The Patriots got off to a rough start against the Cardinals, quickly turning the ball over and opening the door to an early 10-0 Arizona lead, but slowly found their stride and climbed back into what was one of the closest and most exciting games of the season with a full team effort.
The Cardinals would eventually get back on track in the fourth quarter, tying the game up at 17, before picking off another Newton pass, as the game swung back into Arizona's favor. But New England would continue to fight, with the defense getting a key stop that gave the offense one last chance, which they would take advantage of, as Nick Folk kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired, giving the Patriots a thrilling win despite a sloppy game from both teams.
The Patriots record improves to 5-6 on the season, as they overcame some late mistakes and made just enough clutch plays to pull out the 20-17 win.
Here's everything that stood out in a mistake-filled but exciting victory in the game observations!
- It was a disastrous start for the Patriots on their first drive with two ineffective runs setting up a 3rd-and-6. The Cardinals sent pressure up the middle and the right side of the line, including James White and Michael Onwenu failed to sort it out, with a free rusher deflecting Cam Newton's pass which was picked off by Markus Golden. Arizona took over at the Pats 23 and it would take them just three plays to get into the end zone.
- The issues were unfortunately nothing new, though it was the Patriots first turnover in three games. But mishandling blitz pickup and then poor pursuit and tackling from the defense had the Patriots in an early 7-0 hole. They'd avoid an ensuing three-and-out thanks to a holding call on a third-down incompletion, but they'd go backwards on the first two plays of the new set of downs, before Damiere Byrd picked up 17 yards on a wide receiver screen on third down to keep the drive alive.
- Arizona seemed well-prepared for the Patriots wide runs, snuffing out what had been some of New England's most effective offensive plays this season, keeping Damien Harris under wraps early on. They'd be forced to punt after three more plays, as the Cardinals continued to send extensive blitz pressure. It was an outstanding punt from Jake Bailey, downed at the Arizona three-yard line.
Personnel notes...Donte Moncrief was inserted at kickoff returner with Gunner Olszewski sliding to the upback position on the unit...Jermaine Eluemunor started at left tackle in place of Isaiah Wynn...Deatrich Wise appeared to have an elevated role with Cowart and Davis out...Akeem Spence made his debut in the first quarter after being called up from the practice squad...Justin Herron entered the game on the third drive at left tackle, Eluemunor would return as it looked like part of a rotation...Sony Michael saw just one snap in the first half.
- The Cardinals would get off their three-yard line immediately with a 14-yard carry right up the middle. The lack of Carl Davis and Byron Cowart left the defensive front undersized and undermanned and Arizona smartly targeted them early. DeAndre Hopkins would show up on the drive too, with a 16-yard catch down the middle of the field and then an easy pitch-and-catch for another nine yards.
- The Pats defense finally made it to third down on the long drive by a good edge set by Stephon Gilmore on a QB keeper on first down, then a nice pass rush by Adam Butler on second down. They were aggressive on third down, sending multiple rushers that forced an incompletion and the Cardinals had to settle for a 47-yard field goal. It was a 12-play, 68-yard drive that took over five minutes. Jonathan Jones had good coverage on the third-down play as well.
- Bill Belichick has mentioned his dissatisfaction with the kickoff returns this season and finally got a great return from Donte Moncrief, going 53 yards that gave the Pats a badly-needed boost, down 10-0. It wasn't N'Keal Harry's best drive with a holding penalty and a drop, but Jakobi Meyers helped make up for those plays with two catches totaling 20 yards plus 15 yards for an Arizona lowering-the-head penalty.
- Gunner Olszewski was stopped short inside the red zone on a jet sweep on 3rd-and-3, setting up a 4th-and-2 that New England aggressively went for from Arizona's seven-yard line. The option right was flipped by Newton to James White and he bowled his way not only to the first down, but into the end zone for a huge scoring play that made it 10-7, Cardinals. Sparked by the kickoff return, the Patriots found some rhythm on the drive, though it was aided by a 15-yard penalty and took a fourth-down conversion.
- Some young players showed up on the next Arizona drive as the Patriots would force their first punt of the game. Josh Uche showed good athleticism in space, while Chase Winovich got good pressure in Murray's face on third down that forced a near-interception. Kyle Dugger also made a good play on a jet sweep during the drive as the defense began to get on track in the second quarter, keeping Murray contained but still getting enough pressure to force uncomfortable throws, unlike last week when Deshaun Watson never blinked in the pocket.
- Cam Newton had a couple designed runs on the next drive, with Damien Harris splitting out wide pre-snap. It was a unique look but ultimately couldn't get anything started as the Patriots would pick up just one first down before having to punt it back to Arizona.
- J.C. Jackson showed great coverage on a second-down deep attempt by Murray targeting Christian Kirk, pinning Kirk to the sideline. It would get them to a 3rd-and-long, but Murray made a great throw off his back foot to tight end Dan Arnold, who had broken loose from Jason McCourty's coverage. The pressure was good but it was not enough to get Murray off-target, as was also the case on the next third down, with the Pats sending seven rushers but Murray still finding Hopkins for a first down with good anticipation.
