The talk all week had to do with how much of a leash Cam Newton had left before Bill Belichick pulled the plug in favor of Jarrett Stidham.
Newton played about as poorly as a quarterback could play against the Cardinals last week, and his overall performance on the season was much too topsy-turvy, and helter skelter. Could Stidham be much worse?
One game later, all of that quarterback fodder is in the backseat. And, for now, completely moot, even if Newton passed for fewer yards than he did against Arizona.
The Patriots remain in the playoff hunt, and based on how Superman led the run-based offense Sunday, it’s pretty clear Newton is still the right guy to try and bring them to the promised land.
There was no sign of bad Cam during the Patriots 45-0 blowout of the Chargers in a game that was essentially over at halftime.
Stidham did see action, but it was in mop-up duty, as he came on midway through the fourth quarter and threw a touchdown pass to Gunner Olszewski with the game well in hand.
Stidham gets footnote status in what was a tour de force performance all around for the Patriots, as all three phases, offense, defense, and special teams, came together to crush the Chargers.
The Patriots are now 6-6, and still clinging to their playoff hopes.
While Newton threw for just 69 yards, the lowest amount in his career, completing 12 of 19 passes, the passing line didn’t matter in this game. Given how well the Patriots ran the football, there wasn’t a need for Newton to attempt to light it up.
His numbers in this game reflect a vastly different outing for Newton than what he produced against the Cardinals.
There were no turnovers, poor reads, or inabilities to pick up blitzing defenders. Newton toyed with the Chargers defense because they didn’t know when he was coming, or if Damien Harris was going to push it down their throats.
This was the version of Newton who gives the offense a much-needed added dimension because of his wheels.
Newton’s mobility allows Josh McDaniels a greater canvas to operate the running game, and it clearly showed against the Chargers.
McDaniels provided a lot of different running looks, calling a brilliant game right out of the gate. This is the type of offense that gives the Patriots their best shot going forward, with Newton operating the read-option, and taking off whenever necessary to gain first downs, or get into the end zone.
Stidham can’t provide the same running dimension that Newton brings.
McDaniels used Newton’s wheels, the offensive line’s dominance, and Harris’ ability to run and break tackles, to break the Chargers defense.
“There’s a long way to go, and there’s things I feel I need to get better at,” said Newton. “But each day… it’s just learning in this offense and gaining the trust of the coaching staff, to be able to go for it on fourth down, to be able to put the ball in the air, and to be able to gain confidence in calling plays… whatever it may be, trick plays, run plays, pass plays, regular plays… that’s what the standard is for me, and I just need to keep growing.”
The game plan was pretty clear from the outset, as the offense marched 75 yards in 13 plays, with Newton doing a Superman leap over the goal line from a yard out on the first possession.
The drive was run-driven, with McDaniels calling zone reads, draws, speed options, and wildcat plays.
Yes, the wildcat, with Newton moving out wide as a receiver, and Harris taking the direct snap.
That first drive unlocked the entire day for the offense.
“Oh man, it was the right way we wanted to start the game. We had that as a key to victory this week, and I think we hit pretty much most of (the keys), not only scoring on our first possession in the first half, but the second half as well,” said Newton. “Major kudos to the offense with that, but more or less, it was set up with a great defensive performance. We had great field position all game and we just wanted to maximize that all game.”
In the first half, everything worked against the Chargers defense.
McDaniels also moved fullback Jakob Johnson all over the formation so the defense couldn’t key on him and oncoming runs. The Cardinals seemed to diagnose all the running plays, so this was a much more effective use of Johnson.
In all, the Patriots rushed for 165 yards. Harris led the way with 80 on 16 carries. Newton, who had 12 carries in the first half, the most in his career, finished with 14 rushes for 48 yards. Sony Michel also pitched in with 10 rushes for 35 yards.
“We just tried to keep our foot on the gas, and not let up,” said Harris. “Obviously, there’s a lot of things we can do better, but I definitely think how we started the game, established how we were going to play throughout the course of the game.”
Newton rushed for two scores, and threw for another, a five-yard bullet to N’Keal Harry on a stick route, who made a nice play in the end zone. Newton didn’t think that was his best pass, but he’ll take it, along with the boost from Harry.
Newton is now up to 11 rushing touchdowns on the season.
Listening to Harris, Newton’s the guy who sets the tone with his legs.
“You always want to keep the defense on their toes,” said Harris. “You never know who’s going to get the ball… I think that definitely helps our offense.”
Again, Newton didn’t do much in the passing game (he missed an open Damiere Byrd down the sideline on an out-route, under-throwing him), posting the lowest passing total in his career, but he was efficient.
On a day when an air show wasn’t needed, Newton allowed the offense to run and stay in that lane. His last rushing touchdown put the Pats up 21-0 and it was pretty much ballgame at the half. Along with the offensive line, and Harris, he brings that physicality when he runs.
“Just be the hammer, not the nail. God has blessed me with the stature that I have. Any time I have the opportunity to create some type of force or momentum, I’m going to do it,” said Newton. “But at the same time, I have to be cognizant of the position I play. When I need to get down, I have to get down.”
Rookie right tackle Michael Onwenu kept game-wrecker Joey Bosa at bay, as did others, and Newton looked more like a master at the controls than a quarterback who was lost standing over center the previous week.