The New England Patriots suffered a massive blow when Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19. To make matters worse, star cornerback Stephon Gilmore also tested positive for the coronavirus. Though the latter has not missed a game, Newton’s absence forced the Patriots to resort to starting Brian Hoyer against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Let’s just say that experiment did not go well.
However, the Patriots just got a huge boost from their two biggest stars just days before they host the Denver Broncos. Can New England earn its third win of the season against an AFC foe that has been decimated by injuries?
Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore both tested positive for COVID-19
Cam Newton started his Patriots career off on a high note by leading the team to a 21-11 victory over the Miami Dolphins. He followed up with a sensational performance against the Seattle Seahawks that included 397 passing yards.
However, following a ho-hum outing against the Las Vegas Raiders, the 31-year-old suffered the scary reality of COVID-19. Just hours before the Patriots were set to depart for Kansas City, ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news that Newton tested positive for the coronavirus.
While the NFL postponed the Chiefs-Patriots game, it did little to help New England’s chances of winning. Without their star quarterback under center, the Patriots scored just 10 points. Despite a valiant effort by Stephon Gilmore and the defense, Bill Belichick’s team dropped to 2-2.
More drama ensued when news broke that Gilmore also tested positive for COVID-19 just two days after the Chiefs game. Ultimately, the NFL postponed New England’s scheduled matchup against Denver until Oct. 18.
The Patriots just got a huge boost from their two biggest stars
With their two biggest stars sidelined by COVID-19, the Patriots have had to deal with adversity early in the season. However, the team just received a huge boost from Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore.
After testing negative for the coronavirus, the two veterans got removed from the reserve/COVID-19 list. On Thursday, both returned to practice as the Patriots prepare to host the Broncos on Sunday. Teammate Jonathan Jones spoke about what it meant to get Newton and Gilmore back after their brief time away from the team.
“It felt good to have everyone back out there as a team just to practice,” Jones said, according to the Providence Journal. “You miss having those guys out there. They’re a big part of what we do. Just having them out there today definitely felt different.”
Now that their two best players are ready to go, the Patriots look much more dangerous heading into Sunday’s showdown against the Broncos.
New England should have no trouble defeating a depleted Denver team
Injuries have taken a toll on a Denver team that entered the season as a potential playoff contender. But after losing key starters like Courtland Sutton and Jurrell Casey to season-ending injuries, the Broncos have struggled out of the gate.
Vic Fangio’s team currently ranks just 28th in scoring, which certainly has a lot to do with their health problems. Denver does rank 14th in points allowed, but expect that ranking to drop now that Cam Newton will start on Sunday.
So far, the Patriots have pounded teams with a strong running attack. However, this could be a week in which New England opens up its passing game a bit.
The team needs to find production from the tight end position. Rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene could get some targets against a Broncos secondary that got torched by Ben Roethlisberger (311 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) and Tom Brady (297 yards, 3 TD).
Plus, the N’keal Harry-Cam Newton connection is still in its infancy stages. New England needs its 2019 first-round pick to continue making strides in his second season. The big-bodied receiver boasts a major size advantage over Bryce Callahan, one of Denver’s starting corners. Will Josh McDaniels dial up some big-play opportunities for the 6-foot-4, 225-pound wideout?
On the other side of the ball, expect New England to make life difficult for a Denver offense that will likely get Drew Lock back at quarterback. The second-year pro has just seven games of NFL experience under his belt, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Belichick mix up coverages and blitz packages to confuse the young QB.
Ultimately, with Newton and Gilmore back in the fold, the Patriots just received a huge boost to their chances of moving to 3-2. And moving forward, they need both stars to play at an elite level if the team has any shot at toppling the Chiefs from their AFC throne.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.