A New Patriot Way?
By Charlotte Wilder
Everything was different in Foxboro on Sunday afternoon. There were no Minute Men with muskets and drums standing at attention near the end zone. The parking lots were not filled with cars, and grill smoke did not waft through the early fall air. The number 12 was not splashed across the backs of fans screaming for their favorite team.
FOXBOROUGH, MA - OCTOBER 04: A general view before the game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on October 4, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
That is, of course, because there were no fans screaming at all. And there was no No. 12.
The lack of crowds was too bad, really, not just because everything is bad right now, but because new quarterback Cam Newton’s debut as a Patriot was absolutely electric. And it was nothing like what New England fans were used to seeing.
A few months ago, I wrote about how Newton and Bill Belichick both have something to prove right now. Belichick is out to show he can win without Brady. In Newton, he has a chance to show that he can, in fact, win with Brady’s opposite. At least that's the storyline that swirls around him.
Cam, on the other hand, needs to prove he’s still got it, and that he can stay healthy to execute.
On Sunday, the 31-year-old made it very clear — with his decisive style of play and a competence that only comes with repetition — that this is not his first rodeo. So far, the first step Belichick and Newton took together was one in the right direction.
It remains to be seen how long it takes for fans to come along on this journey. I talked to a guy mowing a lawn up in Maine on Monday morning. He said that while he was glad the Pats won, “Newton is no Tom Brady.”
Well, kind of.
Hear me out. On the field, Newton made it clear he isn’t Brady. That’s a good thing. The offense Belichick and McDaniels ran was completely different from what they did with TB12.
The one thing Brady could never really do that well was run; Cam did it so well and so often that it almost felt like the Patriots were throwing shade. Cam not only rushed for 75 yards, he also passed for 115. In the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Brady rushed for 69 yards total (nice).
Newton’s versatility means that Belichick can experiment and keep other teams on their toes in ways he couldn’t before. On one drive in the second quarter, Newton and New England seemed to confuse the Dolphins. Miami was expecting run plays on the first two downs of a drive, but instead, Newton successfully targeted Edelman to march the Pats down the field.
Off the field, however, Newton and Brady have more in common than fans might let themselves see. On a basic level, they’ve both been quarterbacks with Belichick when Belichick has had a lot to prove.
On a more personal level, they take a similar approach to leadership. In the hype video Brady released before he faced the Saints on Sunday, the veteran made sure he showcased his new teammates as much as he shone the spotlight on himself.
When I talked to Brady’s social media guys in the spring for the be-all-end-all TB Times history (not to brag), they made a point to tell me how adamant Brady was that his social media lifted up his teammates who famously love him, as any New England fan will be quick to tell you. Brady is always the star of the show, but he’s a generous one. He's also a smart leader. He knows that to get everyone on board, you have to be humble.
Now, Newton’s bright yellow suit, hat, and sunglasses were in stark contrast to the tones of greige that Brady trots out in cashmere and trenchcoats. The guy with the lawnmower on Monday told me Cam was “a showboat.” He might think that someone who dresses so flamboyantly is seeking attention in a way that feels very me-first, but a) that’s not true and b) according to Belichick and Newton’s new teammates, it’s clear it’s not true.
Belichick recently went on the radio and talked about how hard Newton worked in the offseason and how humble he is with the team, which is where modesty really counts (wear whatever you want!!!).
Newton’s new teammates seem more than happy to follow their new leader. Many have been effusive about him — here’s what David Andrews said after the first win:
“It’s been so much fun getting to work with this guy. He’s a great professional. He’s a smart football player and he’s crazy talented. It’s crazy to see someone that talented do some of the things he does. He’s a great leader and he’s a good teammate. You’ve got to root for a guy like that. That was pretty cool. That was pretty fun.”
Newton even has silly nicknames for his new pals.
“He puts himself last and puts his team first,” Belichick said at his postgame presser on Sunday (via Zoom in these dystopian times). “He’s done a tremendous job there.”
Newton has taken a lot of flak over the years — a lot of it undoubtedly because he’s a Black quarterback. But in the locker room, he’s been known as a thoughtful leader whose teammates admired him.
That seems to be in the case at Gillette, too.
So while we can’t write the book just yet, the first game of the season was the first chapter New England was hoping for. And if you look closely, it’s a more familiar story than it might seem. Hopefully more and more fans will see that as the season goes on.