Perry: Newton and the Pats O answered McDaniels' challenge in Week 3 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Patriots led the Raiders, 23-13, with just over 11 minutes left. Newton and his teammates could either wrest control of the thing then and there or revert to the inconsistent play that plagued them in the first half, and let Jon Gruden's club creep back in.
Newton, Edelman and the Patriots offense answered McDaniels' call. Their drive, which resulted in Rex Burkhead's third touchdown of the day and a 16-point lead, serves as this week's Turning Point.
"Prior to that drive," Newton said, "Mickey Ds, Coach McDaniels, came to me, as well as Jules, and kind of challenged us to not let our foot off the gas. We've had a relatively interesting practice this week, knowing that the tempo was extremely high, the expectations (were) extremely high coming off the loss. This was kind of different for me being in the building and seeing how people react differently to losing. It wasn't acceptable to me, and I know it wasn't acceptable to a lot of others in this building.
"So we knew we had to finish with the ball in our hands as well to create some type of cushion, with that kind of centerpiece drive, so to speak. We had plays that (were) called, and we try to execute as much as possible, and I think we did a great job of that, outside of one or two specific forced.
"But at the end of the day, we had a couple of those answer drives this year, and I'm extremely pleased with our team with the way they handled it, defensively as well as offensively, and when you got that type of chemistry early, it only builds great habits here moving forward in the latter part of the season."
The drive was an "answer" to the Raiders being held to another field-goal attempt. It was another stall-out by Derek Carr, but the Raiders were pesky. They hung around.
And the subsequent Patriots drive wasn't some kind of surge. Sony Michel ran for two yards. A defensive holding call provided a gift first down. A quick-hitting screen to Damiere Byrd lost a yard. But then Newton found Harry, one of his favorite targets through three weeks, for the team's longest pass play of the day.
When Newton dropped back and surveyed, he knew he was about to be smothered by Clelin Ferrell, but he let one rip to the sideline. On a day when his accuracy was off-kilter, this was a Newton strike. It flew about 15 yards down the field and hit Harry with separation near the sideline on his comeback route.
Harry then was able to turn up the field, break a tackle and carry Erik Harris several yards before being dragged down for a gain of 27. To that point in the game, Harry had only one other catch for seven.
"You see," Newton said, "for him -- every young receiver feels like, 'if I'm not catching the football, then I'm not productive,' and for him, he has such a productive game because he was setting the edge for us in the run game, and he did such a great job, and that still keeps you in the game.
"So that play happened, if I remember it, it was in fourth quarter. Any time before that, he probably had a checkdown or something like that, which I know I remember vividly watching him in college, it's just a different type of ask of what we're asking him to do in this particular system.
"For him, he has to stay in the game -- and he's been in the game, making sure that he's doing his job, whether that's from finishing blocks, setting the edge, getting the force defender, running guys off, doing his job with the passing game. So for him, still being relatively young, for him to still be in the game when it's time for him to catch a ball, it works hand in hand.
"So I told him on the sideline, man, I'm extremely proud of him and his growth because it is tough, mentally more than anything, for a young guy to come in here and try to thrive in ways that they don't always ask for you to thrive with just catching the football, and I think that's the biggest misconception for receivers, especially coming into this league."
Two plays later, Newton picked up another chunk through the air after absorbing contact. On a screen, Newton took a shove from defensive lineman Maurice Hurst, but the goal of the play had been achieved: The Patriots enticed Raiders defenders up the field while Burkhead leaked out of the backfield.
Executing the key block on the pass, as Burkhead scrambled in the open field for 11 yards? That would belong to Joe Thuney, playing at center for the injured David Andrews. It was Thuney's first game action in the middle since a preseason game in 2016. Looked like he belonged, particularly on the fourth-quarter screen where he latched onto linebacker Nicholas Morrow and drove him to the sideline to open up a lane.
"We didn't have no issues, so it was great," Newton said after the game. "Smokin' Joe is a person who is very reliable on this offensive line. The moment wasn't too big for him to step right in to fill the shoes of Dirty Dave. So I was just excited that, to have anybody be replacing somebody, you'll want that transaction to be what it was."
"It was all right," Thuney said of his experience Sunday afternoon, "just tried to get a snap first, then communicate the whole time. You know, just tried to do what centers do and play well."
Two plays later, another chunk. But this one wasn't delivered the way McDaniels drew it up. On a first-down play-action pass dropback, Newton scanned the field and found . . . nothing.
Stepping up and away from pressure off the left side from Ferrell, Newton then stepped laterally to avoid another Raiders rusher. By then, about four seconds after the snap, Newton noticed a wide-open patch of turf in front of him. He bolted, catching an improvised lead block from running back J.J. Taylor.
Twenty-one yards later, Newton popped up out of a slide and shouted loud enough in celebration to be heard by the broadcast microphones around the field.
"The play before, I just remember we had another play action pass, and I missed Byrd, and I seen it on the replay, and he came back with the big eyes," Newton said. "I was like, 'Man, I know I missed you.' Look, bud. Coming back, I knew that would have been a touchdown, so we had to make for doggone sure that this drive wouldn't be capped with just a field goal. We wanted to make sure we did a score.
"So when I seen the run open -- they did a great job defensively with having a spy, and I realized they didn't have a spot that specific time. So I just tried to do what the defense gave me."
Two plays later, the Patriots gladly did the same. Taking what the defense gave them, they picked up 14 yards on a wide zone run to the left.
Ferrell shot up the field, making it easy for Isaiah Wynn to wash him out of the play. Mike Onwenu sealed Morrow. Edelman walled off Lamarcus Joyner. That was all Burkhead needed. Seconds later, the Patriots hurried to the line and punched it into the end zone from two yards away.
Run game. Pass game. Off-script explosive plays. McDaniels got a little bit of everything from his offense as it kept the pedal pressed. Their 10 plays took six minutes off the clock and essentially put the game away.
"We want to put defenses in fits," Newton said, "knowing that we have so many different ways to beat you and a plethora of different type of schemes, a plethora of different type of -- we want to run downhill. We want to run on the edge. We want to throw it deep. It doesn't matter.
"I think that's been our biggest edge, for the most part, just having that ability to attack the teams in so many different ways and to still be successful."