What we learned in the Patriots 20-18 loss to the Cardinals in the home opener at Gillette Stadium:
Even the Patriots can play stupid football
We tend to expect the Patriots to be the smarter, cleaner team. Not the case against Arizona. New England committed eight penalties, including a hold on Rob Gronkowski that nullified a potential game-winning touchdown in the game’s final minute, had a punt blocked and completely messed up the gift possession it was given following an inexcusable Arizona fumble with 61 seconds left. After the Gronkowski holding penalty, the Pats chose to take only one more shot downfield as Brady found Wes Welker, who took it to the Cardinals 18 with 46 seconds to go. A false start on Gronkowski backed up the Pats, and Brady chose to kill two downs and the bulk of the clock before Stephen Gostkowski missed a 42-yarder. Gostkowski was 4-for-4 before that kick, including two from beyond 50 yards, but it was still no sure thing, thanks in large part to New England’s reluctance to attack, even if it was just one more time.
Chief among them is the condition of tight end Aaron Hernandez, lost early in this one to a high right ankle sprain. Without him, the high-powered New England attack was extremely ordinary, although the issues went far beyond Hernandez’s absence. Welker was not even targeted until late in the first half when he made the reception that broke Troy Brown’s franchise record. Welker had a third-down pass go right through his hands in the third and Brandon Lloyd had a big drop in the fourth. Brady showed some shakiness behind a shaky line until a late, efficient, hurry-up drive resulted in a TD pass to Gronkowski for the final margin. Brady’s first pass of the day was picked off. He was sacked four times. The Cardinals deserve loads of credit for dominating the line of scrimmage while on defense.
About that shaky line
The main cause for concern during the preseason was Brady’s protection. At times on Sunday it resembled the old “Look Out Line,” as in, “Look out, Tom, they’re coming for you!” Not only did Brady see his fair share of pressure, but the running backs were overwhelmed behind the line. Stevan Ridley got pancaked for a loss deep in New England territory moments before Zoltan Mesko had a punt blocked in the third, setting up the Cardinals’ first touchdown. Darnell Dockett, who tipped the ball on Brady’s interception, dragged down Danny Woodhead for a nine-yard loss that ended a New England drive late in the third. Patrick Peterson did the same thing by tackling Ridley four yards behind the line to kill another drive early in the fourth. It was, at times, an open-door policy that could prove troublesome at Baltimore next Sunday night.
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They ain’t goin’ 16-0
And maybe that’s a good thing. Not only does it mean very little in the grand scheme of things, as we all learned in 2007, but Bill Belichick has good reason to lay into his troops. They got the stinker out of the way early, perhaps, and can use this to set a course. The timing might be perfect. New England plays four of its next six games on the road, beginning with Sunday’s trip to Baltimore. The two home games in that stretch include Peyton Manning’s Broncos and the rival Jets, neither of which are gimmes if the Pats play like they did Sunday, when they lost a home opener for the first time since 2001. Time to buck up.
Fans? What fans?
We’ve got to question those who waited just a few bad series before booing the Pats. They deserved some criticism later, for sure, but it was alarming how quickly the crowd at Gillette showed its displeasure. It was also alarming how quickly many of the fans chose to beat the traffic. Shots on TV showed fans streaming for the exits soon after New England’s two-point conversion try failed with 2:06 to play. Many of them were seen sprinting back to catch the finish after Brandon Spikes forced a fumble to give the Patriots a game-winning field goal try. Perhaps the NFL gods were thinking of this when they pushed Gostkowski’s kick wide left.
Chandler Jones owns you
One of the many bright spots in the Week 1 rout at Tennessee, Jones backed up his outstanding NFL debut with a stellar second effort. He forced one fumble and added a signature series (or what may become a signature series for him) in the second quarter with a pair of plays that do not reach the box score. On 3rd-and-8 from the Arizona 18, he forced a blatant hold by left tackle D’Anthony Batiste by getting his mitts all over quarterback Kevin Kolb. On the ensuing 3rd-and-17, Jones rushed Kolb into an incompletion, almost singlehandedly forcing the Cardinals to punt deep in their own territory. New England began its next possession on the Arizona 46 and Gostkowski converted a field goal moments later.