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Baby Steps: Cam Newton, youngsters on offense end year with step forward

(Olindo Longo for BSJ)

FOXBOROUGH -- In the final game of 2000 -- the first and worst season for Bill Belichick in New England -- the Patriots started Drew Bledsoe, J.R. Redmond, Terry Glenn, Troy Brown, Rod Rutledge, Jermaine Wiggins, Bruce Armstrong, Adrian Klemm, Sale Isaia and Greg Randall in falling to 5-11 with a loss to Miami.

Nine of those 11 picked up Super Bowl rings a year later, with only the retired Armstrong and the journeyman Isaia gone.

As New England rolled up 404 yards and 28 points in a demolition of the hapless New York Jets on Sunday afternoon, you had to wonder which of these current offensive Patriots would be nothing more than a memory in 2021. As unimportant as this formality of a football game could have been, it meant plenty to these Pats. Credit Belichick on so many levels for it. In a league where Week 17 rollovers are commonplace, the Patriots came to play on offense this week.

Maybe, they did it for Cam. The guy has been a soldier from the minute he got here. More likely, they did it for their futures. As team captain Devin McCourty said a week ago, teams with losing records most likely end seasons in roster upheaval. Belichick certainly let his guys know that fact this past week.

“Some guys got an opportunity to play. Not that that was the goal; they were forced into it. In a way, all their hard work paid off, at least gave them an opportunity to do that,” the coach said in his 20-plus minute postgame zoom session. “It was good to end a disappointing season on a positive note. Still not necessarily where we wanted to be here at the end of the year. Today was today. All we could do was control today. Again, I appreciate all the players, the way the team performed.”

Newton had to be the player who walked away most satisfied, having thrown for three scores and caught the fourth on Sunday.

He walked off triumphantly, well as triumphantly as he could have during a 7-9 campaign.

“There is nothing, no one, nothing, that was going to get me out of the spirit that I was in. I don't know what it was, but I had a great manifesting party New Year's Eve, going into the new year,” said a philosophizing Newton afterward. “That was kind of what I kind of foreshadowed. How to kind of visualize it, for it to play as it did, means I should have been doing that more this year, right?”

Newton was a winner on Sunday afternoon. But there were others, starting up front.

The Patriots played without three starters – David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Isaiah Wynn – and lost little steam, ripping holes in the painfully soft Jets to the tune of 5.7 yards per carry on the ground.

Jermaine Eluemunor might have played his best football of the year at right tackle. And other than Michael Onwenu flattening the football (joking) when he pounced on/engulfed a Damiere Byrd fumble, he was again solid at right guard. James Ferentz and Justin Herron will each grade out well, despite Cam getting hit seven times in 33 drops (3 sacks).

The Patriots also re-discovered the tight end position, albeit well past the deadline.