Tom Brady is out. Cam Newton is in.
And amid all the upheaval at quarterback in New England, Bill Belichick still reigns … and the Patriots are still winning.
The Seahawks’ home opener Sunday will feature a premier matchup in prime time against the Patriots on Sunday night football (5:20 p.m. PDT). Both teams won their opener on Sunday.
It’s New England’s first trip to Seattle since the Seahawks’ 24-23 victory on Oct. 14, 2012, a game best remembered for Richard Sherman’s postgame remarks (“You mad, bro?”) to Brady.
Brady has left New England, and landed in Tampa Bay, but the Seahawks will see a familiar foe under center for the Patriots on Sunday. Three things to know about the Patriots this week:
Newton is back, and he’s motivated
The former Carolina Panthers star made his debut with the Patriots in a 21-11 victory over Miami on Sunday. The biggest development was the Patriots’ use of Newton in the run game: He had 15 carries for 75 yards and two touchdowns, the most rushing attempts he’s had since 2014.
Newton, 31, has battled multiple shoulder injuries the past few years, plus a foot injury that wiped out his 2019 season. Those health concerns were at least part of the reason Carolina cut the 2015 MVP in March, and partially explains why no team signed him for three months.
“For any person that’s forgotten, yeah, I do feel disrespected to a degree,” Newton told Boston’s WEEI on Monday, via The Boston Globe. “And that’s making me even more loyal and excited (to play) for the Patriots for giving me an opportunity.”
Newton’s 75 yards rushing were the most by a Patriots QB since 1977. Some in Boston are already wondering how long Newton can hold up if he continues to run as much as he did Sunday.
“Every year, a new discussion comes up about it’s not smart to run, it’s not smart to do this or that, but at the end of the day, I just feel like whatever is a necessary way we have to go about winning a football game, that’s what you have to do,” Newton said. “Me being an ultimate competitor, if I’m asked to block, I’m just going to do that. If I’m asked to run a route, I’m going to go do it.”
The Seahawks defeated Newton five of the six times they played during the quarterback’s nine seasons in Carolina. Newton’s lone victory over the Seahawks came in Seattle in 2015, when he threw the winning touchdown pass in the final minute to … Greg Olsen. Olsen, of course, signed with Seattle this offseason, and he will make his CenturyLink debut as a Seahawk on Sunday.
A new-look New England defense
Led by star cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, the Patriots ranked as the league’s No. 1 defense in 2019. They allowed just 14.1 points per game and gave up just 13 passing touchdowns against 25 interceptions.
Gilmore tied for the league lead with six interceptions last season, and he had the first of New England’s three picks against Miami’s Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday.
“It’s something we talk about every year,” New England safety Devin McCourty told The Globe after the game. “If we can take the ball away, we’ll help us get wins. Today, winning the turnover ratio is really what led us to this victory. That’s something we gotta keep a heightened awareness on each week, just going out there and attacking the football.”
The Patriots secondary played more man-to-man coverage than anyone in the NFL last season, and did it better than anyone.
But the defense did lose seven regular contributors from 2019, including veterans Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung, who opted out of the season in July because of COVID-19 concerns. Belichick had reportedly called former Patriots standout cornerback Aqib Talib, who retired this offseason, to ask him to return for one last season, but Talib turned down the offer.
The secondary had two new starters Sunday: rookie Kyle Dugger, a 2020 second-round pick out of Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina, and Joejuan Williams, a 2019 second-round pick out of Vanderbilt.
Third-year defensive back J.C. Jackson sealed New England’s victory Sunday with an interception in the end zone.
“I would just say that I really take my hat off to J.C.,” Belichick said. “I thought J.C. really competed well today. He showed a lot of mental toughness and a real competitiveness of the game, and then for him to make that play at the end just sealed the win, along with the run that we had there to get the first down to run out the clock. But the interception that J.C. had in the end zone, I thought he showed a lot of mental toughness and a high competitiveness in today’s game. So I just want to personally congratulate him for that because that was good.”
Belichick still going strong
Newton called his first couple months in New England “therapeutic,” and praised the culture around Belichick, now in his 21st season as the Patriots’ coach after replacing Pete Carroll in 2000.
“I think the thing that people must know: He makes even the smartest players more cerebral, and with that being said, we go over situational football each and every single day,” Newton told WEEI. “There’s no point in time where he cannot stop something and teach you something.
“He is the ultimate teacher and I just respect that. I just feel as if — you know, I didn’t know what to expect coming in here, you hear stories — and I just am blown away by his professionalism to adapt on the run.”