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Cardinals stun the Patriots in home opener

Sunday, September 16, 2012

 

It started out like just another day at the office.

Really, when you consider the Patriots were a two touchdown favorite against the Arizona Cardinals going into the home opener at Gillette Stadium Sunday, there really didn’t seem to be much to get excited about.

Add to that a 10-0 record in season openers at Gillette for New England, and it didn’t seem the Cardinals had a shot. Did it?

Oh, they sure did. Arizona shocked the Patriots with a stunning 20-18 upset win Sunday afternoon.

The Cardinals certainly delivered notice early on that they’d be making the Patriots’ day anything but normal…driving 60 yards in 13 plays with the opening kickoff, before having to settle for a 38 yard Jay Feely field goal and a 3-0 lead. Then, on the first New England play from scrimmage, Tom Brady’s pass was tipped and intercepted by Patrick Peterson, giving the Cardinals a chance to put an early hurt on the Pats.

Surprise, surprise.

Fortunately for the Pats, QB Kevin Kolb missed a wide open Todd Heap inside the 10-yard line that could have put seven on the board, instead of another field goal by Feely (from 46 yards out), and the Patriots dodged a major bullet, trailing only 6-0 with just under 8:00 to play in the first quarter.

But if you’ve never heard 68,000 fans collectively hold their breath, two plays into their next drive TE Aaron Hernandez suffered an injury to his right ankle and left the field. Nine plays later, Stephen Gostkowski got the Patriots on the board, hitting from 46 yards to make it 6-3, with 2:22 left in the first. But the message had been sent by the Cardinals. Would the Patriots be able to respond?

On the next-to-last play of the quarter, Stevan Ridley managed to scoot around right end for a 20 yard gain, giving the Patriots some momentum after a sluggish start. But the drive fizzled after two targets for Brandon Lloyd, who was covered well by Arizona’s Peterson. Cue the defense, as they tightened up on the Cards’ offense and forced them to kick…only to have the favor returned by Arizona, and NE settled for a 34 yarder from Gostkowski to tie the score 6-6, 9:08 to play in the second quarter.

Punch, and counter-punch. A fight perhaps the Patriots – at least some of them, didn’t figure on having.

The Patriots defense then came up with their first turnover, recovering a Kolb fumble with rookie safety Tavon Wilson getting the gift near mid-field. Yet the offense could do nothing with the turnover, as Brady was sacked twice by the Cardinals front seven…Sam Acho and Quentin Groves penetrating the Pats’ O-line, without much trouble. And even though Brady later found Wes Welker for a 25-yard gain (the catch broke Troy Brown’s career record for receptions) in the final two minutes, there was no score at the end of the drive. The two teams settled for a 6-6 draw at the break.

On the first play of the third quarter, Brady found Welker open over the middle for 36 yards, injecting some life into the offense, if not the crowd. However, the drive again sputtered and was stopped short, leaving it to Gostkowski to bail them out with a 51-yarder and the first lead of the day, 9-6 with 12:53 to play in the third.

But there was no time to get comfortable. After swarming on kicks all afternoon, Arizona’s special teams finally blocked a Zoltan Mesko punt, with the ball rolling out of bounds on the NE two yard line. It took three plays for the Cardinals to punch it in, getting a one-yard pass from Kolb to Andre Roberts…and the Cards jumped right back on top 13-9, and 8:52 to go in the quarter.

A promising drive for the Patriots stalled out at the Arizona 39 yard line, after Danny Woodhead was thrown for a third-down loss by Darnell Dockett – one of a number of big plays made by the Cardinals on defense. Then, it was the offense’s turn to make a play or two – and they did, really for the first time all afternoon against the Patriots’ “D.” Completions from Kolb to Larry Fitzgerald and Early Doucet put Arizona in position to deliver a knockout blow early in the 4th quarter.

With a minute gone in the 4th, Kevin Kolb snuck up the middle from five yards out…and even though replays showed his knee could have been down prior to the ball crossing the goal line, the score counted…and the Cardinals put the Patriots on the ropes with a 20-9 advantage, finishing a 75 yard drive. Time for the Pats offense to finally show up for work?

Again, a solid drive was turned away by the Cardinals’ defense, as Ridley was stopped for a loss on a 3rd and one attempt from the AZ 41. Peterson and LB Daryl Washington came up with the big play, giving the Cards a chance to put things away. And following a defensive stand by NE, for what seemed like the hundredth time in the game, Arizona stopped the Patriots short of the end zone on the ensuing drive…even though they may have been helped by some curious play-calling from the Patriots’ sideline, Gostkowski did keep the Pats within striking distance by nailing a 53-yarder, his fourth field goal of the day. 20-12 Arizona, with 6:45 to play.

A three-and-out from the Cardinals put the ball back in Brady’s hands with 5:42 to play, 82 yards from a potential game-tying TD. Three plays later, NE held it at the AZ 41, then two completions to Gronkowski gave them a first down at the 16. Calais Campbell forced Brady into a two yard loss to set up a huge third down attempt…where Brady found Julian Edelman for a gain to the six and a first down.

Just like old times, right? Just another day at the office?

On the next play, number 12 hooked up with 87 for the score, but the two could not connect on a two-point try that would have tied the score. Instead – it was 20-18 Arizona, with 2:06 left for the Cards to hang on.

After the two minute warning, with a second and fine from their own 25, RB Ryan Williams gained 13 yards against a New England defense that had to be expecting a run. It was the play of the day, in a day that had many made by the Cardinals. Until the next one.

Brandon Spikes knocked the football loose from Williams on an end run, and the fumble was recovered at the AZ 30 yard line, where it was recovered by Vince Wilfork. Two plays later, an apparent TD run by Woodhead was called back for holding…but then Brady found his old reliable, Welker, for a 12 yard gain. After a keeper to move the ball between the hash marks, and an incomplete pass to stop the clock, it was left to Gostkowski to win it – with his 5th field goal of the day, and six seconds remaining.

And he missed it. Arizona held on for the 20-18 upset win, the first season-opening loss ever at Gillette Stadium for the Patriots.

As it turned out, the day was anything but just another day at the office.

 

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