Without starting quarterback Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Rob Ninkovich, and a host of other players, the Patriots still managed to go into Arizona and beat the Cardinals in what was a hard-fought 23-21 win to start 2016 off 1-0.
Taking a quick look back at the game, here is a list of things we learned following the win.
1) The Stage Wasn’t Too Big For Garoppolo – One of the things that was the most impressive Sunday night was the poise shown by Jimmy Garoppolo despite the fact the Cardinals started coming hard after him following the Patriots’ first scoring drive. Even with the pressure he never lost his composure and really only had two miscues Sunday night. His first was his fumble that helped set up one of Arizona’s touchdown, and the other, a delay of game penalty he drew when he lost track of the clock (and he which he was able to bounce back from) during what proved to be their game-winning drive in the 4th quarter.
Aside from that, the third-year quarterback had a terrific night. He finished the game completing an impressive 73% of his passes, connecting on 24-of-33 for 264 yards and a touchdown, including a perfect 8-of-8 passing in the third quarter.
While Bill Belichick downplayed the performance after the game, it’s safe to say that Garoppolo certainly exceeded everyone’s expectations in his first NFL start. With New England set to come home to play three straight games at Gillette Stadium, Patriots fans should be feeling a little better about their chances to have a strong start here in September until Tom Brady returns in four weeks.
2) Edelman returning to form – Julian Edelman didn’t look quite like himself during the preseason but if there were any doubts about how he’d play when it counted, Edelman should have put an end to any of those concerns after his performance Sunday night. The veteran caught all seven passes thrown his way for 66 yards, with Garoppolo going to him early on as they took control of the game. He completed three passes to Edelman on the opening drive of 11, 19 and 8 yards before catching the Cardinals off guard with a 37-yard fade to Chris Hogan for the touchdown to put them up 7-0.
That was a key sequence which put them in control of the game and put Arizona on their heels, helping the Patriots play the game on their terms. Edelman didn’t appear to be ailing from his foot injury and seemed to be in good spirits when it was over. The veteran receiver had a humorous moment after the game when he passed along a message to Brady during his postgame interview on NBC, after he was asked if he had a message for the QB. Edelman said, “Love you, buddy. We’re going to get a couple more for you, a few more.” Good stuff.
3) Bennett Dominated Jones – While Chandler Jones managed to pull off a couple of good moments against his former team, Martellus Bennett completely manhandled the Cardinals defensive end. Bennett was matched up against Jones for most of the night and the veteran tight end seemed to have little to no issue handling him, with Jones finding himself flat on his back on several occasions as Bennett did a great job keeping him away from Garoppolo. Jones did manage to recover Garoppolo’s fumble when Markus Golden got to him and stripped the ball out, and he also had a sack. But overall he wasn’t as big of a factor as Arizona likely hoped he’d be, and Bennett was definitely the key reason Jones didn’t have a bigger game.
LeGarrette Blount player well Sunday night during the Patriots win. (USA TODAY Images)
4) Great Night For Blount – LeGarrette Blount looked good in the preseason after a slow start and it was great to see him carry that over into New England’s season opener Sunday night. Apart from his fumble, which subsequently led to an Arizona touchdown, Blount played well against a very physical Cardinals defense, finishing the night with 22 carries for 70 yards including a touchdown. The biggest thing that stood out with Blount was the fact he had some strong runs inside and also showed some terrific cutback runs and looked like he’s not showing any ill-effects from the injury he suffered last season.
Considering all the uncertainty at the running back position, Blount proved Sunday night that he’s ready to carry the load and at this point looks arguably as good as he has since he’s been here. That’s obviously a great sign for an offense that, thanks to Blount’s performance, was able to keep Arizona’s defense off balance. If that continues, it should put them in pretty good shape to remain productive in the coming weeks.
