Cam Newton closed out the season, and maybe the only year of his Patriots career, much the way it all began with a fun-filled win over a division rival at Gillette Stadium.
Way back in September, Newton brought playmaking and optimism to the post-Tom Brady world with a 21-11 win over the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium to kick off a new season.
Fourteen games and a rare playoff-free fall in Foxborough later, what may be Newton’s finale foray as Patriots quarterback brought the smiles and energy that the former NFL MVP may be most remembered for in New England. But, in probably a case of too little, too late, he once again also brought some playmaking.
Sunday he kicked off the new 2021 year with a 28-14 victory over the Jets in the season finale, a performance that included a second-half flurry of snowflakes and touchdowns as New England and Newton came back from a 14-7 deficit to head into a hopeful offseason with some positive momentum.
Hours after ESPN broke word that the battle with New York was expected to be Newton’s final game as Bill Belichick’s quarterback – a pregame TV report that Adam Schefter apparently erroneously delivered in a way that no one seemingly intended or understood -- Newton took the turf at Gillette Stadium and overcame some first half sluggishness to go out on a high note.
He notched a Patriots QB-record 49-yard run on New England’s opening drive, one Newton capped with a touchdown pass to James White.
No. 1 on your roster if not in your heart would go on to throw two more touchdown passes – NFL firsts for both rookie tight end Devin Asiasi and third-year running back Sony Michel – in, sadly, his first game of the season with multiple passing scores. That it only gave him eight total touchdown passes on the season didn’t matter in the emotion of the moment.
To highlight the fun times and highlight-filled afternoon, Newton even hauled in a touchdown pass of his own, finding the end zone on a 19-yard completion from wide receiver Jakobi Meyers in the third quarter to jumpstart the comeback.
He led his team with 79 rushing yards. Threw for 242, second most in a win all year. And finished with a season-high 127.4 pass rating.
Oh, it was certainly a good day in a season that’s lacked many of them.
Interestingly, sounding like a true Patriot in maybe his last day in the New England uniform, Newton sounded very similar following one of his best performances as he’d sounded after so many of his struggles.
“I need to get better. That's what it all comes down to,” Newton responded to a question about building momentum or confidence heading into the offseason. “For me, I'm such a stickler about did you win, did you win, doesn't matter what the statistics were, did you win, find ways just to win. Yeah, having a game like today is good, but you wish you would have had more games like this.”
No one would argue with that. Nor would anyone seemingly argue with the notion that given all he’s invested and gone through this season in New England, maybe Newton deserved to go out in style.
“I'm happy to see anybody have a good day. That's what we work for,” Belichick said. “These guys work hard. They put in a lot of physical effort, a lot of mental effort, a lot of group effort. It's always rewarding to see positive results, whether it be Cam or Sony or our offensive line, Jon Jones, Adam Butler, anybody. I'm happy for all of them.”
Forget about all the outside talk about benching Newton to get a look at unproven second-year backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham, the Patriots were focused on finishing the season in as competitive a way as possible and showing their character, both as a team and as individuals.
“It was awesome,” Devin McCourty said of Newton’s season-ending success. “I think, so much talk of not playing him from the media and all of that and I think the way he's worked this year – he came into a group of guys and there's always so much that when you're on the outside looking in that you hear and you don't know. And he's come in and he's just been himself. We've accepted him, he's accepted us. So to see him be able to finish a season this way and our offense…But make no doubt about it, Cam's been the leader of that group, he's been a captain, he's been the offensive leader day in and day out, and I was happy not only for his play, but for the success of the whole offense that he leads.
“I was just happy for him because I know he cares a lot about that. He doesn't just care about how he plays as an individual, but leading a group and the group playing well, he takes a lot of that on his shoulders. I've been very fortunate and happy the way this year worked out, to get to know him and get to see his work ethic and person and all the things tha