Rattled by a Banner? Look for another storyline
Look out AFC, this first month may just be a lot more of the same in terms of the Patriots winning ways. In a very impressive performance, Jimmy Garoppolo led the Patriots to come from behind game-winning drive in the final four minutes and the Pats hung on for a 23-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Garoppolo finished the night 24 of 33 for 264 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, he didn’t throw any interceptions, although he did have a fumble that the Cards recovered after a strip sack. He showed the moment, under the glare of a national spotlight game wasn’t too big for him.
This one was as improbable as the Super Bowl win over the Rams, it was also the last time the Patriots were underdogs (9.5 points in Vegas), that big entering the game. This wasn’t supposed to be this way. No Brady, no Gronk, no Ninkovich, no Dion Lewis and minus both offensive tackles, this wasn’t just supposed to be a loss, it was widely expected to be a blowout. They were facing an intact Cardinals team many are picking for the Super Bowl on the road in a wildly raucous stadium.
Not only did Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, and Matt Patricia come up with a great game plan to steal a victory in the desert over Bruce Arians’ charges, but they’re also in a familiar position, alone at the top of the AFC East at 1-0. With Miami, Buffalo and the Jets all losing close games, the Patriots improbably, sit atop the division alone…again.
After a lackluster preseason that saw him struggle without the benefit of game planning an opponent, Garoppolo played extremely well and showed a ton of poise in the pocket and made much better decisions and throws from the pocket.
McDaniels came up with a masterful game plan and the coaches played to Jimmy G.’s strengths. They stuck with the running game that once again was largely stuck in neutral but ultimately paid off. The Cardinals couldn’t pin their ears back and attack the pocket with reckless abandon. Many times when they brought an extra pass rusher, the Patriots and Jimmy G. made them pay but finding and hitting the open man.
Garroppolo admitted he was amped to start the game, his first throw was airmailed well over the head of Chris Hogan, but he quickly settled down and led the Patriots on an eight play, 74-yard drive culminated with Jimmy G. hitting a wide open Chris Hogan in stride for a 37-yard touchdown pass over rookie CB Brandon Williams to give the Pats a 7-0 lead.
After stalling the Cardinals near midfield, the Patriots started their next drive at their own eight-yard line and Garoppolo led them on a 12-play, 63-yard drive that saw Stephen Gostkowski kick one of his three field goals on the night, a 47-yarder that put the Pats up with a 10-0 lead.
Garoppolo shared a coolness under pressure that we’ve grown accustomed to with Brady, he didn’t rattle, nor make poor decisions but hung tough and was able to lead his team to victory. What better way to judge the offense than a look at third downs. The Patriots were an impressive 10-16 on third downs given the state of the Arizona defense and the very loud crowd noise inside the stadium.
His most impressive drive of the night, the 13-play, 61-yard drive with just under ten minutes left in the game and with the team behind for the first time 21-20. With the crowd noise deafening, Jimmy G. led a game-winning drive that was pretty impressive. Facing a third and a very long, he found Danny Amendola for a huge 32-yard pass play that put them in business. Another third down completion to James White in a very tight window kept the chains moving. And finally, facing 3rd and 11, LeGarrette Blount rumbled for 13 yards setting the team up for a much more makeable field goal.
Other observations include:
Defensive Game Plan Worked: The plan by Patricia and Belichick was to keep everything in front of them, drop into zones and make the Cardinals earn their way down the field. And it worked, they held the high-flying offense to just 21 points. It wasn’t always perfect and it wasn’t always pretty but they largely kept the Cardinals from hitting those big chunk plays they are known for.
Carson Palmer was held to 24-37 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns on the night, far below his normal output which is about 300 yards a game. He was sacked three times for 19 yards. The Patriots largely kept RB David Johnson in check. He carried 16 times for 89 yards but more than half, 45 came on one run in the second half. He also caught 4 passes for 43 yards.
Arizona averaged 30 points a game in 2015 and the Patriots held them to well below their average, in their home turf and dominated time of possession 33:59 to 26:01.
Receivers Turn in Strong Debuts: Julian Edelman was his normal Energizer Bunny self on Sunday night, making the tough catches in tight quarters and moving the chains, especially early in the game when Jimmy G. was finding his way. Danny Amendola is money. Making only three catches, his biggest the 32-yarder on a third and long was a beauty that kept the game-winning drive alive.
A couple of the Patriots newcomers Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett both had good first games as members of the Patriots. Hogan was a guy we picked as a player to watch in our pregame keys, and he delivered. He made three catches for 60 yards, none bigger than his touchdown to start things off. He’s going to be an intriguing guy to watch this season.
Bennett only registered 3 catches for 14 yards but was asked to stay put and block for much of the night. And frequently his target was Chandler Jones. Bennett did a bang-up job on the Patriots former edge rusher, especially in the running game. As for Jones, he was his normal self, he did have a sack and a fumble recovery, but for much of the game, he was MIA. And on a night that many of the Arizona beat writers were calling for him to have multiple sacks against a backup tackle, it has to go down as a disappointment.
Malcolm Mitchell played and chipped in with two catches for 33 yards, including a nice 28 yarder from Garoppolo. He’ll get more looks as he gets more comfortable in the offense.
Offensive Line A Mixed Bag: The Patriots entered this game with two backup tackles, two rookie guards and a UDFA center. The matchup against what is supposed to be one of the top defenses in the NFC was said to be a mismatch in favor of the Cardinals. Like much of the other matchups, it wasn’t always pretty but the patchwork group of Dante Scarnecchia’s held up well.
The run blocking was still far from what they want or need, but they showed a greater willingness to stick with it and it kept the Arizona defense honest. While their average per rush won’t set any records, the backs, especially Blount ran hard. The Patriots actually outgained Arizona on the ground, 106 to 92.
The pass blocking was better than anyone could have hoped. Again, it wasn’t perfect or always pretty but for the most part, they gave Jimmy G. the time he needed to make plays. Overall, considering who played, and who they were playing, they get passing marks.
Special Teams Stepped Up: The Patriots pride themselves on their STs units and this group of Joe Judge’s had a very strong game. While we look at Gostkowski’s three field goals as the difference, his kickoffs were even more advantageous. With the new rules, touchbacks go to the 25-yard line, but Gostkowski put four of his five just around the goal line where the coverage units had fantastic coverage, forcing Palmer to start from deep in his own territory.
Bill Belichick called this a big team win and it was as the Patriots went on the road in Week 1 and defeated a tough opponent in an even tougher environment. The win puts them in good position right off the bat in the division at 1-0. Jimmy G. looks like he belongs but this sends an ominous message to the rest of the AFC. It may be time to pump the brakes on the drop that everyone was expecting without Tom Brady for the first four games. And if New England can beat the Cardinals without Brady, Gronk, et al, how tough will they be once all of them are back?
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots Roster 2016 Patriots season Arizona Cardinals Bill Belichick Bruce Arians Carson Palmer Chandler Jones Danny Amendola David Johnson Dont'a Hightower Jabaal Sheard Jimmy Garoppolo Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Larry Fitzgerald Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Tom Brady