By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Are we giving Cam Newton credit for a game-winning drive in this one? Suppose you can. The numbers, and the win-loss column, don’t lie. But they do obfuscate the truth, which is that the Pats scored a win over the Cardinals in spite of their quarterback and not because of him.
Newton put it best, as he’s consistently done in his postgame interviews: “I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss.” The Patriots beat the Cardinals on the back of their defense, impact plays on special teams, and a clutch kick at the buzzer, in what was a sloppy affair for most of the run time for both offenses.
To be fair to Newton, he helped set up Nick Folk’s game-winning field goal with a 14-yard run on a third-and-13. He took a hit as he ran out of bounds and drew a personal foul flag in the process. But that was the only real impactful play made by Newton all afternoon. And the reality is, he can thank Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez’s own missed kick for having a chance at setting up a game-winning field goal in the first place.
Gonzalez and the Cardinals had a chance to really make Newton pay for what at the time looked and felt like a game-blowing interception. Facing second-and-15 with under five minutes left and methodically moving the ball down the field, Newton dropped back with time to throw and simply let it slip too far inside, as Dre Kirkpatrick picked off a pass that Damiere Byrd had no chance to catch.
Overall, Newton went 9-for-18 for 84 yards and two interceptions passing – a 23.6 rating. You get a 39.6 if you just spike the ball on every play.
The Patriots held on and won the game on the strength of their defense, which came up with a massive goal line stand at the end of the second quarter and a stop to begin the third quarter. That sequence kept the Cardinals from pulling away as they clung to a 10-7 lead. But in totality, holding Kyler Murray to a 67 passer rating and the high-powered Cardinals offense to only 17 points and 298 net yards of offense was quite the accomplishment.
Both New England touchdowns came on short fields. First, Donte Moncrief’s 53-yard kick return helped set up a seven-play, 41-yard trudge to the end zone, capped by a James White shimmy to pay dirt. The second touchdown came off Adrian Phillips’ interception, which set them up at the Arizona 31. They proceeded to call six straight run plays, the sixth being White’s second score of the game as he won the footrace to the pylon.
Good complementary football on the touchdown drives, for sure. But both drives de-emphasized the quarterback and the passing game.
The Pats won Sunday for a lot of reasons, but Newton was not one of them. Despite his big run to pick up the first down on the final drive, it’s telling that Newton had to use his legs to make a play in the first place. And if not for Gonzalez’s miss, Newton would have been facing a situation where he had to save the Pats from a loss after arguably his worst interception of the season.
“It was just a bad throw,” Newton said. “It doesn’t really matter what I felt on that play. It’s just a matter what happened. That’s what it comes down to. For me, I can’t jeopardize this team and put the ball up for grabs, so to speak. I just got to get Damiere a better ball so he can compete and contest it.”
Newton has gone in the bad direction at the end of the game too many times for the 2020 Patriots to stay afloat as real playoff contenders in the AFC. Sunday’s win may keep the “path” talk alive – on life support, really – as it remains mathematically in play. This win at least proves that Bill Belichick is still capable of preparing the roster enough to scratch out a win despite poor quarterback play.
But as long as Newton is under center for the Patriots, it’s hard to feel good about their chances of pulling these games out in the end. He got enough help from others, on both teams, to grab the ugly win on Sunday. But if his own play stays ugly, the rest of the team won’t be able to make up for it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.