.
In 2020, the Patriots are being forced to grow, and their on-field leader is more than willing to be part of that process. Death glares and offensive freeze-outs have been replaced by attaboys and a sticktoitiveness that could pay off down the stretch.
“I think the best part is we just started to gel,” said Devin McCourty. “I think we knew [Newton] and what he could do, just like he knew from playing us over the years that we’ve got competitors out there. We have to stick together and just keep working.”
“I think our team took a big step in terms of just the competition and the way we battled and competed against Seattle,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Our team stepped up collectively as a team and competed again right down to the end, to the last four minutes of the game; The offensive drive, the kick off coverage, the defensive stop, the offensive drive again. We did a lot of things right there.”
After a 2019 that made every loss feel like another step towards the grave and force you into trying to come to terms with the end of a 20-year run, 2020’s first loss felt like the complete opposite. There’s no doom and gloom. Or there shouldn’t be, at least.
If Sunday told us anything, it’s that the Patriots are still very much a threat. And there’s only more room to grow, and more fun to be had with this team realizing its collective, 53-man ceiling.