Cam Newton playing the way he did in his Patriots debut Sunday was a revelation in more ways than one.
Be it running the ball, throwing the ball, or – perhaps most importantly – out-performing his predecessor, Tom Brady, Newton created such a strong first impression in New England that it's becoming difficult to curb your enthusiasm over what could suddenly be a much higher ceiling for the Patriots in 2020.
Newton rushed for 75 yards – second-most among quarterbacks in Week 1 – and posted a 100.7 passer rating, his highest in a game since Week 12 of the 2018 season. His total on the ground was the 10th-most for Newton in 126 career starts.
Get this: In a fun twist, Newton's opponent the last time he looked like, well, Cam Newton, before Sunday, was none other than the Seattle Seahawks in that Week 12 matchup. Sure enough, that's who's up next for New England.
Not that the Seahawks, despite their still-deserved reputation of having an elite defense, should be considered a sitting duck on the Newton comeback tour. Fans or no fans, Seattle is a difficult place to play, and that's before you get into the air quality on the west coast at the moment.
While that's a variable that's outside of New England's control, there are plenty of things the Patriots can do to ensure both Newton and themselves weren't merely Week 1 wonders in the weirdness that is 2020.
For starters, Newton does not appear to have lost confidence in wide receiver N'Keal Harry despite his fumble along the goal line against Miami.
"Let's put this in perspective," Newton said during his media availability Wednesday. "Did he [Harry] have a good game? Yes, he did. That one play overshadowed the production that he did have. He bailed me out on a play, on kind of an inaccurate pass that he came down with and got a first down."
Harry's five catches for 39 yards were a career-high in both departments. That's underwhelming, to be sure, but it's important to realize that Harry, still just 22, was playing in just his ninth career game, and his first with Newton.
It's critical for Newton not to lose sight of Harry, whose six targets in the game were second only to Julian Edelman's seven. Newton's and Edelman's chemistry from training camp seems to have carried over to the regular season, particularly on New England's opening drive of the third quarter, when the pair connected three times on an eight-play scoring drive for the Patriots.
Newton will have Edelman at his disposal at a moment's notice, just like Brady before him. Edelman's age, 34, will bear repeating until the end of his career at this point, though. Riding him into the ground simply isn't an option for the Patriots.
The proof won't come through until Sunday, but Newton is saying all of the right things about maintaining trust in Harry.
"Him still being a young player, trying to come into his own, things like that will happen," Newton said. "You just want it to be minimized as much as possible."
In addition to spreading the ball around to different receivers, a more balanced rushing attack wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for Newton and the Patriots. Newton proved on Sunday that when healthy, his mobility still matches up with only a select handful of quarterbacks in NFL history.
Like force-feeding the ball to Edelman, Newton carrying the ball 15 times in a game – the second-highest single-game total in his career – should only be utilized as the proverbial "break glass in case of emergency" option. Newton appeared in 14 games or more in each of his first eight seasons, including all 16 on five separate occasions, but that's not to say he was healthy the entire time, particularly in his later years with the Panthers. Appearing in just two games in 2019 was a matter of everything coming to a head for Newton's health.
This gets tricky, considering the Patriots seemingly have to keep Sony Michel in bubble wrap as well, but it didn't matter who carried the ball on Sunday against Miami – there were yards to be had. New England carried the ball 42 times for 217 yards, a robust 5.2 yards per carry. Rex Burkhead, who himself deals with fragility issues, along with James White and UDFA JJ Taylor, also shone in lesser roles out of the backfield for the Patriots.
The biggest advantage New England has when it comes to replicating Sunday's effort against Miami, however, has nothing to do with Newton or the stable of running backs. It's all about the offensive line for the Patriots, particularly along the interior, where guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason and center David Andrews are among the very best at what they do in the league.
Ted Karras was serviceable filling in for Andrews, who missed all of 2019 due to a blood clots in his lungs, but it was clear Sunday just how much the Patriots missed the former UDFA from Georgia at times a season ago. Newton aside, you could make a case that Andrews is the best player in New England now who didn't take a snap for them last year.
"He's very good at it," Belichick said of Andrews. "He's very experienced, has good quickness, has a lot of savvy and can just read and pick up things that are second-nature to him that a less-experienced guy might have trouble with."
The Patriots were decimated via free agency in almost every position group this offseason, but the offensive line didn't just survive the carnage – it emerged better than ever before.
New England is set to face a Seattle team that's on a shortlist of Super Bowl contenders, unlike the Dolphins in Week 1. The Seahawks dropped 38 points on the Falcons in their opener, tied for second-most among 32 teams.
The defense is going to have its hands full on Sunday, kicker remains a question mark, and even if Harry does rise to the occasion, the Patriots got virtually nothing from a third wide receiver (Damiere Byrd, Jakobi Meyers) nor any of its tight ends.
Still, this team will ultimately live and die on the success of Newton. Everything else will need to align later on in order for New England to last into January, but the team no longer has the luxury of treating the first month of the schedule as an extension of the preseason.
Making adjustments week-to-week will be paramount for the Patriots in 2020, and this weekend gives us the first chance to see if they're capable of continuing to evolve away from the traits which defined them for nearly two decades with Brady.