5) Hogan is Fitting in Well – It’s only one game but it’s safe to say that Chris Hogan is settling in quite well with the offense. The best part about Hogan is the fact that he’s a player who seems like he’s going to benefit quite a bit when Rob Gronkowski joins Edelman and Bennett in the offense, especially after what we saw Sunday night. The opening drive was a great example, as with all the attention being paid to Edelman after he was targeted multiple times, Hogan had no issue beating one-on-one coverage on his 37-yard touchdown. Overall he caught 3-of-4 from Garoppolo for 60 yards as well as his touchdown, and hopefully Sunday night is just a glimpse of what we’ll see from him this season.
Chris Long looked good in his first regular season game. (USA TODAY Images)
6) Long is a Beast – If what we saw from watching Chris Long Sunday night is any indication, he should be poised for a productive year. He was pretty disruptive for much of the night, making Carson Palmer pretty miserable as he was on him on more than one occasion including a sack. So far he seems like he’s found a nice niche for himself in this defense and it’s amazing to see the job Belichick and the Patriots did this offseason in putting a group together that looks like it should be much more productive at getting after the quarterback this season. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but if they keep getting better, they should be fun to watch.
7) Coleman looks terrific – Justin Coleman had a terrific outing Sunday night, finishing tied with Malcolm Butler with two passes defensed, one of which included a huge play against John Brown on a deep pass play on 3rd down that helped force a punt with under two minutes to go in the first half.
Overall Coleman played well in coverage and was in the right place at the right time for most of the evening. Coleman did a good job against Brown and looks much more comfortable in this defense. The only thing missing were turnovers from the secondary but Coleman nearly had one on a leaping grab and was also in position for another. He looks poised for a strong year, and was a key reason why they left Arizona with their first win of 2016.
8) Despite Fitzgerald’s performance, Ryan handled him pretty well – Logan Ryan drew the uncomfortable job of having to be the one matched up on Larry Fitzgerald Sunday night, and all things considered, he did a pretty good job. Granted had this game gone the other way things would have been looked at differently, but Fitzgerald finished with 8 catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns, with 46 of those coming on Arizona’s final drive. His two touchdowns were one-yard grabs, and it’s worth mentioning that he’s still one of the best in the game, so it’s a tall order for any player to handle him. Ryan, unfortunately, became the answer to the trivia question, “Who did Larry Fitzgerald score his 100th career touchdown against?” Sunday night, but he should walk away from this one feeling pretty good about the job he did against the future Hall of Fame receiver.
9) Not a bad game by Valentine – Vincent Valentine joins Ryan as a player who is fortunate this game turned out the way it did because overall he had a pretty good game for a rookie. He finished the evening with three tackles including his first career sack, and did a pretty good job in his first NFL regular season game.
However, Valentine had what could have been a key mistake in the game after he missed tackle on David Johnson in the fourth quarter, which at the time turned the tide of the game. The rookie defensive tackle had the running back dead to rights on a running play but didn’t wrap him up, and Johnson slipped out of his grasp and took off 45 yards down to the Patriots’ 12-yard line. Four plays later the Cardinals took the lead for the first time all night when Palmer hit Fitzgerald for the 1-yard touchdown to put them up 21-20. Had they lost this game, Valentine likely would have taken a lot of heat for that play. Instead, he gets to walk away while being able to treat it as a learning experience that fortunately won’t erase what at the end of the day was a productive outing.
10) Happy returns for Amendola – After missing all of training camp trying to get healthy, Danny Amendola had three receptions Sunday night on four targets, with all three of his catches coming in the fourth quarter. One of those receptions was big, coming on a 3rd-and-15 from their own 20-yard line on what proved to be a key play during their game-winning drive. On the play Amendola broke off a 32-yard reception that helped get them out across midfield at the Cardinals 48 and it was a critical play, coming during their 13-play, 61 yard drive and ended with Stephen Gostkowski’s 32-yard field goal, which put them up for good at 23-21.
The only thing that’s concerning were the reports after the game where Amendola was been spotted in the locker room with ice wrapped around his knee. With Gronkowski battling a hamstring injury, Amendola’s situation will now continue to be one worth monitoring as the Patriots return home to start getting ready for the Dolphins, who will visit Gillette Stadium next Sunday at 1:00pm.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary