By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Trailing by 12 late in the fourth quarter, the Patriots offense hadn’t done a ton to garner confidence. Then Julian Edelman did some Edelman things. Then N’Keal Harry set them up at the 1 with three seconds left. Then Cam Newton came up one play short of an improbable pulled-out-of-your-asses win.
The Patriots offense didn’t have enough to outscore the Seattle Seahawks and their transcendent quarterback on Sunday night. But their late rally gave the unit plenty to build on, and perhaps optimism that they’ll develop enough explosion to make Seattle-like noise by the end of the season.
Harry is central to the Patriots’ offensive reimagining. He will go as the wide receiver corps goes. It was thrilling for Pats fans to see Edelman come up with a handful of clutch catches down the stretch, finishing with a career-best 179 receiving yards – but we already knew what he could do in the big moments. It’s Harry who needs to become a downfield difference-maker for this offense to reach the next level.
Sunday night should be considered a big step forward for the 2019 first-round pick. Harry made three catches for 42 yards on the Patriots’ final drive of the game, including a grab that was very nearly a game-winning touchdown. He also made an impressive catch in the first quarter, reeling in a Newton pass on fourth-and-3 and holding onto the ball despite taking helmet-to-helmet contact from the Seahawks’ Quandre Diggs, who was ejected for the hit.
“He’s growing right before everybody’s eyes,” Newton said on Harry. “For him to gain confidence in himself, I think that’s a start, and I think that’s what he’s doing. Today’s game was a great indication of that, of what he could potentially be. But yeah, through it all, he still has to keep building to become the best version of himself.”
Despite the progress made by the passing game, especially late, it was telling that the Pats decided to go with its “jumbo” 14 personnel grouping on the final play of the game. There was plenty of reason to believe the Seahawks wouldn’t stop Newton – the play hadn’t been stopped yet in this young season – but there was not even the threat of a pass. They dared Seattle to bring Newton down, and they did.
“We had one play to score and we decided to go with what we thought was our best play,” said Bill Belichick, asked what the coaches were thinking with the play-call. He continued, “What else is there to think about?”
Belichick and Josh McDaniels didn’t even think about dropping Newton back and having him make a throw to win the game. Because the passing offense simply isn’t there yet. And until the final two drives, it was a wonder whether they have anyone outside of Edelman who could come up with a big play in a big spot.
But maybe they arrive at another moment like this. Perhaps it comes in a couple of weeks in Kansas City. And maybe they think differently that time.
Still, they’re going to need more through the air out of everyone not named Edelman. Rookie tight end Devin Asiasi could emerge as a receiving threat. He may have to, because while Ryan Izzo is off to a solid start to the season, he’s not going to be a consistent playmaker at the position. Damiere Byrd showed out for the first time this season with six catches for 72 yards, but the Patriots may be better off adding a more dynamic player to their No. 3 wideout slot.
Is it necessary, though? Because we’re talking about an offense that came up one yard short of upsetting the Seahawks on their home turf. And we’re talking about a team coached by Bill Belichick, one that typically builds to a crescendo and plays its best football after Thanksgiving.
The offense already looks like it has high potential with Newton under center. Newton threw an interception on Sunday night and had a couple of other plays he said he wished he could have back, but the former MVP looks rejuvenated. He finished Sunday’s game with 444 total yards of offense, 397 passing and 47 on the ground, and three total touchdowns while coming ohsoclose to a fourth.
“We have a lot of things to be optimistic about, yet we still have to get better,” Newton said. “The reason why you play this game is for one stat and one stat only. We didn’t get that statistic today, and that’s a win. For us, this is a disgusting taste in my mouth. I’ve just got to grow and get better in this offense, and hopefully have a better result next week.”
If Harry starts making catches like he did in the final minute more often, and it results in wins? Doesn’t the complexion of the offense entirely change? How does it look when they get James White back in a clutch situation, where the veteran back has come through so many times?
Yes, still a lot of questions. Little in the way of answers. But answers shouldn’t be the goal after two games. We’re still at the start of the build. Considering the roster turnover in the offseason and uncertainty at pass-catching positions, the Patriots offense has shown more promise than expected to start 2020. Assuming good health and continued evolution, why not expect it to get better as the season goes along?
We’ll see if the Patriots offense has enough in December and, hopefully, January. But Sunday should provide hope that it can get there.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at email@example.com.