GLENDALE, Ariz. – As this game sinks in, Patriot Nation will get out their Roger Goodell dartboards, put back on their arrogant faces, and look forward to the first quarterback controversy in Foxborough in 15 years.
In reality, the Patriots escaped from University of Phoenix Stadium with a 23-21 nailbiting win over the heavily favored Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. The Patriots, being nine-point dogs in this game for the biggest margin of underdog since Super Bowl XXXVI, managed to survive the last minute in much the same way they did when they last played here. It wasn’t an interception, but Chandler Catanzaro missed a 47-yard field goal wide left in the closing seconds to seal the win. It was the first game the Patriots played in this stadium which wasn’t a Super Bowl, but after the game, it felt like the Big Show.
The win was nice, but the biggest positive coming from this game was the play of Jimmy Garoppolo, the third year backup to Tom Brady. Serving the first of his four game suspension, Brady was seen on Instagram playing catch with wife Gisele Bundchen this week heading into his first Sunday without football. His understudy, on the other hand, had a very good game in his first NFL start and surprised most observers with his poise, especially in the fourth quarter, and his remarkable ability to convert third downs literally all game long.
Other than a lost strip sack in the second quarter, Garoppolo did little wrong. He misfired on a few throws, but otherwise made some nice throws and ran the offense seemingly in perfect order most all game long. He had a good rhythm for most of the game, and never seemed to convey that the game was too big for him. His final numbers, 24 of 33 passing for a touchdown, a rating of 106.1, as well as leading an offense that converted 10 of 16 on third down conversions were certainly Brady-like, and wonderful if you don’t intend to include Goodell on your Christmas card list.
If the Patriots had lost the game, it would have been more on the defense than Garoppolo. The Cardinals were also benefactors of two Patriot fumbles (in addition to Garoppolo, LeGarrette Blount put the ball on the ground in the third quarter), as both lost fumbles begat Cardinal touchdowns. But more than anything else, bad tackling and some terrific catches by Larry Fitzgerald would have been the undoing of the Patriots if things didn’t break their way late in the game.
There were some weird coaching decisions on both sides of the football in the fourth quarter. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians exhausted all his time outs with just under five minutes left in the game, playing the last five minutes like the last two minutes and being overzealous in making sure Carson Palmer had enough time to get at least a field goal attempt off.
Bill Belichick later returned the favor with a few plays on the final Cardinal drive which allowed far too much time to run off the clock. The final field goal attempt was kicked with 41 seconds left, but better clock management would have given Garoppolo about a minute if the kick had been good. It appeared that Belichick had Super Bowl flashbacks, when he let the clock run down to 20 seconds on the play where Malcolm Butler made the winning pick.
Garoppolo had four receivers which he was able to go to, which was nice given that Rob Gronkowski was a scratch for the game due to a hamstring injury. Julian Edelman had seven catches for 66 yards, Chris Hogan had three catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. Danny Amendola had three catches for 48 yards, all of them in the fourth quarter on the winning drive.
Hogan, making his Patriot debut, hauled in Garoppolo’s first touchdown pass as a starter. On the first drive of the game, with first down at the Arizona 37, Hogan deked out rookie cornerback Brandon Williams and was wide open down the left sideline. Garoppolo launched a perfect touch pass and the Patriots had an early 7-0 lead. It was 10-0 Patriots after the first two possessions, which helped Garoppolo achieve his rhythm early on.
Blount had an uneven game. Despite 70 rushing yards on 22 carries and a touchdown, many of his first down runs were for negative yardage and his lost fumble was regrettable. Using new tight end Marcellus Bennett as a lead blocker, and at times running right at former Patriot defensive lineman Chandler Jones, Blount was able to break off some long runs off right tackle. Consistency was unfortunately not a hallmark of Blount in this game.
On defense, the Patriots at times showed an inability to finish tackles, largely against David Johnson. On one play in the fourth quarter, facing first down at their own 43, Johnson broke off on a right tackle run and was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Somehow, Vincent Valentine whiffed on a sure tackle and Johnson broke to the outside. He squirted downfield, then Duron Harmon whiffed on another tackle. Next thing you know, Johnson was corralled by Devin McCourty at the Patriot 12 for a 45 yard run. Four plays later, Arizona took a 21-20 lead when Fitzgerald beat Logan Ryan on a fade route in the end zone.
Fitzgerald finished with eight catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns, the 99th and 100th of his great career. Palmer was 24 of 37 for 271 yards and two touchdowns. His rating was 104.7. Johnson finished with 89 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown.
The Patriots were able to win despite losing the turnover battle 2-0. The defense made just enough plays to hang on, but were not able to generate any takeaways. Palmer was sacked three times but did not suffer any interceptions.
Of the four games without Brady, this one was the most losable. The Patriots now head home for the final three non-Brady games. They should be favored in all of them, and having won in a tough place like Arizona, the team should be brimming with confidence going into these three games. Brady is due to return in Week 5 at Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Brady can continue playing catch with Gisele. But he of all people knows that Garoppolo had better not do too well, given Brady’s memory of how he got the Patriot job back in 2001 during that other quarterback controversy. But for now, so far, it’s Garoppolo 1, Goodell 0.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary