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BEN VOLIN | ON FOOTBALL

Cam Newton can’t quite be Superman, but give Patriots credit for showing fight vs. Seahawks

Freddie Swain celebrated his 21-yard score — the fourth of Russell Wilson’s five TD passes — that put Seattle up, 28-17, late in the third quarter.
Freddie Swain celebrated his 21-yard score — the fourth of Russell Wilson’s five TD passes — that put Seattle up, 28-17, late in the third quarter.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Instant analysis from the Patriots' 35-30 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday Night Football:

⋅ Give the Patriots credit for coming prepared to play and showing a lot of fight, coming two yards away from pulling off an incredible comeback win. It was about as tough an environment as you can have in the NFL — a road game 3,000 miles away, against one of the best teams in the league, on the same day teammate James White suffered a family tragedy. Yet they played the Seahawks tough for 60 minutes, scored points on their opening drives of both halves, and fought hard after trailing by double digits in the fourth.

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Meanwhile, Seattle delivered a pick-6 on a platter to Devin McCourty on the third play of the game. The Seahawks led in penalties, 6-0, until the Patriots were finally called for one late in the second quarter. And Russell Wilson made a baffling decision at the end of the game to throw deep on third-and-1, giving the Patriots a lot of time to drive down the field and go for the win.

The Patriots, frankly, should have been blown out in the fourth quarter. But they showed a lot of heart and promise, and this loss still provides a good amount of optimism about the rest of the season.

⋅ I don’t blame Josh McDaniels for the final playcall. Cam Newton is your best goal-line runner and you put the ball in his hands. That formation scored two touchdowns earlier in the game, one a Newton run and one a pass to Jakob Johnson.

But I did have an issue with some of Josh McDaniels' key playcalls as too gimmicky and/or conservative. On third-and-9 early in the game, he called a read-option run for Cam Newton (which he did almost convert). On third-and-8 he called a jet sweep to Rex Burkhead that didn’t work. On third-and-4 in the fourth quarter, he called an option run to Burkhead that lost four yards. And of course, on the final play of the game, he put in the “Jumbo” package and ran Newton unsuccessfully up the middle.

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McDaniels is certainly shorthanded in the passing game, especially without White. But when you don’t give Newton the option to pass on third and long, it certainly gives the impression that you don’t have much confidence.

⋅ That said, the Patriots' defense is definitely not as good as we thought they were. They had a dominant performance in last week’s 21-11 win over the Dolphins, but it seems clear that it was more the Dolphins being terrible than the Patriots having an elite defense.

Outside of the pick-6, the Seahawks had little trouble moving the ball. Wilson went right back down the field for a touchdown following the interception, and led five touchdown drives travelling 75, 75, 75, 52, and 65 yards.

The Patriots had no answer for Wilson — not that any team really does — and some of the Patriots' best cornerbacks got beaten on Sunday. Stephon Gilmore rarely gets beaten out for the ball, but D.K. Metcalf went up and over him for a 54-yard touchdown. And Jason McCourty, not flashy but always steady, allowed two touchdowns in coverage, though both were incredible plays. Wilson threw five touchdowns to five different receivers.

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This performance doesn’t mean the end of the world, but the schedule is far tougher this year, and the defense lost five key starters from a year ago. It’s only natural that they regress.

⋅ Despite the loss, there was so much to like about Newton. Unfortunately, he couldn’t punch the ball in on the game’s final play, nor on the two-point conversion after Jakob Johnson’s touchdown to open the fourth quarter. But Newton has just about solved the Patriots short-yardage and red-zone rushing issues from the past few years. Newton finished as the leading rusher, with 11 carries for 47 yards and two touchdowns.

And Newton showed more promise as a passer. He finished 30-of-44 for 397 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, and showed a lot of fight in the second half as the Patriots played from behind. Newton connected on several nice throws to Damiere Byrd on the outside, and got into a rhythm with Julian Edelman over the middle in the second half. Newton made several precision throws early in the third quarter to move the chains, and hit Edelman on a beautiful 49-yarder over the top of the defense.

Newton never gave up and fought to the end. It was an impressive performance, given it was only his second game in the Patriots' system.

⋅ The Seahawks just can’t cover Edelman. He had nine catches for 109 yards and the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, seven catches for 99 yards in 2016, and eight catches for a career-high 179 yards on Sunday. Edelman had just one catch for eight yards in the first half, and was getting crushed by defenders all game, but had a huge second half, catching seven passes for 171 yards. His 49-yard catch was his longest since going 77 yards for a touchdown against Miami in 2016.

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⋅ But the Patriots badly need another weapon beyond Edelman, though the Patriots did miss White on Sunday, physically and emotionally. N’Keal Harry (eight catches, 72 yards) didn’t make an impact before the fourth quarter. Byrd showed some promise, catching six passes for 72, but he didn’t make many big-impact plays. The tight end position continue to be a black hole, with Ryan Izzo catching two passes for 19 yards.

⋅ Newton was at fault for his interception in the third quarter, throwing behind Byrd and into the pouncing arms of Quinton Dunbar. And Newton occasionally doesn’t set his feet and sails a few throws. The Patriots are more effective when they are able to run the ball, yet they had just 25 runs against 45 pass plays.

⋅ Wilson is incredible and already making his case for MVP. Along with the five touchdowns, he rushed five times for 39 yards, with a long of 21. He threw a bullet on the run for a touchdown to Tyler Lockett, a perfect rainbow to D.K. Metcalf for a 54-yard touchdown, and another perfect deep ball for a 38-yard touchdown to David Moore. Bill Belichick said, "there’s nobody better than Russell Wilson,” and it’s hard to argue.

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⋅ The Patriots' defensive line got pushed around a lot. The Seahawks scored touchdowns on four of six drives after the opening turnover, and ran the ball at will. Wilson was deadly, and Chris Carson averaged a healthy 4.2 yards per carry. The Patriots seem to be giving more snaps to defensive backs, and it may be hurting their run defense.

⋅ Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs absolutely deserved his ejection for that dirty hit on N’Keal Harry, and he actually drew two penalties. The NFL officiating department tweeted that Diggs was ejected “for forcibly contacting the defenseless receiver in the neck and head area – this is a foul for both use of helmet and unnecessary roughness.” This will be a costly hit – most likely a $20,000 fine, plus Diggs can be fined an extra $38,785 for an ejection.

⋅ The Patriots definitely benefitted from not having fans in the stadium. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth kept remarking how strange it was not having fans at CenturyLink Field, and I think it played significantly into the Patriots' favor. That’s the loudest and arguably toughest stadium to play at in the NFL, and the Patriots didn’t have to worry about any communication issues on Sunday night. There were no false starts, no blown plays. And for a team integrating a new quarterback, not having the noise was a huge relief.

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Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.