Even with the return of Cam Newton, lack of practice seemed to haunt the Patriots, as they fell to the Denver Broncos 18-12 last Sunday, Oct. 18.
Originally scheduled to be played on Oct. 11, the game was postponed a week after three more Patriots tested positive for COVID-19. As cases slowly rose throughout the following week, the Patriots’ practice facilities remained closed. By gameday, the Patriots had only practiced twice in 14 days.
The good news for New England was that they would see the return of quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Newton had missed the previous game against Kansas City after testing positive for COVID-19, and on the day following that game, Gilmore tested positive as well. The Patriots were also facing a seemingly inferior team in the Denver Broncos, who were 1-3 on the season, their only win coming against the now 0-6 New York Jets.
The game was an offensive disaster for the Patriots from the very beginning, as Newton’s first pass was tipped and intercepted. While the defense was able to keep the Patriots in the game with solid red zone play, the offense struggled to find their footing. At the end of the first half, the Patriots trailed the Broncos 12-3.
Struggles continued in the second half, as the Patriots failed to score on all three of their third quarter drives. The first drive resulted in a quick punt, while tight end Ryan Izzo lost a fumble and Newton threw another interception on the second and third drives. Meanwhile, the Broncos continued to get into Patriots territory and put field goals on the board, amounting to an 18-3 lead.
The Patriots saw a shot to come back in the fourth quarter, partially thanks to a rushing touchdown by Newton and a Nick Folk field goal. The defense also came through, forcing the Broncos to punt for the first time and then making interceptions on back-to-back drives. But the Patriots failed to complete the comeback, as Newton missed an open pass to N’Keal Harry on fourth-and-10 on their final drive.
In result of the 18-12 loss, the Patriots have fallen to 2-3 on the season, which is the first time they’ve had a losing record in October or later since 2002.
“We’re expected to do our job and play at a high level, and we didn’t do that today,” Newton said in his postgame press conference. “I have to be better and I will be better.”
Sunday’s game was Newton’s worst performance in a Patriots uniform. Newton’s biggest problem was his decision making, as he made some questionable passes and held onto the ball far too many times under pressure, contributing to his four sacks and two interceptions. Part of the blame also falls on the offensive line, who seemed to miss guard Shaq Mason, who was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list.
Although the defense did give the Patriots a shot to win the game, they didn’t play as well as they did against Kansas City two weeks ago. They deserve credit for playing fantastic red zone defense, but they didn’t force Denver to punt until the fourth quarter, allowing them to beat the Patriots with field goals.
This week, the Patriots host the San Francisco 49ers, whose 3-3 record can easily be deceiving. The defense may not be pressuring the quarterback like they normally do because of defensive end Nick Bosa’s injury, but a quality secondary still has the 49ers boasting a top 10 defense, allowing only 321 yards per game.
The offense is led, somewhat, by a name that should sound pretty familiar to Patriots fans: Jimmy Garoppolo. Although he hasn’t seen the same success passing as he did in New England, he has been blessed with George Kittle, who might be the best tight end in the league. The 49ers also have a solid run game, which was a major factor in their Super Bowl appearance last season.
To see success against San Francisco this week, Newton and the offence have to knock off the rust that was apparent last Sunday, while the defense should try to shut down Kittle and force Garoppolo to throw the ball elsewhere. If the Patriots don’t come out with a response to their performance against Denver, they could be facing a loss that puts the forecast of their season into question.
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