In a game that they absolutely, positively had to have, the Patriots used a dominant defensive second half and beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-13.
With the win, the Patriots leapfrogged both the LA Chargers and the NY Jets to take the seventh spot in the playoff race. All three are 7-6, but the Patriots have a better conference record than LA and swept the Jets.
The first half was a very odd affair, with players seemingly going down with injuries on every play. Arizona QB Kyler Murray went down on the game’s third play untouched. It is believed he tore his ACL, which will impact the team for the rest of the season and a good chunk of next year.
The Patriots were already shorthanded with Jakobi Meyers and Damien Harris out, and then lost Rhamondre Stevenson, DeVante Parker, and CB Jack Jones to injuries during the game. While the four are arguably the best skill-position guys on offense, the substantial loss wasn’t the cause of their continued offensive struggles. It will hurt if the injured are out for any length of time.
So, here are my observations from the game last night.
The Play of the Game: The game was defensive, with neither offense showing any consistent play-making ability. After the Patriots tied the score at the beginning of the second half at 13-13, the game flipped quickly.
Colt McCoy hit Nuk Hopkins, who was carrying the ball dangerously away from his body. He dropped the ball, and it was scooped up by Raekwon McMillan, and he returned it 23 yards for the score. It completely changed the game.
It fired up the Patriots’ defense and made the Cardinals more one-dimensional. And once they began to show passing on nearly every down, the pass rushers were able to tee off. That’s when the defense is at its most dangerous. And it showed.
The Rookies Step Up: Once Stevenson went down, the Patriots were without their two starting RBs. But rookies Kevin Harris, Pierre Strong, and Marcus Jones stepped up big time.
Harris, the South Carolina RB, showed tremendous power and carried several would-be tacklers into the end zone for a 10-yard (yes, a red zone) TD. Strong showcased the speed that we all raved about in the spring. I think he’s the heir apparent to James White in the future as the 3rd-down back. Both Harris and Strong scored their first NFL TDs at a perfect time.
Marcus Jones was a throwback last night as an offense, defense, and special teams Ironman. He, too, is a definite burner, and it was nice to see so much speed on the field together, albeit briefly. But by the 2023 season, these guys will have much bigger roles.
Josh Uche and Matthew Judon are a Dynamic Duo: The bookend edge rushers dominated the second half once the threat of James Conner running was taken off the table. Uche had 3 sacks, 3 tackles for loss (TFL), and 4 QB hits. Judon had 1.5 sacks, 1 TFL, and 2 QB hits.
With Judon frequently being double-teamed (and held often), it has left Uche able to dominate. He has 10 sacks on the season, all of them in the past seven games. Judon has 14.5, tied for the league lead. He and Uche are the first two edge rushers on the same team in the league this year to have 10 or more sacks. This is the fourth time in Patriots history to have two players with 10+ sacks in a season. The last time it was done was in 2010 when Andre Carter and Mark Anderson each had 10.
Other observations include:
Now the Patriots control their own destiny, having leapfrogged the Jets and Chargers. They need a better, cleaner effort on a short week against the Raiders.
Look for my Positional Report Card ASAP tomorrow.
Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]
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