Ryan L. Fox
It’s that time of the NFL season where teams begin their push for the playoffs. In years past, the New England Patriots would be sitting at the top of the AFC as everybody else was fighting and trying to claw their ways for a playoff spot. But in 2020, the roles have reversed as the Patriots are the ones clawing and fighting for their playoff lives at 4-6.
On a sunny, brisk Sunday, the Patriots welcomed into Gillette Stadium the Arizona Cardinals. Although many of the Patriots fans and media viewed this as an ‘easy victory’ for the Patriots, going as far as saying the cold New England weather was too much for a young Cardinals team that played in a dome in the desert.
It turned out to be a close seesaw game with momentum swinging back and forth throughout the contest with each team capitalizing on the other team’s mistake. But when the dust settled, only one team was able to improve their playoff chances while the other was sent home with their playoff hopes in the air.
The Patriots ended up getting the ball to start the game. However on their third play from scrimmage, QB Cam Newton’s pass for WR N’Keal Harry was picked off by Cardinals LB Markus Golden at the New England 24 as Golden was tackled at the New England 23.
From there, it took the Cardinals only just three plays to cash it in as RB Kenyan Drake ran up the middle for the 1-yard touchdown. K Zane Gonzalez booted the PAT through the uprights as the Cardinals took the early 7-0 lead with 12:03 left in the 1st quarter.
After forcing the Patriots to punt, the Cardinals got the ball back on their own 3. QB Kyler Murray lead the offense down the field, getting deep into New England territory. Unfortunately, the Cardinals offense stalled out at the New England 29. They ended up settling for a 47-yard field goal by Gonzalez to put the team up 10-0 as the Cardinals seemingly started to run away with the game.
But in the wanning minutes of the 1st quarter, the Patriots got the big play that they needed. WR/KR Donte Moncrief brought the ball from his own 1 yard line to the Arizona 46 for a 53-yard return. From there, the Patriots were able to move the ball down the field. They got down to the Arizona 7 where there were faced with 4th and 2. Rather than kick the field goal, Patriots coach Bill Belichick elected to go for it.
Newton did a quick pitch out to RB James White, who ran behind the right tackle and into the endzone for the score. K Nick Folk booted the PAT through the uprights to make it 10-7 with 14:15 left in the 2nd quarter.
After getting the ball back with under 7 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, the Cardinals got the ball back on their own 31. Murray drove the Cardinals down the field, including making key throws on multiple 3rd and longs to keep the drive alive. They got down to the New England 8 where on 3rd and goal, Murray found WR KeeSean Johnson for what appeared to be an 8-yard touchdown pass. But on review, the officials saw Johnson’s knee was down before the ball broke the plane.
The referees then put the ball on the New England half yard line. With just 3 seconds left in the quarter, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury decided to go for the touchdown. But Drake was stuffed before he could cross the goalline as the Patriots defense was able to make an impressive goalline stand before halftime.
The Cardinals got the ball back to start off the 2nd half and were forced to punt. Patriots WR/PR Gunner Olszewski caught the ball on the run and outran the Cardinals punt coverage team for what would have been an 82-yard punt return touchdown. But Patriots LB Anfernee Jennings was flagged for an illegal crackback penalty at the Arizona 24 that wiped out the penalty.
The Patriots ended up starting their first possession of the 2nd half at the Arizona 39. They ultimately settled for a 22-yard field goal by Folk to tie the game at 10-10.
On the next Cardinals’ possession, on 3rd and 3 from their own 32, Murray dropped back to pass. He tried to WR DeAndre Hopkins for a quick pass by the ball got batted by Patriots DT Adam Butler and fell into the waiting arms of Patriots S Adrian Phillips at the Arizona 31.
From there, the Patriots relied on the ground game the entire way. They got all the way to the Arizona 1. On both 1st and goal & 2nd and goal at the 1, the Arizona defense stuffed the Patriots. But on 3rd and goal, Cam tossed the ball to White, who went around the left side for the touchdown. Folk booted the PAT through the uprights as the Patriots took their first lead of the game, 17-10 with 3:30 left in the 3rd quarter.
The Cardinals ended up getting the ball back on their own 20 with 21 seconds left in the quarter, ending the quarter with a 5-yard pass from Murray to Christian Kirk to the Arizona 25.
When the 4th quarter began, the Cardinals still had the ball and continued to drive on the Patriots defense. They got down to the New England 13 where the drive seemingly got stopped. Facing a 4th and 5 from there, Kingsbury elected to go for it rather than settle for the field goal. Murray’s pass into the endzone for TE Dan Arnold ended up going incomplete. But Patriots CB Jason McCourty held Arnold at the goalline, causing the incompletion and drawing the flag for defensive holding.
That penalty gave the Cardinals a new set of downs and helped keep the drive alive. Three plays later, another Patriots defensive holding penalty (this time on CB Stephon Gilmore) gave the Cardinals another first down on the New England 2. Two plays after that, Drake bowled his way over the goalline for his 2nd touchdown of the day. Gonzalez booted the PAT through to tie the game at 17-17 with 8:02 left in the 4th quarter.
After picking off Newton for the 2nd time (this time by CB Dre Kirkpatrick), the Cardinals offense came onto the field with the ball on the New England 47 with less than 4 and a half minutes left in the game. They got to the New England 27 and ended up settling for a 45-yard field goal attempt. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Gonzalez pushed the field goal wide right to give the Patriots the ball back on their own 36 with 1:47 left in the game.
After getting stuffed on 2 consecutive plays and facing a 3rd and 13, Newton scrambled to the left side for 14 yards. On the same play, Newton got hit by Cardinals LB Isaiah Simmons via helmet-to-helmet, tacking on another 15 yards to the Arizona 34. Three plays later, Folk lined up for a 50-yard field goal attempt with 3 seconds left in the game. Folk booted the ball as the kick sailed right between the uprights to give the Patriots the 20-17 victory.
