By: Bob George/
September 16, 2012

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FOXBOROUGH -- Somewhere, John Cundiff just broke into a big, wide grin. Make that a "wide left" grin.

The fact that the Patriots lost their first home opener since the Mo Lewis game is merely a footnote. In what can only be classified as both a gut-wrenching and astonishing finish, the Arizona Cardinals handed the Patriots a gift-wrapped come from behind win with about a minute left, only to have Stephen Gostkowski, who had kicked four out of four field goals, two of them from beyond 50 yards, yank the potential game-winning 42-yard field goal wide left, sending the Gillette Stadium fans home with their hands on their heads in a numbing shock.

The Cardinals richly deserved their 20-18 win, which was just as much about New England looking forward to their Sunday night tilt next week at Baltimore as it was the Cardinal defense playing the best game it has played since its Super Bowl year of four seasons ago. It was a rare win for Arizona in Foxborough, only the third ever and the first since 1984. It was the first time the Patriots lost a home season opener since Tom Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe in 2001. But all game long, the game was more about the Patriots looking rickety and sloppy on offense, and not being able to cash in the victory when the Cardinals handed it to them in the final minute.

The last two possessions of the game provided some of the best regular season drama seen at Gillette Stadium in quite some time.

After allowing a six-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Rob Gronkowski with 2:06 left in the game, Brady went back to Big Rob for a two-point conversion to try and tie the game. But former Jet safety Kerry Rhodes defended the play perfectly, and the score stood 20-18 Cardinals. The Patriots had two timeouts and the two-minute warning to try and get the ball back for a game-winning field goal.

On first down, Ryan Williams, a second-year back from Virginia Tech, ran for five yards. Following the two-minute warning, the Cardinal offensive line opened up a hole that a one-legged man could have hopped through, and Williams blasted through it for 13 yards in what should have been a game-sealing run. Williams then lost four yards on a nice play by Rob Brace, then gained one yard as the Patriots expended their timeouts.

The Cardinals had the ball on their own 35 with 1:10 left. If the Patriots get the ball back, they have about 20 seconds to work with and no timeouts. Instead, Williams runs around left end and gets hit by Brandon Spikes. The ball pops up in the air and Vince Wilfork falls on the pig, giving the Patriots a miracle, Pisarcik-esque possession at the Arizona 30 with plenty of time to get a game-winning field goal. Gillette Stadium shook and all those fans who left after Williams' 13-yard run must have been kicking themselves.

Instead, it was the Patriots for whom this game was too big for.

Brady misfired to Wes Welker on first down. On second down, Danny Woodhead miraculously found a hole off right tackle and sprinted 30 yards for a touchdown, seemingly winning the game for the Patriots. But Gronkowski was called for holding, nullifying the touchdown. The officials called it a spot foul at the 20, so the ball went back to the original line of scrimmage, the 30, second down and 10.

Brady then found Welker on a quick hitch pass in the left flat, and he ran 12 yards and sprinted out of bounds. The Patriots had the ball at the Cardinals 18, 46 seconds left.

The Patriots from this point on decided to go all out on field goal. Brady took the snap and fell down at the 17 to get the ball in the center of the field. Whoops, another penalty. Again, on Gronkowski. False start. The Patriots had to back up five yards, maybe five critical yards given what happened soon after.

Brady ran the same play again, falling down at the 24 but getting the ball in the center of the field. Brady then let the clock tick down to five seconds left, then spiked the ball.

In comes Gostkowski. He had been a perfect four for four in field goals, connecting from 46, 34, 51 and 53 yards. He lined up for a 42-yard field goal attempt to win the game. But in a ghastly replay of what happened in February to Cundiff, with the very same end of the field in play, Gostkowski simply yanked the field goal attempt wide left. One can wonder if the field goal might have been good had the kick been five yards closer with no false start penalty called on Gronkowski, but most observers will say that that penalty did not matter. The holding call on Gronkowski mattered much, much more.

But the sad reality is that the Patriots should never have been in this position to win/lose the game with so much of this emotional roller coaster jazz in the end.

The Patriots were victims of one of the most insidious trap games in recent memory. The Patriots have a date next Sunday night in Baltimore, against the team they beat last year to go to the Super Bowl. The Patriots were 13-point favorites in this game, Kevin Kolb had to start at quarterback instead of John Skelton, and the Cardinals had lost the last two games here in Foxborough by an aggregate score of 78-7. But it is clear that the Patriots were far, far off their game, especially on offense, and showed none of the pizzazz they had last week in Tennessee.

The tone of the game was set on the first offensive play of the game for the Patriots when Darnell Dockett batted a Brady pass up in the air, and Patrick Peterson, perhaps the star of the game for Arizona, made a nice diving interception. Brady finished with a 79.6 passer rating, his numbers are skewed thanks to having to throw the ball a lot in the fourth quarter.

For the second straight week, Brady overthrew a wide open receiver in the end zone when he had Gronkowski open near the end of the first half but the tight end could not make a diving catch. Brady was sacked four times for -19 yards. Brady was also without one of his biggest weapons, Aaron Hernandez, who was lost for the game after the third offensive play with a sprained ankle as Julian Edelman rolled it while trying to make a catch.

Play calling at times also hurt the Patriots. In the second quarter, facing third down and two at the Arizona 11, Woodhead was sent up the middle and stopped by Paris Lenon for only one yard when a pass might have been in order. In the third quarter, with the ball at the Arizona 31 and facing third and seven, Woodhead was called on a right end run but was cut down by Dockett for a nine-yard loss. Then in the fourth quarter, facing third and one at the Cardinal 39, Stevan Ridley was called for an end run but was stopped for a four-yard loss by Peterson.

The Patriots now head to Baltimore at 1-1, wondering how to regroup and try and stand up to a team which will be frothing at the mouth to kill them in their crib. One has to wonder if the Patriot season hangs in the balance this week. Maybe the thinking is too drastic, but a loss like this going into a game like next week could prove cataclysmic in the long run.