The Patriots didn’t need Cam Newton to soar against the Raiders. Here’s who stood out, according to NFL experts

"Bill Beichick’s philosophy is to take away an opponent’s best weapon."

The Patriots running backs dominated against the Raiders. The win was dedicated to James White.
The Patriots running backs dominated against the Raiders. The win was dedicated to James White. –Barry Chin/The Boston Globe

While Patriots quarterback Cam Newton has been dubbed Superman, some NFL experts think the Patriots don’t necessarily need him to come to the rescue in order to win.

As was the case on Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders. Newton, who was 17-for-28 of 162 yards with a touchdown in the team’s 36-20 win, expressed with uber-confidence that the Patriots’ offense has “so many different ways to beat you” schematically.

That, as NBC Sports Boston’s Tom E. Curran explained, is exactly what makes the Patriots so dangerous. Newton is lethal, but so are the other weapons on the team.

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“They can win when Newton is kind of a bystander,” Curran wrote. “Against Miami, I thought the opt-out attrition on defense and the learning curve on offense would take their toll. Didn’t. Against Seattle, I thought the penetrating Seahawks defense would slow Newton down on the ground and shine a light on the Patriots wide receiver shortcomings. Didn’t…For the second time in three games the Patriots topped 200 yards rushing (250 yards) and this time it wasn’t really the threat of Newton that propelled them.”

On Sunday, it was running backs Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead, amongst others, that soared against the Raiders. Michel had nine carries for 117 yards, while Burkhead had six carries for 49 yards, and caught seven passes for 49 yards.

As Newton put it, “Burky had a game”. As ESPN’s Mike Reiss articulated it, Burkhead “provided the unquestionable highlight.

As the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian wrote, the Patriots offense proved they can still score effectively without their go-to guy.

“One of the biggest takeaways from Sunday’s 36-20 win over the Raiders was watching the Patriots offense still pile up plenty of points, and still win when Cam Newton isn’t flying on all cylinders,” she wrote, adding: “Actually, it was more like going back to their strengths. It was relying on a power run game, and having a motivated arsenal of backs take advantage of strong offensive line play up front from what’s best described as a makeshift line.”

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Here’s what else NFL experts are saying about the Patriots’ win, and who stood out most:

Doug Kyed, NESN: “[Kyle] Dugger played 25 snaps and wasn’t flagged nor targeted. The rookie played 17 snaps in a pseudo-linebacker role. He was in the slot five times, out wide at cornerback twice and on the defensive line once.

It’s a tremendous sign that the Patriots would entrust him with such an important role in just his third NFL game. He’s now third on the team in snaps among safeties and seventh among defensive backs.”

Phil Perry, NBC Sports Boston: “As Belichick noted, with all the variety they see from offenses week to week — including versatile offensive weapons like [Darren] Waller moving all over formations throughout the course of a game — Patriots safeties are vitally important.

On Sunday, just about every versatile defensive back the Patriots have on the roster saw some work on Waller. For the game, after lighting it up just days earlier against the Saints, Waller had two catches for nine yards on four targets…It’s happened often enough that it should come as no surprise, but Belichick’s defense erased the opposition’s best player. That’s no small deal considering the respect the Patriots had for Waller entering the weekend.”

Devon Clements, Sports Illustrated: “There’s a saying I made up just now, and it’s that Bill Belichick’s philosophy is to take away an opponent’s best weapon. After lighting the Saints ablaze on Monday night, Waller had two catches for nine yards in Foxboro, all of that production coming in the final five minutes of a three-possession game.”

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Nick Goss, NBC Sports Boston: “The Patriots needed a strong game from their rushing attack because quarterback Cam Newton was average at best as a passer…If the Patriots are going to be a contender for the AFC title in 2020, the run game will have to carry them to success. Sunday’s performance was very much a positive step forward in that regard.

The Patriots lost several players from their front seven on defense through free agency and opt outs, and they needed a young player to step up and become a quality pass rusher. So far, Chase Winovich has answered the challenge.”

Isaiah Houde, Patriots Wire: “The Patriots had a league-high eight opt-outs, new crop of linebackers, the departure of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick still put together a team that can play top-notch football in all three phases. For Cam Newton’s team — the rushing attack was the story of the day against Las Vegas.

Newton didn’t have a spectacular game on the stat sheets, but he was backed up by Rex Burkhead and the running backs. The defense came away with timely fumbles and Darren Waller was irrelevant the entire game.”

Henry McKenna, USA Today: “This was not a good performance by Newton. When he was throwing downfield, he was often pushing the ball into tight coverage, particularly when he targeted Julian Edelman. Newton’s targets for Edelman nearly got the veteran receiver into significant contact. And in one case, the quarterback threw to Edelman, who was surrounded by three defenders.

That’s why the Patriots needed the running backs to get going off-tackle and in the screen game. They weren’t having success with Newton throwing the ball. It was a surprise to see his issues after he lit up the Seattle Seahawks for almost 400 yards. It will be interesting to see how Newton fares against Kansas City.”

Dave D’Onofrio, Boston.com:  “It’s only the third week of the season, and the season could go in any number of what seem to be infinite possibilities from here. But, at this point, this has the feel of a big win for the Patriots. It’s a sign they can take care of business, at home, against a team they should beat.

In the AFC East, it keeps them from falling two full games behind the Bills, who coughed up 29 consecutive points but rallied for a third straight victory on Sunday…

If the Raiders had slipped into Foxborough and stolen a win, there was a real possibility the Pats would reach the season’s quarter point sitting at 1-3. Their momentum would be gone, their belief may be waning, and their chances of another division title would be fleeting fast.

Instead, they didn’t let it get there. Now they can go to Kansas City and confront a challenge against the champs with almost no pressure. They can go in looking to build, rather than looking, in some ways, to survive.

Sunday’s win was a big one — for now, for next week, and maybe for months from now, too.”

 

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