Patriots Perusal: 20-17 win vs. Cardinals

A week after losing to the Houston Texans, the New England Patriots returned home to face another mobile quarterback in Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals. The Patriots’ offense gained a season-low 179 yards of total offense. However, due to a strong performance from the defense and special teams, the Patriots won 20-17 on a last-second field goal to improve to 5-6, two games behind the AFC seventh-seeded Indianapolis Colts. Here is my breakdown of the game.

Offense:

As previously mentioned, the offense gained a season-low 179 total yards in the game but still came away with the win. When looking at all four of their scoring drives, it is clear they had help from the special teams and defensive miscues from the Cardinals. On their first touchdown drive, Donte Moncrief returned a kickoff to the Cardinals’ 46-yard line, and Cardinals’ star rookie Isaiah Simmons committed a personal foul to set up James White’s’ eight-yard rushing touchdown. This was their longest drive of the game. The third quarter saw the Patriots score 10 points on consecutive drives, which started in Cardinal territory. The final drive to win the game was aided by another Simmons personal foul, which tacked on 15 yards on a Newton 14-yard rush.

Cam Newton finished with a season-low 84 yards passing and two interceptions. The first, which came on the Patriots’ third play of the game, was set up by Jordan Hicks hitting Newton, resulting in the ball floating into the arms of Markus Golden. The second saw Newton throw the ball right to Dre Kirkpatrick with the score tied at 17 with under five minutes to go in the game. He was sacked three times and finished with only eight completions, five to Jakobi Meyers and three to Damiere Byrd. He never looked comfortable as the Cardinals blitzed him repeatedly throughout the game.

What made things worse offensively was Damien Harris could not get going. For the second game in a row, he was held to under 50 yards rushing. Newton contributed 46 yards on the ground as the team finished with 110 yards rushing, but like the passing game, the rushing attack could not get into a rhythm. Regardless, the unit did enough as White scored two rushing touchdowns on only 18 yards rushing.

Defense:

The Cardinals came into this game as one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses, looking to rebound after struggling in a Thursday Night Football loss at Seattle 28-21 last week. The struggles continued on Sunday as they were held to their second-lowest offensive production this season with 298 yards. The Patriots’ defense played one of their best games this season, allowing the fewest opposing total yards since their Week 1 21-11 win against the Miami Dolphins.

Where the defense made their mark was exceptional situation football, one of Bill Belichick’s coaching staples. At the end of the first half, while trailing 10-7, the Cardinals went for it on fourth-and-goal at the one-yard line to extend the lead to double-digits. However, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Akeem Spence stopped Kenyan Drake short of the goal line to keep the deficit at three. Midway through the third quarter with the score tied at 10, Adam Butler tipped a Kyler Murray pass right to Adrian Phillips for the interception, which set up a Patriots touchdown. Lastly, the Patriots stopped Drake on third-and-two with two minutes to go and the score tied at 17. This forced Zane Gonzalez to kick a 45-yard field goal with plenty of time left on the clock. He would miss it, setting up the Patriots’ game-winning field goal drive.

Butler was a standout for the defense as he not only set up Phillips’ interception, but also sacked Murray in the third quarter. Chase Winovich picked up a sack, and cornerback Stephon Gilmore had his best game of the season, holding All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to 26 yards on three receptions. The Patriots got penetration and Gilmore played like an All-Pro, an encouraging sign for a mediocre defense this season. Time will tell if they can continue this going forward but to play this well against a high-quality Cardinals’ offense is impressive.

Special teams:

For the first time this season, special teams was the standout unit as it was instrumental in the victory. Moncrief returned a kickoff 53 yards to the Cardinal 46-yard line, the longest return from the team this season. Gunner Olszewski returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown but it was called back due to a questionable blindside block on Anfernee Jennings. It still ended up being the longest punt return of the season for the team as Olszewski gained 58 yards. The Patriots only got a field goal out of it but it was still an impressive return for Olszewski despite the controversial penalty.

Kicker Nick Folk continues to be reliable as he made all four of his kicks. He made his second game-winning field goal this season as he drilled a 50-yard field goal as time expired to give the Patriots the 20-17 win. The Patriots are 24th in the NFL in scoring touchdowns in the red zone, so Folk being dependable with only two missed field goals on 21 kicks has been a nice development for the team.

Punter Jake Bailey made an impact in this game as well, pinning the Cardinals at their own three-yard line in the first quarter. Having the special teams performing this well was a lovely sight for the team, easing the burden of their offense and giving the Patriots clutch plays in an ugly and close battle.

Next up:

The Patriots are still clinging to slim playoff hopes as they head to Los Angeles for a showdown with rookie phenom Justin Herbert and the 3-8 Chargers. It will be the first of back-to-back games at SoFi Stadium as they will face the Los Angeles Rams the following Thursday.

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