For the last three years, there has been one recurring storyline for New England Patriots: Do they have enough talent at wide receiver?
In 2018, the storyline proved unjustified. They won a Super Bowl, after all. But the 2019 pass-catchers were a mess, and seemed to contribute, in part, to the team’s disappointing finish. So with the Patriots transitioning from Tom Brady to Cam Newton, the receiving corps seemed just as lackluster. In fact, with Mohamed Sanu flunking out of the system (and getting cut), the Patriots seemed worse. With Newton returning from injury, there was no saying whether he could uplift their performance.
In Week 2, he did just that. Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry posted career-highs in receiving yards. Damiere Byrd put up a respectable 72 yards, third most in his career. So the media will probably continue to clamor for more help for Newton at receiver or tight end (where the Patriots just have three receptions from Ryan Izzo). But it does not seem like Newton will be asking for help.
“The answer’s in that locker room,” Cam Newton said on WEEI on Tuesday before rattling off the nicknames of his four receivers on the active roster. “So we good to go.”
His nod of confidence is notable after Brady admitted this offseason that he freezes out receivers. That came after he denied freezing out Harry, a 2019 first-round pick. But he finished 2019 with 12 catches for 105 yards and two touchdowns in four games. And he has started 2020 with 13 catches, 111 yards through just two games. Newton seems more comfortable and committed to pushing the ball to Harry than Brady did.
“[N’Keal] has grown in front of everyone’s eyes,” Newton said after the Patriots’ 35-30 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2. “For him to gain confidence in himself, I think that’s a start. And I think that’s what he’s doing. I think today’s game was a great indication of that and what he could potentially be. Yet through it all, he still has to keep building to become the best version of himself.”
It’s early in the season. New England lost the game in which Newton brought his receivers’ game to a different level. As nice as those stats are, Belichick (and Brady (and Newton) would rather wins. But if Newton can keep this up, however, the Patriots may start stacking those Ws.