By Arnie Leshin
Well, at least New England Patriots’ quarterback Cam Newton improved his tone while being interviewed after Thursday night‘s upsetting setback at the Las Angeles Rams. He didn’t shed any tears and hurry off as he did when his Carolina Panthers lost badly to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. That is, until the interview was winding down and he was either inpatient or angry by swiftly leaving his seat and hurrying off.
Otherwise, he did answer about half of the questions, said no comment to the others, and apparently struggled through the interview following the 24-3 defeat one week after scoring 45 points and trouncing the Los Angeles Chargers. That was good, this one was more bad news as New England tumbled closer to its first time missing the playoffs since 2009, and first-year starter Newton was replaced by Jarrett Stidham in the fourth quarter.
With Hall of Famer Tom Brady now quarterbacking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Newton took over the position after several good seasons in Carolina. But he has been a disappointment. He doesn’t run the option as well and his passing game has not been what the Patriots expected. And with the offense not delivering, head coach Bill Belichick brought in Stidham. Newton’s night concluded with only 119 yards through the air on 9 of 16 tries, and totaled 16 yards in nine carries to go with one interception.
And with the Buffalo Bills at 9-3 and holding down first place in the AFC East of the National Football League and the Miami Dolphins right behind at 8-4, are the Patriots at 6-7. Their remaining schedule could help, for they have a road game in Miami and home games against Buffalo and the winless New York Jets.
But even if they sweep and settle in at 9-7, it will still be a tough road to the post-season. Currently, in the AFC South, the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts are tied for the top spot at 8-4 each, and one of them will be a wild card. In the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns are a surprising 9-3, two games behind the previously undefeated Pittsburgh Steerers, and either way, can reserve a spot in the playoffs. Behind the two are the Baltimore Ravens at 7-5, and they, too, have a good chance to be a wild card.
That’s three possibilities in the lead over New England. But the Las Vegas Raiders, second in the AFC West at 7-5, make it four.
But there’s hope here based on the head-to-head for the Patriots have already defeated Baltimore and Las Vegas. And so for the Pats to sneak in, they must sweep their final three and hope that the Raiders split their four games, and then see Baltimore also split their last four and become 9-7. If that occurs, one of them will fall short after New England turned back the Raiders, 36-26, and the Ravens, 23-19.
But sweeping their three division opponents might not be an easy chore. No. 1, the Bills are protecting their one-game lead over the Fins, who are seeking one of the top two spots, and, well, the Jets are 0-12, but in the previous tilt versus the Patriots, they came close before falling 30-27 on a last-second field goal by former Jet Nick Folk. In Miami, New England won 21-11, and lost 24-21 in Buffalo.
Versus the Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, the Patriots managed only 10 first downs and 220 total yards. Stidham came in and threw for 27 yards on 5-for-7 attempts. For Las Angeles, running back Cam Akers picked up 171 yards on 29 carries and hauled in two passes for 23 yards.N
As for the Rams, they are 9-4 and a half-game up on the 8-4 Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West. And Brady’s new bunch in Tampa Bay is 7-5, three games in back of the already-clinching New Orleans Saints in the NFC South, but with a good shot at the playoffs, something Brady accomplished 11-straight times in New England. The runner-up in the West will become a wild card, the Minnesota Vikings, 6-5 and in second place behind the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, are also in there, as are the Arizona Cardinals at 6-6 in the NFC West.
If anyone of these possible NFL wild cards stumble, if would bring four teams with 5-7 records — the San Francisco 49ers, the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, and the runner-up in the NFC East — into the picture.