The New England Patriots miraculously escaped with a win over the Arizona Cardinals this afternoon. What was predicted to be a high scoring affair turned out to be an offensive dud. The Patriots were able to capitalize off of the Cardinals abundance of mistakes and barely pull out a much needed victory.
Bill Belichick has always put an abundance of effort into making sure his special teams unit performs up to par, and it certainly paid off today. Donte Moncrief, who was just called up from the practice squad this week, replaced Gunner Olszewski as the kick off man, and promptly ripped off a huge return early in the game. Olszewski had his own shining moment on a fantastic punt return, which should have been a touchdown had it not gotten called back on a very questionable blindside block call. Jake Bailey had a couple of fantastic punts drop inside the twenty, which was key in stopping some of the Cardinals early offensive momentum. And Nick Folk had arguably the play of the game nailing a 50 yard field goal to cap off the win, which was setup by the missed field goal by Zane Gonzalez and the Cardinals special team unit. Belichick’s eye for detail came in handy today, and played a huge factor in determining the outcome of the game.
Another factor that played a helping hand in this one was Kyler Murray clearly not being 100% fit. He had previously injured his shoulder in last weekend’s bout versus the Seattle Seahawks, and he was not his dynamic self today. Usually he would be let loose on read options with more frequency then today, but Kliff Kingsbury seemed reluctant to put Murray in trouble and risk him aggravating his shoulder injury. That made defending this offense much easier then it should have been, and the defense took advantage of it. The Cardinals tried to make up for the lack of Murray’s involvement by forcing the run, but it didn’t have much success throughout the game, despite both of their touchdowns coming on the ground. Murray also appeared to be out of sync for much of the game throwing the football, which tends to happen when you have Stephon Gilmore blanketing your number one target as he did today. The defense stayed in man coverage more often then last week, and it feels like they should find ways to utilize that coverage more often. Either way, it was encouraging to see the defense slow up one of the best offensive units in the league this year.
Yet with every positive for this team, there seems to come a negative. That would be the offense. Cam Newton had an atrocious afternoon, as he didn’t even eclipse the 100 yard mark. The rushing attack struggled mightily against a banged up Arizona front line. The only time the Patriots put up points on a drive that didn’t start in their opponents territory was the final drive that ended with the game winning field goal. Even then that drive required a ton of luck, including a 13 yard scramble by Newton that had a 15 yard penalty tacked on at the end. There’s no consistency in this offense, which makes it tough to predict what to expect from them. We’ve seen the potential of what they can be, it’s just a matter of whether or not they actually show up.
Next up is the Los Angeles Chargers, who suffered another close loss to the Buffalo Bills today. The Chargers have a high flying offense that is led by Justin Herbert, but they still suffer from inexperience with relative frequency. If you need proof, go watch the final drive in today’s game versus the Bills, in which Herbert somehow completes two Hail Mary heaves, but then fails to put the ball in the end zone before the game ends. If the defense plays like they did today, they should be able to rattle Herbert and this young offense, and pull off a win to put them at 6-6 with 4 games left to play.