SOCIAL DISTANCING AT HOME — Who says Cam Newton can’t pull out the game-winning late game drives?
Newton had just thrown perhaps his worst pass of the season, an interception at the left sideline to Dre Kirkpatrick with 4:27 left in the game and the score tied at 17. The Patriots looked like they were doomed, certain to lose on a walkoff field goal.
A walkoff field goal did happen. Just not by the Arizona Cardinals.
Taking over at the Patriot 47, Kyler Murray drove the Cardinals to the 28 yard line when the drive stalled. With 1:52 left and the Patriots out of timeouts, head coach Kliff Kingsbury, a quarterback out of TCU drafted by Bill Belichick in 2003, decided to go for a field goal from 45 yards out instead of going for it on 4th and 3 to try and run as much time off the clock.
But Zane Gonzalez pushed the field goal attempt wide right, and the Patriots miraculously got the ball back. Cardinal fans were reminded of someone named Chandler Catanzaro, who sealed Jimmy Garoppolo’s first NFL win four years ago with a walkoff missed field goal out in Glendale, Arizona.
Aided by a Newton scramble for 14 yards on 3rd and 13, and a personal foul by Isaiah Simmons on a late hit, Newton guided the Patriots to the Arizona 32, spiked the ball with three seconds left, then watched with almost no emotion on the sideline as Nick Folk drilled a 50-yard walkoff field goal. The Patriots escaped with a 20-17 win on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, and improved to 5-6 on the season with the playoffs still a possibility. Newton seemed emotionally drained as his teammates exploded in celebration.
What eventually saved the day for the Patriots was the defense, which at times did give up yards in small chunks, but in the end helped bring victory to the Patriots. The biggest defensive moment for the Patriots was an impressive goal line stand at the end of the first half.
Arizona took over at their own 28 with 6:57 left in the first half. They drove to the Patriot 10 in eleven plays, and had first and goal. Kenyan Drake ran for two yards on first down, then the Cardinals ran into problems with execution and replays.
On second down, Christian Kirk ran a perfect slant left route and Murray laid the ball in there. But Kirk inexplicably dropped the ball, negating a sure touchdown. On third down, Murray hit KeeShawn Johnson on the same route, and Johnson took it in for the touchdown. Except that his knee hit the ground before the ball crossed the plane of the goal, and the touchdown was taken away after video review.
On fourth down, the final play of the half, Drake ran the ball up the middle but was stuffed by JaWhaun Bentley. The officials ruled no touchdown and the Patriots ran off the field. The entire Cardinals team stayed on the field during the replay review, and sheepishly walked off the field when the replay was upheld. The halftime score was 10-7 Arizona instead of 17-7, and for the Patriots, that was crucial.
The other great defensive sequence came in the third quarter. After Folk tied the game with a 22-yard field goal, Arizona took over on their own 25. On the third play, the Patriots ran a linebacker blitz with the linebackers jumping up and down as if they were all trying to look like Marcus Smart. Adam Butler managed to tip the ball in the air, and Adrian Phillips came down with the interception. This led to a James White one-yard touchdown run to give the Patriots a 17-10 lead.
The defense did give up a bit, just no big plays and nothing that proved lethal. The Cardinals did have three drives of 12 plays or more. Stephon Gilmore was on DeAndre Hopkins all afternoon long, a clear assignment since Larry Fitzgerald was absent from the game because of him testing positive for the COVID-19 virus. Hopkins did have 5 catches for 55 yards to lead the team, but in the end was not a major factor in the game. Jonathan Jones kept the clamps on Andy Isabella, holding the former UMass wide receiver to four catches for 33 yards.
It is mute testimony as to how irrelevant the UMass football program has become, in that Isabella, one of the few UMass players to make the NFL in recent memory, received little or no attention all week long as he prepared to return to Gillette Stadium for the first time since he played here as a Minutemen receiver some years back. Isabella has been doing well for the Cardinals as both a receiver and a punt returner, but there was no mention of him in either the Boston or the Springfield media.
The Patriots remain one of the least penalized teams in the league, but lately that ranking is taking a bit of a hit. One penalty in particular will stick in the Patriots’ craw, as a punt return for a touchdown was taken off the board.
In the third quarter, Gunnar Olszewski took an Andy Lee punt at the 18-yard line and wound up taking it to the house, which should have put the Patriots ahead 14-10 at the time. Just before Olszewski crossed the goal line, referee Bill Vinovich flagged Anfernee Jennings for an illegal crackback/blindside block on Exekiel Turner. Replays showed that Jennings merely turned around and blocked Turner normally, not leading with his helmet. Announcers on television disliked the call but agreed with it, somewhat sounding like what people were saying about the Tuck Rule 20 years ago.,
Another penalty that really hurt the Patriots came in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots protecting a 17-10 lead. Facing fourth down and five at the Patriot 13, Murray overthrew tight end Dan Arnold in the end zone and the Patriots seemingly took over on downs again for the second time in the game. Except that on his way to the end zone, Arnold was held by Jason McCourty. Drake would eventually plow in from one yard out to tie the game.
Neither quarterback had a particularly good game. Murray, nursing a shoulder injury he suffered last week against Seattle, completed 23 of 34 passes for only 170 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 67. Drake turned out to be the most effective offensive weapon with 78 yards rushing on 22 carries. Murray had 31 yards on five carries, but never really hurt the Patriots with his scrambling and was sacked twice.
Newton only completed 9 of 18 passes for 84 yards, two interceptions and a rating of 23.6. White scored both touchdowns for the Patriots, both of them on the ground. Damien Harris and Newton had 47 and 46 yards rushing respectively. Jacobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd caught eight of the nine Newton completions. These numbers do not suggest a Patriot victory, another reason to thank the defense for their great job on Sunday.
The Patriots will head for Los Angeles for two weeks. They will play the Chargers and the Rams on consecutive weeks at the brand new SoFi Stadium, which will be empty for both games. West coast Patriot fans will be disappointed for not being able to go (trust me, tickets would be available for both games), but wins in both games will suffice. Belichick knows what it is like to face Jared Goff but will be facing Justin Herbert for the first time.
The Patriots won’t be in position to take a plum quarterback in the draft if they keep winning, and if they make the playoffs, someone will send them home short of making it to the Super Bowl.
So what. Nice win. Greatly enjoyed by all.
Posted Under: 2020 Patriots Season