The Patriots entered this game without their top QB, top receiving threat, and three of their starting offensive linemen and still won. The way the game unfolded had shades of the 2001 season when Tom Brady himself was the replacement QB when the starter was unavailable. The Patriots got contributions from many players at various times. Whether it was a key catch, breaking a tackle to gain the necessary yardage to gain a first down, or a stop on defense they delivered.
That type of style was very reminiscent of the 2001 championship team. While that team wasn't littered with Pro Bowlers, a lot of the players had that 6th sense of when it was time to make football plays. Against the Cardinals last night, the Patriots had a lot of big plays at the right time, especially on offense. For the game, the Patriots were 9.5-point underdogs although that should be an easy bet for the Patriots because we all know that Bill Belichick-coached teams will play competitive football games 99.9% of the time.
On offense, the big plays came from various sources. The Patriots got a touchdown on the opening drive from newcomer Chris Hogan, who beat rookie CB Brandon Williams on a sideline fade route. In the 3rd quarter, rookie Malcolm Mitchell converted a 3rd and 7 with a 28-yard catch and run that set up the Patriots second touchdown. Martellus Bennett did a good job in the run game as a blocker against former Patriot Chandler Jones, plus alos converted a couple thrid downs. Julian Edelman continued to give opposing defenses fits because of his short-area quickness. Danny Amendola did his usual thing with a couple of great catches on the final drive. While Amendola hasn't put up Wes Welker numbers, he's got that knack to show up at the right time to help the team win and that's why he's on the team.
Perhaps the drive that most personified this was the Patriots final drive. Facing a 3rd and 15, the Patriots were down by a point and needed to answer the Cardinals go-ahead touchdown. The Patriots faked a screen and Garoppolo found Danny Amendola wide open down the field in the scramble drill. The second big play on the drive was a 3rd and 11 where LeGarrette Blount took advantage of a smaller defense and grinded out 13 yards to move the sticks. The offense wasn't the high-octane unit we've come accustomed to over recent years, but they made the necessary plays to win.
On defense, Chris Long had a solid Patriots debut with a pair of sacks. While the Patriots didn't have a great game rushing the passer due to them electing to force the Cardinals to dink and dunk them between zones, Long's two sacks came at opportune times. The first came at the end of the first half and removed any possibilities of a last second field goal. The second came on the final set of downs that followed a holding penalty that momentarily pushed the Cardinals out of field goal range. Trey Flowers and Anthony Johnson had solid debuts, with Flowers picking up a QB hit and Johnson causing a couple negative plays. While the defensive line doesn't feature any Pro Bowlers on it, it's a workman like unit that's very versatile. No one on defense had a big day, but the unit altogether allowed 21 points against a tough offense, although 14 of them were the result of turnovers from the offense.
In order to win the first four games of the season, a similar approach to what they didd in 2001 is necessary. However, I do think the Patriots have more talent on their roster today than they did back then. There is talent all over the field and at every position, especially on offense with arguably the toughest matchup with Rob Gronkowski. With Jimmy Garoppolo at QB, it's not about style but rather the win or loss result. It's definitely nice to know that this team will compete and give opponents a really tough grind for 60 minutes no matter who they have on the field.