Field goal, Patriots. Brady throws two straight incomplete passes and is sacked on third down. Stephen Gostkowski comes on and kicks a 46-yard field goal to cut the Steelers lead to 24-19 with 3:56 to play.
Brady fails to connect with Gronkowski on a third-down pass from the Pittsburgh 44. But the Steelers are called for defensive pass interference, extending the Patriots drive.
In total, five rookies are part of the rotation, and Shane Larkin (who was playing in Spain last year) has played a key role. Yet none of them has shrunk from the moment. Of course each has had his own share of struggles (except perhaps the unflappable Tatum), but all have managed to step into their assigned roles and contribute to the team’s success.
Of course there’s also a little bit of luck involved. With the very notable exception of Hayward’s injury, a lot of things have gone well this year. Irving hit the ground running and has quickly stepped into the franchise-player role. In a way, the roster overhaul helped him because there was no established culture to which he needed to acclimate—it was all new for almost everyone, and not even mastermind Danny Ainge could have predicted exactly how the team culture would develop.
Now let’s look at numbers. Newton’s rushing production in 2015: 636 yards and 10 TDs. His rushing production so far in 2017 with two games left: 643 yards and 5 TDs. So he’s just as valuable there.
His passing has had a big drop-off in stats and efficiency, resembling more of his disappointing 2016 season. The eye test, however, says Newton is making some big-time plays when Carolina needs him most. He helped the team beat the Patriots on the road earlier in the season, then the Vikings and Packers at home of late.
If Wilson is on the board for putting his team on his shoulders, Newton should be, too, with a better team. Newton’s chances would shoot up from zero should the Panthers win the NFC South and jump up to a No. 3 seed.
What happens next is the full-scale integration of Isaiah Thomas into the lineup. Even Thomas’ return to the Garden was subdued. He had jokes and greetings for all the familiar faces who lined up to pay their respects and he even hugged it out with Danny Ainge in the hallway when they crossed paths.