The New England Patriots entered the second half with a 10-7 lead, but were looking for a jolt of energy after a flat second quarter. They received that on their opening drive as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo connected with rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell for a 28-yard reception.
Running back LeGarrette Blount dragged the entire Cardinals defense into the end zone to help get the Patriots a 17-7 lead.
The Patriots defense held strong against the Cardinals and forced a punt on the subsequent drive and it looked like New England was going to be in position to pull away.
Unfortunately, Blount fumbled the ball- the third time the Patriots put the ball on the ground- and the Cardinals recovered on the Patriots own 33-yard line. Five plays later and Cardinals running back David Johnson scored a touchdown to close the lead to 17-14.
For those keeping track, both of the Cardinals scores came on short fields after turnovers. The Patriots had a -2 turnover margin through three quarters; over the past five years, teams have only won 13.5% of games where they had a -2 or worse turnover margin.
Garoppolo and the Patriots needed to respond with a scoring drive to reestablish the lead and the offense made their way deep into the Cardinals territory, but bad penalties (and a bad call by the officials) stalled the drive, forcing K Stephen Gostkowski to connect on a 53-yard field goal to take a 20-14 lead. Still, an 11-play, 7-minute drive that resulted in points is a positive.
The Cardinals responded with a quick drive as David Johnson picked up 45-yards on an incredible run where he eluded a handful of Patriots tacklers to set up a perfect fade pass to Larry Fitzgerald for a touchdown. Arizona connected on the extra point attempt to take a 21-20 lead- their first lead of the night.
Not much you can do about this…. pic.twitter.com/qAaaWpdO4G— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) September 12, 2016
Garoppolo and the offense rose to the occasion on their next drive with another 6 minute drive that ended in a field goal. Garoppolo and company converted three third down attempts and almost converted a fourth, but Marcus Cannon whiffed at right tackle and Garoppolo had to scramble. Gostkowski connected on a 32-yard field goal to take back a 23-21 lead.
The Cardinals used up their time outs on the Patriots drive to save as much time as possible and received the kick off with 3:44 left in the game- and a holding call forced the Cardinals to start their drive on the 8-yard line.
Arizona started to drive thanks to some insane play by Fitzgerald and worked their way into field goal range at the two-minute warning. The Cardinals were trying to set up an easier field goal, but were called for a holding penalty to knock them out of field goal range. The Cardinals were thrown off their timing and they missed a 47-yard field goal attempt.
The Patriots got the ball back and were able to kneel out the clock to secure a 23-21 victory. New England is now in sole possession of 1st place in the AFC East after the Bills, Dolphins, and Jets all lost.
What an incredible victory for the Patriots. This is possibly the most impressive regular season victory of Bill Belichick’s career.