(CBS San Francisco) — The New England Patriots were supposed to play the Denver Broncos in Week 5. But COVID forced a bye week and pushed the game to Week 6. For much of the matchup this past Sunday, the Patriots played like they were still on a bye. What little offense they could generate wasn’t enough, and the Broncos held on for an 18-12 win.
The San Francisco 49ers bounced back from an ugly loss to the Miami Dolphins to take care of business in a tough NFC West matchup. Still banged up, the 49ers jumped out to an early lead, which proved to be enough against a Los Angeles Rams team that couldn’t find any continuity.
In Week 7, the 2-3 Patriots will host the 3-3 49ers in Foxborough, in a matchup of possible early-season contenders both working through early-season struggles. It’s too early to call this a must-win game for either team. Bill Belichick will have the Pats back on track with a little practice; COVID concerns limited them to one actual practice over the previous two weeks. The 49ers will improve with health; Jimmy Garoppolo’s ankle alone looked noticeably better this past week. But neither team can afford to drop too much further back in their respectively tough divisions.
The Patriots looked rusty against the Broncos, in what Cam Newton called a “sloppy display of football.” Newton was 17-25 passing for a meager 157 yards and two interceptions. He did find the end zone rushing. But outside of Newton’s 76 yards on the ground, the running game was basically nonexistent, with running backs totaling just 41 yards on the ground. Much of the blame can be placed on a patchwork offensive line dealing with injuries and COVID absences. The lack of practice didn’t help. Neither did poor execution, with the Pats managing just as many points as interceptions in the first three quarters.
“If your quarterback, in Cam Newton, is removed from the team for that period of time and then is kind of thrust back in, it’s like, alright, now let’s put together a game plan,” said Evan Washburn, NFL On CBS sideline reporter. “There’s only so much you can do on Zoom, that you can do virtually. He’s (Newton) a really talented player. That, I’m sure, made up for a lot that less talented quarterback wouldn’t be able to, but he still struggled. That to me was the takeaway.”
The 49ers defense was able to hold Jared Goff to just 19-38 for 198 yards. Their pass rush, which can be formidable — at least when healthy — didn’t manage a single sack, but the secondary picked up the slack in coverage. Can they be similarly effective against Newton? The Patriots’ new quarterback has had his moments this season, most notably the 397 passing yards he put up against the Seattle Seahawks. And he’s always a threat to run. But, to date, Newton isn’t exactly lighting up the stat sheet with his two TD passes and four interceptions.
For the 49ers, Garoppolo looked like a new quarterback a week after his mid-game benching against the Dolphins. His sprained ankle had healed enough for him to throw three touchdown passes in the first half and go on to complete 23-33 for 268 yards. George Kittle caught seven of his 10 targets for 109 yards and a touchdown. The 49ers backs picked up another 120 yards on the ground, as San Francisco dominated the time of possession battle.
The Patriots, of course, are very familiar with Garoppolo, who played his first three and a half seasons in New England. They know his strengths, and they know his weaknesses. As Washburn sees it, “despite the limitations they (the Patriots) may have defensively, due to a lack of personnel, they are intimately aware… of what Jimmy Garoppolo does well and, more importantly, what he doesn’t do well. I would imagine they’re going to create an environment that is not very hospitable for Jimmy G to do the things that he wants to do or what they want to do offensively.”
After a normal week of practice, with some offensive linemen returning, the Patriots should look better this Sunday. The 49ers are also getting healthier and starting to look a little more like last season’s NFC champions. Look for a close game in Foxborough.
The 49ers play the Patriots Sunday, October 25 @ 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS.