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Game Observations: Newton, Patriots run away to first win of 2020

The Patriots rode a strong debut from Cam Newton, en route to a 21-11 win over the Miami Dolphins in the 2020 season opener.


The Patriots rode a strong debut from Cam Newton, en route to a 21-11 win over the Miami Dolphins in the 2020 season opener. Newton ran for 75 yards and two touchdowns, while also converting two third downs and one fourth down as Josh McDaniels put together a successful gameplan that kept Miami's defense off balance for most of the game.

New England set records under Bill Belichick for rushing attempts and rushing yards by a quarterback, two new records that show which direction the Patriots attack is headed.

Meanwhile, the defense was effective despite some significant offseason turnover. By shutting down Miami's rushing attack, the Patriots were able to play to their defensive strength – the secondary, getting interceptions from Stephon Gilmore, Adrian Phillips and J.C. Jackson.

It sure looked different and might not have been perfect but it was effective enough for a season opener and now the Patriots are off on the 2020 campaign and 1-0 with a division win.

Here's everything that stood out in the first win of the Patriots new season!

-- New England got a solid defensive start forcing a three-and-out, but narrowly missed a huge mistake as Damiere Byrd muffed the punt return catch after being bumped by J.C. Jackson. Luckily it was recovered by Jackson, who was right on the spot. With leading punt returner Gunner Olszewski on IR, the returner spot remains a question mark. Julian Edelman would be back for the second punt that would roll into the end zone, he didn't return a single punt in 2019 for the first time in his career. Byrd would return and cleanly fair catch another punt return.

-- The Patriots offense wasted little time using Cam Newton as a runner multiple times on the opening drive, but a drop by Julian Edelman, followed by a sack of Newton backed the offense up and forced a punt. Newton's presence immediately gave a unique feel to the offense, with a renewed focus on stacked backfields that they didn't quite have the personnel for in 2019. Jake Bailey and the punt team came through with a great first punt of the year, downing the ball at the Dolphins 11.

-- Chase Winovich made an impressive second-down play on the Dolphins second possession that snuffed out a run in the backfield. Winovich's role has clearly expanded in his second season and he was productive early both against the run and with some pass rush pressure.

-- Some quick personnel observations… Brandon Copeland saw time at inside linebacker. Rookie Michael Onewnu appeared to be the swing backup tackle and saw some second-half snaps at right tackle. Byron Cowart started at defensive tackle alongside Lawrence Guy and also partially blocked Miami's successful field goal in the second quarter. Ryan Izzo was a workhorse at tight end after a solid training camp. Kyle Dugger, Jason McCourty and Shilique Calhoun entered the lineup on third defensive drive. Jonathan Jones seemed heavily featured in a safety role. Xavier Williams entered the game on the fourth defensive drive. Derek Rivers was used primarily as a designated pass rusher. JoeJuan Williams was a third-and-long sub, covering tight ends. Anfernee Jennings saw some action in the goal-line defense and was in on a nice second-down stop. Justin Herron saw some goal-line snaps at tackle. Devin Asiasi served primarily as a back-up blocking tight end.

-- Ryan Izzo had the first big play of the season, a nice 25-yard catch up the seam. While many of us were so focused on the rookie tight ends, Izzo has had a solid summer and was leaned on heavily in this game. His development will be an area to watch, he's looked comfortable. It helped set up New England's first score of the game.

-- Newton would convert a third-and-four with his legs inside the red zone then take the ball into the end zone for the Patriots first touchdown score of the season and a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter. It put a nice cap on the start of the game, with an exclamation that defenses are going to have to have a plan for Newton's running. It was the most effective part of the offense early on.

-- Julian Edelman caught his 600th catch in the second quarter, good for second all-time on the Patriots.

-- Ryan Fitzpatrick would make a bad throw that was picked off by Stephon Gilmore, fresh off a new raise and picking up where he spent most of 2019 – making plays on the ball. It set the Patriots up on the Dolphins 35-yard-line. New England couldn't do anything with it though and ended up losing yardage as Newton took a third-down sack. They were forced to punt, missing on an opportunity to take a two-score lead in the game.

-- The Dolphins offense started to find some signs of life on their next possession, sparked by an 18-yard pass to DeVante Parker then a 20-yard completion to Preston Williams that took them inside the Patriots' 30-yard line. But the Patriots would hold them from there, with Derek Rivers causing a bit of disruption to cause the third-and-long pass to fall incomplete.

-- The Pats went three-and-out after the Dolphins cut the score to 7-3, but Jake Bailey's 55-yard punt and a terrible decision by the Miami returner, helped keep good field position for New England just before the half. But the Dolphins put together a drive that was finally snuffed out by an Adrian Phillips' interception with just 31 seconds left before the half.

-- The offense would get down to the 27-yard line just before the half, powered by a 16-yard catch and run by Julian Edelman but Nick Folk would miss a 45-yard field goal that would keep the score at 7-3 at the break. Dolphins' two turnovers gave New England a great boost in the first half but they were unable to pull away. The Pats had 19 rushing attempts to just nine passing attempts in the first half, a good indicator of where the offense is at right now.

-- Newton came out firing in the second half, opening with two-straight completions off play action to Edelman to get the Pats quickly across midfield. The quarterback would take it in himself for his second touchdown of the game from 11 yards out on a bootleg. Out of the locker room, the Patriots balanced their running game and play action passing game to perfection as Newton, Edelman and James White powered the drive.

-- JoeJuan Williams showed up with a nice third-down pass breakup on tight end Mike Gesicki to force the Dolphins to punt on a three-and-out after the Patriots took a 14-3 lead. Williams appears to have found a role for himself out of the gate in 2020.

-- J.J. Taylor started to get some run in the second half at running back and showed some good burst in his first-ever NFL action. Taylor showed good burst and agility in camp and looked like he fit in well, a nice development for the undrafted rookie. Taylor picked up 28 yards on the drive.

-- After chipping in with three catches on the long third-quarter drive, N'Keal Harry had a disastrous end on his fourth catch, fumbling the ball out of the end zone when it looked like he was about to plow in for the score. It was a momentum killing play as the Patriots appeared poised to take full control of the game.

-- The Dolphins would get a pass interference penalty from Stephon Gilmore on 4th-and-2 that would give them 23 yards on the ensuing drive. An 18-yard pass to Mike Gesicki on the next play would quickly put Miami inside the red zone as they quickly answered off of the Patriots first turnover of the game. Jordan Howard would take the ball in on third down after two nice goal-line stops by the Patriots defense and then Fitzpatrick would take in the two-point conversion to close the score to 14-11.

-- The Patriots would respond on the next drive, with an opening play of 23-yard rush by Edelman plus an extra 15 yards after he got hit out of bounds, that set up New England on the Dolphins 37. New England would stick with the run, giving Michel, Burkhead and Newton carries that kept the clock moving and took them inside the Dolphins five-year line, setting up a critical 4th-and-1 that Newton kept and converted. Sony Michel would finish things off with a one-yard touchdown run, giving New England a ten-point lead with just over five minutes left in the game.

-- The Dolphins would work their way down the field, down 10 points late in the fourth quarter, with Fitzpatrick taking advantage of some underneath passes as well as Stephon Gilmore's second pass interference penalty of the game. But J.C. Jackson would grab the team's third interception of the day in the end zone to seal the game.

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