It was an ugly win for the Patriots. The performance by Newton throughout the game was uninspiring as he played very sloppily and the defense got picked apart by the Cardinals at various points of the game. Nevertheless, a win is a win as that victory helped keep the postseason chances alive for the Patriots. The division maybe out of reach for the Patriots but they are still in play for the wildcard.
Notable Patriots Players Statistical Standouts
RB James White – 5 carries for 18 yards (3.6 yards per carry) and 2 TDs, 1 catch (on 1 target) for -1 yards
WR Jakobi Meyers – 5 catches (on 6 targets) for 52 yards
DT Adam Butler – 5 tackles (4 solo, 1 assist), 1.0 sacks, 1 pass defended
DE Chase Winovich – 5 tackles (5 solo, 0 assists), 1.0 sacks
Ja’Whaun Bentley – 13 tackles (6 solo, 7 assists)
S Adrian Phillips – 5 tackles (5 solo, 0 assists), 1 interception, 1 pass defended
Numbers! Numbers! Numbers!
8 – The number of games this year where the Patriots have failed to score a point in the 1st quarter
- 35 – The point differential between the Patriots and their opponents in the 1st quarter (Opponents have outscored the Patriots 56-21 in the 1st quarter this season)
454 – The number of games Patriots coach Bill Belichick has coached (both regular season and playoffs) in his career (309-145 career record)
23.6 – The passer rating for Patriots QB Cam Newton for the game (9-for-18 for 84 yards, 2 INT)
3 - The number of scoring drives the Patriots had during the game (out of 4 scoring drives) that started in Arizona territory
17 – The number of giveaway by the Patriots for the 2020 NFL season
179 – The total net yards the Patriots had for the entire game, the lowest total for the 2020 season (110 yards rushing & 69 net yards passing)
142 – The total net return yards (kickoff and punt return) for the Patriots for the entire game
.625 – The winning percentage of when the Patriots rush for 100+ yards this year (5-3)
62% - The percentage of Newton’s passing yards that were by WR Jakobi Meyers (52 yards out of 84)
Did You Know
Against the Cardinals, the New England Patriots got only 179 yards of total offense. The last time the Patriots were held under 200 yards total offense was back on January 3, 2016 in the last week of the 2015 NFL season. They were held to 196 yards of total offense in a 20-10 loss Week 17 to the Miami Dolphins in Miami. The last time the Patriots were held under 200 yards of total offense at home, you have to go way back to was back on October 27, 2002. In a Week 8 home contest against the Denver Broncos, the Patriots were held to 179 total yards on offense and ended up losing the game 24-16.
This is going to be something going forward that many Patriots fans are going to follow closely going forward if they haven’t already.
According to the New York Times, the New England Patriots currently have a 10% chance to make it into the playoffs. They also have a 3% chance in winning the AFC East division (snerk), and less than 1% chance to secure a 1st-round bye and make the Super Bowl.
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the results are a little bit similar. After their Week 12 victory against the Cardinals, the Patriots now have a 12% chance of making the playoffs. They also have 3% chance of winning the division, 0% chance of securing a 1st-round bye, and less than 1% chance of winning the Super Bowl.
Now here’s where things get interesting.
The percentage chances displayed in both cases exclude the results of the 4 o’clock Sunday games as well as the Tuesday night game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.
While the NY Times Playoff picture evaluator doesn’t give predictions, the FiveThirtyEight.com generator can.
So here are some of the scenarios Patriots fans should be aware of:
Scenario #1: If the Denver Broncos defy all logic and win against the New Orleans Saints and the Baltimore Ravens win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Patriots playoff chances drop to 9%.
Scenario #2: If both the Broncos and Ravens, the Patriots playoff chances rise up to 13%.
Scenario #3: If the Broncos win and the Ravens lose, the Patriots playoff chances still remain at 12%.
Scenario #4: If the Broncos lose and the Ravens win, the Patriots playoff chances drop to 10%.
Scenario #5: If up become down, left becomes right, and both the Broncos-Saints and Raven-Steelers tie, the Patriot playoff chances are at 10%.
There are a couple more scenarios (i.e. Broncos-Saints Tie, Ravens win) but there was no noticeable change in the numbers.
Going into their game with the Texans, the Patriots were in line for the #15 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
After their 20-17 victory over the Cardinals, their draft position still remains the same at #15 overall.
Fox Fist Bump
I gotta give the Fox Fist Bump to the Patriots goalline defense.
That goalline stand right before the end of the first half was a game changer.
If Kenyan Drake is able to burst through for the score, the Cardinals go up 17-7, get the ball back, and have all the momentum. The Patriots game plan would be to try and play from behind the entire time, something that they have struggled to do all season long.
Instead, DE Lawrence Guy stuffed Drake before he could cross the goalline to keep it at 10-7 and swing the momentum of the game in favor of the Patriots. The Cardinals came out stagnant in the 3rd quarter while the Patriots came out fired up (by comparison) and scored 10 points to take the lead.
The Meatball of the Game
I gotta give Patriots QB Cam Newton the meatball of the game.
I know he lead the game-winning drive and got that big first down scramble on 3rd and long to keep it going, but for the entire game Cam looked uninspiring.
It was the same problems he was having all season long: overthrowing receivers, not missing wide-open targets, and just underthrowing the ball which lead to an interception late in the 4th quarter.
He ended up throwing for a new career low in both passing yards (84) and passer rating (23.6).
Let’s be honest, the defense and special teams bailed Newton out this game. If one of them didn’t play out of their minds, the Patriots would have lost against the Cardinals because of Newton’s dismal play.
Play of the Game
A Game-Changing Stand
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