It was another grueling drive by the Cardinals, the kind the Patriots defense have been giving up too many of this season. At least there weren't any big plays, with just one play of 10-plus yards, but Arizona kept grinding things out, converting multiple third downs. They'd finally get a stop inside their own one-yard line after an easy dropped touchdown by Christian Kirk on second down, barely getting KeeSean Johnson's knee down before he extended the ball over the plane of the goal line on what was initially ruled a touchdown.
- The Cardinals faced a 4th-and-goal from just inches out on the final play of the first half, but Lawrence Guy controlled the right guard, allowing Ja'Whaun Bentley to make the tackle without giving up any yards. The Pats defensive struggles at the end of the first half have been a problem a lot this year, but in this game they came through with a huge stop that kept it a three-point game at the half.
- The Patriots defense would pick up where they left off, forcing an Arizona punt on their first series. It looked like New England was about to take the lead as Gunner Olszewski took the punt back for a touchdown but an illegal block call on Anfernee Jennings took the score off the board. Not sure what Jennings was supposed to do on the play, he was ahead of the defender and simply stopped and put his shoulder into him. There was plenty of disagreement about the call, which was apparently correct if taken to the letter of the rule. It was almost an 82-yard punt return touchdown that would've really been a great moment for Gunner and the team.
- Newton and the offense wouldn't blink after the tough call though, with Damien Harris picking up 16 yards on his best carry of the day. The drive would stall after Harris had two-straight carries inside the Arizona 10 that picked up just three yards. Nick Folk's 22-yard field goal would tie things up at 10, it was his 18th-straight made field goal this season.
- The defense would continue their hot streak, producing their first turnover in since the Ravens game when Adam Butler deflected Murray's third down pass into the arms of Adrian Phillips. A week after looking helpless against Deshaun Watson, the Patriots defense was executing well against the Cardinals. The defense has been up and down this season, but Phillips continues to be a perfect fit for what they do and has had a standout season.
- Damien Harris continued heating up as well, busting off 18 yards on the next play from scrimmage, taking the offense down to the 13-yard line. Two-straight runs inside the five-yard line couldn't get the go-ahead score for the Patriots, coming down to another key third down, this one from the one and they'd get the touchdown on a toss to James White. After falling behind 10-0 early, the Patriots clawed their way back to take the lead with 17 unanswered points. It was good complementary football all around.
- Adam Butler continued what was likely his best performance of the season after sitting out last week, getting a third-down sack that forced another three-and-out by the Cardinals. It was the kind of one-on-one finish that the front has really missed at times this season. Butler was all over the place in this game and the defense was playing great football.
- After a Patriots three-and-out, which included a dangerous third-down pass by Newton, the Cardinals would start to lean into Kyler Murray's running ability to get things back on track. Then they'd tack to Kenyan Drake, who started to find some success on the ground as the Cardinals began to pick up multiple first downs. He had 38 yards on the drive. Arizona would go for it on 4th down and it looked like the Pats would get another stop, but a flag on Jason McCourty for holding would give Arizona a new set of downs inside the 10-yard line.
- New England would take another holding penalty in the end zone on the ensuing third down and the Cardinals wouldn't waste another red zone opportunity, tying the game with Drake's second touchdown of the game. The drive lasted a whopping 16 plays and took 7:19 as multiple penalties prevented the Patriots from getting off the field.
- Jakobi Meyers would get things started on the next drive, with a 16-yard play-action catch on the first play of the ensuring drive after Arizona tied it up. The Pats passing offense wasn't that effective but Meyers continues to be their most reliable target.
- Newton would throw his second interception of the game just a few plays later, with Damiere Byrd the intended target. Newton and Byrd were not on the same page as it was an easy pick that gave Arizona the ball on New England's side of the field. After three games of clean football, Newton's regression severely impacted both the start and finish of this game.
- The defense would make another stand though, making a big third-down stop with just two yards to go as Ja'Whaun Bentley made the key tackle to force the Cardinals to settle for a 45-yard field goal attempt which was missed. With just under two minutes to go in the game, Newton and the offense got the ball back with the game still tied.
- The first two plays would go backwards, leaving New England in a 3rd-and-13 situation. Josh McDaniels called Newton's number on a keeper and the quarterback trotted for a first down and then absorbed a big hit along the sideline that handed New England another 15 penalty yards onto the play. Nick Folk would make the 50-yard field goal to give New England the thrilling 20-17 win.
The Patriots offense had far from their best day with just 179 yards total, but made the plays they had to when it counted, while the defense and special teams made enough complementary plays to help put points on the board. In a season where close victories have been hard to come by, this was a good team win and got the Patriots back within striking distance of evening their record.