In the last 20 years, the New England Patriots have never faced so many questions going into an NFL season.
Like how does one replace the greatest quarterback in the history of the game?
Many pundits and jealous fans seemed ready to bury the six-time Super Bowl champions with Tom Brady jumping ship. But despite starting the season 1-1, the Patriots are showing that they have always been more than just their quarterback.
Even in defeat, losing a heartbreaker Sunday night by one yard to the Seattle Seahawks, the Patriots have gotten off to a great start to the 2020 season.
And there is plenty of reason to believe that this team is ready to contend again.
Coming off the 35-30 loss to Seattle, here is why there is plenty for the Patriots to be happy about early in 2020.
Cam Revenge Tour starting well
It is not every day that a former MVP quarterback not only goes to free agency, but garners so little interest and then ends up signing for next to nothing.
Cam Newton has been vocal since signing in New England that it is not about money, it is about respect and showing the 31 teams that passed on him that they made a huge mistake.
Through two games, he has sent that message loud and clear.
The former first overall pick has been outstanding for the Patriots so far this season, silencing doubters about his ability to carry a team and play quality football.
Newton has thrown for 552 yards with an impressive completion rate of 71.8 percent. He is also the team’s leading rusher with 122 yards and four touchdowns.
In game one, he set the franchise record for rushing attempts and had the most rushing yards by a Patriots quarterback in over 40 years. When questions were raised about his ability to pass the ball, Newton responded by dropping 397 passing yards on the Seahawks.
And he has looked healthy doing it. So far, the Newton gamble could not be going better for New England.
Receivers are not that bad
As the Patriots season fell apart in the back half of 2019, it became clear that the receiving corps was the team’s Achilles heal.
And management did little to address the concern in the offseason. And then in week one Josh McDaniels only called for 19 pass plays. There was little reason to believe that this team was going to be able to make an impact through the air.
But passing was the name of the game on Sunday night against the Seahawks.
Newton out-threw Russell Wilson with 397 passing yards to the Seattle QB’s 288 (although Wilson had five passing TDs to Cam’s one).
Julian Edelman led all receivers with 179 yards, his career-high despite having had Brady as his quarterback for the first 10 years of his career.
Edelman being the Patriots top receiver is to be expected, but he was by no means the only person able to make plays the way he was last year.
After not catching a single pass in week one, Damien Byrd had six receptions for 72 yards in week two. N’Keal Harry bounced back well after a fumble through the endzone ruined his week one by hauling in eight catches for 72 yards. He also drew a huge penalty for an illegal hit to the head that put the Patriots into the red zone, leading to a touchdown in the first quarter. And he held onto the ball despite the massive hit.
It was the best passing performance by the Patriots in a long time.
While receiving may still be a weakness for New England, they proved on Sunday that there are players on the roster capable of stepping up when called upon.
Potential for balanced offence
The Patriots could not have executed two more different strategies through two games.
Week one was all about the run. The team racked up 217 yards on the ground to only 155 through the air. They rushed more than twice as often as the passed and all three touchdowns came on the ground.
Week two was the opposite. The Patriots struggled to establish the run so they relied on Cam Newton’s arm and it nearly stole them a victory.
The numbers were nearly inverted, with the team almost passing twice as often as running (44 passes to 25 rushes) and racking up almost six times more passing yards than rushing.
The Patriots can run. The Patriots can pass. They just have not done it in the same game yet.
But if they do, watch out. At the very least New England has show that they can find a way to move the ball.
They have not really had to balance the offence so far in either game because the run worked just fine in week one so there was no need to pass. And when the run did not work against the Seahawks, Newton was able to carve up the defence with his arm so they went with what was working.
Getting a more balanced offence could be key to sustained success. This team has shown that it has the capacity to move the ball in different ways.
Reasons for Concern:
It is not all sunshine and rainbows for the Patriots so far. Results-wise, they have done exactly what was expected through two weeks. But facing their toughest division race in years, there are still some questions that Belichick and co. need to answer.
What happened in the secondary on Sunday?
Before the season, if there was one part of the team that was supposed to be reliable it was the secondary.
Last season, they Patriots defence was a force to be reckon with. But Russell Wilson tore them to shreds on Sunday.
Through two games, New England has allowed as many touchdowns to wide receivers as they did in the entire 2019 season with four, all of them coming on Sunday night.
The strategy was supposed to be keep Wilson in the pocket and force him to make short throws. The priority was to prevent him from making plays with the deep ball. And given the strength of Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty, it seemed like a workable strategy.
It was not.
Wilson had no trouble connecting on the deep ball, including for a pair of touchdowns. The most dramatic example was his touchdown pass to D.K. Metcalf, where the second-year receiver beat the reigning defensive player of the year Gilmore and fought into the endzone.
Three of Wilson’s five touchdown passes came from outside the red zone. A fourth was from 18-yards out.
To put Sunday into perspective, it took nine weeks last year for a team to drop more than 17 points on the Patriots defence, let alone 30. Only once last year did a team score more than 30 against them, that being a 37-20 week nine loss to the Ravens.
It is concerning to see the secondary, the supposed strength of this team, getting beaten up so early in the season.
That being said, beating up secondaries is literally what Russell Wilson does best so take that with a grain of salt.
Endzone or Bust
Kicker is a position that you do not really appreciate until you do not have a good one.
The Patriots did not even have a kicker coming out of training camp and had to bring Nick Folk off of the practice squad. And it is not going well.
Folk is 1-for-3 through two games, missing one field goal in each game. His lone success was a 25-yarder on Sunday. He has missed both of his attempts from beyond 30: from 51 on Sunday and from 45 in week one.
There is a positive spin to this.
First of all, the Patriots are getting into the endzone a lot. They have seven touchdowns to just three field goal attempts through two games. Second, Folk is 7-0 on extra points.
But right now, field goals do not feel safe. And while ideally they would never have to kick a field goal because they are always scoring touchdowns, the Patriots are going to need to find someone who can convert.
It is going to be hard to win games without someone who can kick field goals when called upon. It has not cost them yet, but it could.
Folk is either going to need to up his game or New England is going to have to find someone else who can get the job done.
The Patriots play host to the 2-0 Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday at 1 pm.