AFC East Recap: Newton Shines in Patriots Debut while Darnold’s struggles continue
After a long, strange summer and much anticipation, football is FINALLY back. With everything going on, it was nice to sit down on a Sunday — just like the before times — and watch some classic AFC East rivalries at the one o’clock time slot. There’s just nothing quite like it. I’m here to give you a recap of the games, my thoughts on them, and grade each of the AFC East teams on their 2020 debut.
New England Patriots — With Tom Brady departing New England for Florida, we finally had a chance to see what the new Patriots would look like with former MVP quarterback Cam Newton under center. Today, we witnessed the arrival of smash-mouth football in Foxboro, with New England racking up 217 rushing yards accompanied by 3 rushing touchdowns. Newton looked extremely comfortable in the new offense, and McDaniels’ play-calling looked pretty lethal led by a running QB with Newton’s ridiculous athleticism.
Newton was able to walk in for his first touchdown as a Patriot on a simple QB designed run to the right, and it looked like McDaniels was playing chess while Miami was playing checkers. Besides a very ugly fumble by Harry that gave the Dolphins back the ball, the Patriots dominated almost every aspect of the game besides kicking. The Patriots showed why they have one of the league’s best secondaries with 3 interceptions and a run game that took full control with over 34 minutes of possession. A few small mistakes aside (including a few devastating drops and the obvious need for a consistent kicker), New England looked poised to compete for the AFC title again this year and as expected, you can never count out the hoodie.
Buffalo Bills — The Bills looked extremely solid and their young QB in Josh Allen looked excellent, minus the two fumbles and a few errant throws. Lots of positives came out of today’s game, with Josh Allen completing 72% of his passes with over 300 yards passing and budding chemistry with new wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Diggs looked promising in his new role as Bills #1 wideout with eight catches on nine targets for 86 yards. The Bill’s ground game looked strong, and just like the Patriots their best rusher was their QB. The Bill’s defense looked extremely solid and returned right back to where they left off last year with 2 turnovers and 3 sacks. I’ll grade them slightly lower than the Patriots due to the turnovers by Allen and a few big plays allowed on defense, however, I have no doubt it’s going to be a slugfest when these two teams meet in early November.
Miami Dolphins — Fitzmagic doesn’t seem to have much left in the hat, but luckily Miami has a promising young quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa who did not see the field today. It makes sense: Tua is their future, and there is no immediate need to throw him to the wolves against the best secondary in the league and against Bill Belicheck, a man notorious for taking delight in throwing the gauntlet at young quarterbacks. The Dolphins also lost Devante Parker to an early leg injury but hopefully, he will be back in the starting lineup when Flores decides to give the keys to Tua. Their defense had sparks of brilliance, but overall looked outclassed by the steamroller aka the Patriots running attack. The first game was a tough loss but the future is bright down in Miami.
NY Jets — Honestly, the D+ grade is a gift. It should be an F, but I’ll give them a break and say it was the lack of preseason that led to the Jets looking like an absolute dumpster fire in their season opener. Sam Darnold was flying solo out on the field, without an offensive weapon to his name. I put a decent amount of the blame on head coach Adam Gase (free agent signing, team management, time management, impact on playcalling, just to name a few of my qualms) but at the end of the day, he just doesn’t look like the guy that can lead the Jets back to being a contender in the AFC.
It is a major concern that running back Le’Veon Bell went out with an injury early — without him, they lose one of their only true playmakers on offense. The Jets just don’t seem to be putting forth the effort that is expected of an NFL team. That said, there were a few bright spots, and a true diamond in the rough in Jamison Crowder with over 100 yards receiving and a TD. If the Jets have a season that reflects how they played today, Gase better start packing his bags.
Check in with me next week for updated grades and more in-depth analysis once we have more tape on these 4 AFC East teams. Also, I will be posting my picks for next weekend on Wednesday for all you gamblers out there.