Life without the greatest quarterback who ever lived is just fine in New England.
With the caveat that it is just one game, of course, Tom Brady's replacement, Cam Newton, had about as sharp a debut as anyone could have hoped for. The 2015 NFL MVP rushed for 75 yards on 15 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns for the Patriots, who avenged a loss in last year's regular season finale to the Dolphins with a 21-11 win in front of no fans at Gillette Stadium.
The 15 carries were the second-most for Newton in his 10-year career. When asked about that after the game, all he said was "I just wanted to win."
In addition to his rushing prowess -- the 75 yards are more than double Brady's best game in New England -- Newton completed 15 of 19 passes for 155 yards.
With the pair of rushing touchdowns, Netwon reached 60 for his career, continuing to extend his own NFL record.
"He's a great teammate," Bill Belichick said of Newton. "He's earned everybody's respect, really, daily. He just continues to do everything that he can to help our team and that's really all you can ask from anyone and he continually does that, puts himself last and puts the team first. So, I think he's done a tremendous job there and I thought he played well today. He hit a lot of passes. He ran the ball well. He led the team."
The Patriots looked great defensively, too, picking off Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick three times. Reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore and new Patriot Adrian Phillips each had interceptions in the first half, while JC Jackson picked off the former Harvard star in the end zone with 1:28 left in the fourth quarter to seal the deal for New England.
"That's one thing we preach every day – to turn the ball over," Gilmore said. "We had a lot of turnovers. I think we played pretty good, but I think we still have a lot of work to do. We left some plays out there and we've got to study the film, learn from the film, and move on to next week."
New England Patriots
Derek Rivers, playing in just his seventh game for the Patriots since he was drafted in 2017, had New England's lone sack of the game.
The game could have been even more of a runaway, if not for a N'Keal Harry fumble out of the back of the end zone in the third quarter.
While the second-year receiver had a career high in both catches (five) and yards (39), his inability to hold on to the ball as he neared the goal line in the final minute of the third quarter will overshadow his best game as a pro to date. Harry caught a pass from Newton in the flats on first and goal from the Miami 9-yard line and made it all the way to the 1 before Jerome Baker punched the ball free, resulting in a touchback and giving the Dolphins the ball at their own 20.
Fitzpatrick, in turn, led Miami on its only touchdown drive of the game, an 11-play, 80-yard series which resulted in a Jordan Howard 1-yard run with 10:34 to go in the fourth. Fitzpatrick ran in for a 2-point conversion to slice the Dolphins' deficit to 14-11.
Facing adversity for the first time in the game, Newton responded by leading his new team on another lengthy scoring drive. While he was deprived of what would have been his third rushing touchdown of the game by a matter of inches, Sony Michel was able to pound the ball into the end zone for the Patriots to help make it 21-11 after Nick Folk's PAT with 5:24 to go.
Newton's first rushing touchdown came on New England's second offensive series of the game, which broke open the scoring. He added his second on the team's opening drive of the second half, helped on the series by three catches from Julian Edelman.
While Edelman had a bad drop which stunted the first drive of the game for the Patriots, he did finish as the team's leading receiver with five grabs for 57 yards. His first catch was the 600th of his career, making him just the second Patriot to reach such a milestone.
"He's a stud and he brings an energy, he's fun to play with," Edelman said of Newton. "I'm looking forward to compounding and building off this and fixing the things that we didn't necessarily do well and adding to the things that we did do well and keeping it going."
The Patriots are scheduled to play at Seattle next week on Sunday Night Football on NBC10 Boston at 8:20 p.m. It will be the team's first trip to Seattle since the teams faced off against one another in Super Bowl XLIX; however, the Seahawks have already played in New England since then, earning a 31-24 win in 2016.