By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
To the shock of absolutely no one, 19 days between starts didn't help Patriots quarterback Cam Newton.
Out of rhythm early and often in his first game since contracting and overcoming the coronavirus, Newton's first-half performance did come with 100 yards through the air. Newton also had just two incompletions on 11 passing attempts through 30 minutes of action, though one of those was an interception. But the Patriots had just three points to show for it.
The speed of the drives often bordered on nap-inducing. That or root canal-esque agony.
It simply wasn't the start the Patriots, short on practice time as a team given their recent COVID-19 outbreak, were looking for in what felt like an otherwise winnable game at Gillette Stadium.
And it appeared to start with No. 1.
"Oh, without a doubt," Newton said when asked if the extended break hurt him. "But, we're still professionals and we're expected to do our job and play at a high level and we didn't do that today."
Finding themselves in an 18-3 hole by way of six field goals from the Broncos' Brandon McManus, Newton and the Patriots did stage a mini-comeback of sorts with nine fourth-quarter points.
But it was the third-quarter turnovers — Newton threw a second interception in the second half and Ryan Izzo fumbled in a simply unfumbleable situation — that ultimately proved too much to overcome.
"Any time you turn the ball over that many times, the success rate is extremely low, " Newton, who threw for 157 yards and added almost 70 yards and a score on the ground, admitted. "But yet we still had that opportunity to win and we just got to find ways to do that."
Another problem in this one was the lack of connection between Newton and his wideouts. Edelman finished the first half without a catch, and by the day's end, he as many completions (two) as he did catches. N'Keal Harry finished with a donut for the first time since Newton took over as the team's quarterback, and his two targets were a 2020 low. Even the Patriots' bright spots, Damiere Byrd and Isaiah Zuber, combined for just four catches (but on five targets) for 54 yards.
And in need of 10 yards to preserve their hopes for an improbable comeback, and with the Broncos sending the house, Newton and Harry outright failed to connect. They weren't even on the same page in terms of the route itself.
With the running game stifled — and a hobbled Izzo once again providing the Patriots' lone production from the tight end position — the rusty performance (while expected after such a layoff) propelled the Patriots to 2-3 on the year.
This is the first time the Patriots have been under .500 in October since 2002. (The Patriots failed to make the playoffs that year.) The loss was a definite missed opportunity when you factor in the fact that the Buffalo Bills lost their Week 5 meeting with the Titans, and will face the Chiefs on Monday. A win against the Broncos would've made the AFC East a true race.
But Newton isn't ready to sound the alarm just yet.
"There's no need to panic," Newton offered. "But we for sure have an opportunity here that we just can't, we just cannot allow ourselves to just go through the motions and expect, us being who we are is going to take care of itself, because that's not the case. We're not that good at that particular point yet and we need [to] practice and hopefully everything else is halted from the COVID situation and which will allow us to do that.
"But whatever the situation is, we know we're not going to be the only team that's being faced with it and we just is have to be ready to go here moving forward."
Newton and the Patriots will get a chance to bounce-back against Jimmy G and the 49ers next Sunday.