Cam Newton and Sony Michel had a tough go of it this season, with Newton consistently struggling with his accuracy while Michel battled injury and eventually fell behind Damien Harris on the depth chart.
Despite all of those challenges, both players made sure they finished the 2020 season on a high note.
Newton and Michel led the way as the Patriots beat the New York Jets on Sunday 28-14, wrapping up the season with a decisive win as New England finishes the year 7-9 overall.
Newton had his best all-around performance of the year, completing 21 of 30 passes for 242 yards while throwing three touchdown passes and no interceptions. He also rushed for 79 yards on 11 carries and even made a 19-yard touchdown catch from Jakobi Meyers on a trick play.
One of Newton's touchdowns went to Michel, who had three catches for a career-high 60 receiving yards while also rushing for 76 yards on 16 carries. Michel's recent emergence in the passing game has been encouraging, but in addition to his receiving contributions he has also run the ball consistently since coming back from injury in late November, averaging 5.2 yards per carry in New England's last five games.
Newton sets QB rushing record
While Newton's tenure as New England's starting quarterback likely won't be a long one, the former MVP has etched his name into the team's record book. With his 49-yard rush on the game's opening drive, Newton broke two team records, including the longest rush by a quarterback and the single-season rushing record by a quarterback in Patriots history.
Both of those records were previously held by Steve Grogan, who rushed for 41 yards twice (Oct. 18, 1976 against the Jets and Oct. 9, 1977 against the Seahawks) and also rushed for 539 yards in the 1978 season. Newton finishes with 592 rushing yards and 12 touchdown runs on the season, both new franchise records for a quarterback.
Olszewski punt return record
One of the bright spots for the Patriots all year has been the special teams unit, and particularly the play of second-year punt returner Gunner Olszewski. Olszewski turned in another strong performance, with a nifty 15-yard return early in the game en route to 36 yards on three returns overall.
With his performance Olszewski finished with 346 punt return yards on 20 returns, which is good for 17.3 yards per return. That's a new franchise record, breaking the mark previously held by Julian Edelman, who averaged 15.5 yards per return in 2012.
Asiasi makes his mark
After struggling to get involved in the passing game throughout the year, rookie tight end Devin Asiasi finally got on the stat sheet with a nice performance in the season finale. Asiasi made two catches for 39 yards, including a 13-yard grab for his first career catch in the first half before following that up with a 26-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter to give the Patriots a 21-14 lead.
Fellow rookie Dalton Keene got in on the action too, making a six-yard catch for his third reception of the year. Overall the two were non-factors in the passing game this season, combining for five catches for 55 yards and one touchdown, but it was good to see the pair play their best down the stretch.
No top 10 pick for New England
If you came into this weekend hoping the Patriots wound wind up with the highest draft pick possible, you were likely disappointed with Sunday's result. With New England's 28-14 win, the Patriots finish the season 7-9 and will select No. 15 overall in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. While always a long shot, a Patriots loss combined with a number of other factors around the league could have resulted in the team picking as high as No. 10.
Mac Cerullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.