Cam Newton is the centerpiece of the 2020 Patriots offense and maybe the team as a whole.
That’s been clear almost since the day he signed with New England.
It was certainly obvious in the opening day win over the Dolphins in which he ran for 75 yards and a pair of touchdowns in leading his new New England squad to victory.
It was also evident last Sunday night in Seattle when Newton threw the ball all over the field in a shootout with Russell Wilson, putting up nearly 400 yards passing while rushing for another two scores yet coming up a yard short of the end zone as time expired and failing to achieve the only thing he cared about – the W.
After two weeks of work it seemed clear the Patriots would go only where Newton could take them this fall, whether it be with his powerful legs or his strong right arm.
But Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, a funny thing happened as that narrative took a hit when Newton had a lackluster performance against Las Vegas and yet New England pulled away for the 36-20 dismissal of the previously undefeated Raiders.
Newton had a ho-hum day. He completed 17 of 28 passes for just 162 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a 73.8 rating. He ran for just 27 yards on nine rushes.
At times he made poor decisions, both as a runner and a passer. His accuracy was spotty. Unnecessary chances were taken. Good fortune kept him to just the one turnover.
But it didn’t matter. Why? Because his teammates on both sides of the ball had plenty of production to pick up their superstar, Superman leader.
Rex Burkhead scored a trio of touchdowns – one through the air and a pair on the ground – with nearly 100 yards of scrimmage offense.
Sony Michel notched his first 100-yard game in more than a year.
Both backs took full advantage of the work done by a make-shift offensive line with Joe Thuney starting at center in place of the injured David Andrews, while rookie Michael Onwenu made his first career start at left guard. The unit led the way for 38 rushes for an even 250 yards rushing for a 6.6-yard average, even while including three Newton kneel downs.
Meanwhile the defense was creating a trilogy of turnovers, the final a Shilique Calhoun strip sack of Derek Carr recovered in the end zone for a door-closing Deatrich Wise touchdown.
The unit had its issues against the Josh Jacobs run game early, but also held the Raiders to just three of nine third down conversions, including an 0-fer in the first half. Las Vegas was just 2-of-5 on red zone trips.
“We had contributions from everybody,” Bill Belichick said in his postgame video call after lauding the run game and the defense. “I thought we competed hard and did enough things to deserve to win. So we'll take it.”
It wasn’t easy. The home squad had just a 13-10 lead at the half as the Raiders put together a touchdown drive of 75 yards in just 28 seconds to close out the second quarter.
“Went out and played their best 30 minutes of football in the second half, which is what we needed from all three units,” Belichick said.
But not necessarily from their quarterback. Nope, he was good enough but far from otherworldly.
“We practice to maximize our role. I think that's what you got guys doing,” Newton said of Burkhead and Michel stepping up. “We want to put defenses in fits knowing that we have so many different ways to beat you and a plethora of different type of schemes. I think that's been our biggest edge, for the most part, just having that ability to attack the teams in so many different ways and to still be successful.”
“When you have great teammates on your side like we do, it definitely makes your job easier,” Burkhead said of his own play, words that just as easily could have been focused on his quarterback.
Newton is still capable of being the sun around which the solar system of a team revolves. It’s a role he lived for his career in Carolina, including leading that team to a Super Bowl while winning an MVP award.
It’s a role he rebooted through the first couple weeks of his time in New England.
But in a revelation that may make this Patriots team more dangerous than many may have predicted, it’s a role Newton may not need to fill fully each and every week this fall in Foxborough.
On a day when he didn’t have his best game. When he didn’t deliver too many darts through the air and didn’t carry the rock to much success, the Patriots still came away with a decisive win.
“It’s nice to know you can win in a variety of ways,” Matthew Slater said. “You know, we don’t think we are a one-dimensional team. Whatever we’ve got to do to scratch and claw and eek out a win, we’ll do. And we had a number of guys step up today. It was great to see the backs perform the way that they did, the offensive line perform the way that they did, and certainly the defense and how they perform the way that they did. And that’s the way it’s going to be for us. We just have to find ways to win.”
Newton can do it all. But he may not always have to if he gets the ground support and defensive contributions he got in Sunday’s win over the Raiders.
“We find ways to win,” Newton concluded. “When you're able to do that as a team collectively, as Coach said, playing complementary football, then things will be ascending for us as far as success.”
With the emphasis on “we” and “us.”