Conventional wisdom was saying before this one that the only way the Patriots could lose is by not taking care of the ball. For a while, it looked like that thinking would be proven correct.
Fortunately for New England, it would take more than three turnovers and a plethora of penalties to lose this one as the Patriots kept their streak alive at 17 games with a 23-12 win.
After jumping out to a 14-0 lead, Patriots turnovers and penalties kept Arizona in the game right up to the fourth quarter when a couple of Adam Vinatieri field goals finally put the game out of reach for the Cards.
On offense, David Givens (6 catches, 118 yards), Corey Dillon (32 carries, 158 yards) and Daniel Graham (two touchdown receptions) were the stars. For the defense, Eugene Wilson had a pair of interceptions while the Patriots sacked Josh McCown five times and held Emmitt Smith to just 31 yards rushing.
Despite moving the ball in the first quarter, the Cardinals showed consistent pressure on Brady whenever he dropped back to pass. On the Patriots second possession Ross Kolodziej sacked Brady for a loss of 8 on first and 10. But on the next play, the Patriots used the Cards upfield aggression against them with a well-formed screen play to Patrick Pass.
Pass took the throw and rambled 30 yards but coughed up the ball. It looked like one of two Cardinals would come up with the turnover inside the 10-yard line but out of nowhere came Deion Branch who scooted underneath the pile and made the recovery.
That had New England first and goal on the Cards 8-yard line. Three plays later it was Brady to Graham from 5-yards for the game's first score.
Brady and Graham struck for a second time with 13:16 left in the second quarter. Eugene Wilson had just intercepted Josh McCown and returned the ball to the Cards 30. From there Dillon had gains of 8 and 13 putting his team first and goal from the 9. An illegal use of hands call on Adrian Klemm pushed New England back 10 yards but on third down, Graham was inexplicably free for the touchdown from 19 yards out and the 14-0 lead.
It looked like everything was going New England's way until Brady and Dillon had trouble with their exchange later in the quarter and the ball popped loosed. Arizona's Bertand Berry scooped up the bouncing ball and returned it to the Patriots 11. A McGinest sack was good for a 9-yard loss and set up a third and 17 play for the Cards from the 17. Rodney Harrison followed that up with his second sack of the game of a huge loss of 15.
Despite going backwards, Neil Rackers was still able to hit a 51-yard field goal to culminate a 4-play drive that went for minus 22 yards.
New England immediately gave the ball back to the Cardinals with another turnover. This one was a Brady interception thrown under pressure. David Macklin made the pick and Arizona was in good shape on the Patriots 42. But the defense held again and the best Arizona could do was another field goal, this one a 52-yarder by Rackers.
Rackers had yet another chance to hit a boomer – a 58-yarder – with seconds left in the half but was well short but it took a Mike Vrabel 13-yard sack to put the Cards out of 3-point distance after Harrison was flagged for a hit-out-of-bounds on McCown.
With the New England miscues, the teams went into the locker rooms with the Patriots up, 14-6.
New England opened the second half by marching – yards. David Givens made a tremendous turnaround catch in the air for 27 yards on third and nine to get the drive rolling early. From there, Dillon did most of the work, eclipsing 100 yards for the game. But another mistake – illegal motion on Christian Fauria – negated his 2-yard touchdown run. On the next play, Brady was sacked for a loss of 4 and New England had to settle for a 29-yard Vinatieri field goal to make the score 17-6.
The Cards created a scoring drive without the benefit of a Patriots turnover for the first time on their next possession. They overcame three penalties to do it while big catches from Freddie Jones for 27 and Bryant Johnson for 13 on third and 13 were key. The biggest play was a screen to Josh Scobey for 42 yards on third and 16 over several onrushing Patriots.
Smith capped the drive with a 1-yard scoring run. The Cardinals then unsuccessfully attempted a 2-point conversion leaving the score 17-12, Patriots.
The third quarter ended with the Patriots at midfield and Givens playing pitch and catch with Brady into the fourth quarter to the tune of completions of 20, 19 and 12 yards. Dillon was also continuing his workhorse ways until he was shaken up down at the Cards 14. That left Patrick Pass carrying a third and one handoff that was stuffed for a 1-yard loss. Vinatieri came on for a 28-yarder that was good.
Wilson had his second pick of the day to set up the next Patriots scoring drive. Givens came up big again with a 27-yard catch (6 catches for 100 yards to that point) but once inside the Cards 10, New England could not punch it in and came up with only three points, a 24-yard Vinatieri field goal.
Still, that score put the Cards down by 11 with only 6:23 left to play, 23-12.
Unable to do anything with the ball on its next possession, Arizona punted and it was up to the Patriots to use up the clock which they did as the game ended with Brady's taking a knee.
Notes: The Patriots rotate their offensive line liberally, perhaps to keep the guys fresh in the Arizona heat. … Troy Brown made his first appearance of the regular season. … Deion Branch was shaken up on the last play of the first half when Stephen Neal was pushed into the back of his leg while he was trying to stop a James Darling interception return on Brady's Hail Mary. He did not return. ... Givens 100-yard day was the first of his career. His previous high was 87 set on Nov. 3, 2003 at Denver. … Dillon's 100-yard game was just the second time in the last 25 games that the Patriots had a 100-yard rusher. Antowain Smith was the other when he had 121 yards against the Jets on 12/20/03. .. The win puts the Patriots unbeaten streak at 17. A win in two weeks against the Bills will tie the record for the longest winning streak on record.