I am absolutely guilty of calling the Patriots a serious long-shot when they faced the Cardinals. I thought head coach Bill Belichick and company would call a game that would cover the spread, but that the Cardinals would ultimately win. It felt inevitable.
When the Patriots jumped out to a 10 point lead, I cheekily pointed out the point-spread because this was not how the game was supposed to play out; I expected the Cardinals to roar back and take back the lead.
I thought the Patriots were supposed to be losing this game by 10 points. pic.twitter.com/OcjoH3QhB2— Pats Pulpit (@patspulpit) September 12, 2016
The Patriots were without QB Tom Brady, or TE Rob Gronkowski, or LT Nate Solder, or RT Sebastian Vollmer, or RB Dion Lewis, or ED Rob Ninkovich, and RG Shaq Mason was playing while hurt. There was no chance the Patriots would be able to hold the lead for the full 60 minutes.
Back-up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the rest of the Patriots had different plans.
“I didn’t really think about it too much I guess,” Garoppolo said about playing short handed after the game. “They are a very talented defense and that’s a good group of players out there. They gave us all we could handle tonight. It was a good test for us. Whoever is out there, we have confidence in one another and that’s a good thing we have going for us."
But Jimmy, I thought, that wasn’t the question. The Patriots were playing without their stars and they were huge underdogs and they had to overcome so many obstacles. Isn’t there some pleasure in silencing the doubters?
“Not really,” Garoppolo said. “To be honest, I don’t really put much into it. We have enough on our plate as it is with travel, game plan, everything in between. There’s a lot on our minds. We were focused on Arizona and the result came out our way.”
Garoppolo wasn’t alone in the anti-underdog sentiment, with WR Julian Edelman rightfully calling out the media coverage for not giving the Patriots a chance.
“That is all on you guys,” Edelman said after the game. “You are the ones that think we are undermanned and underdogs but we are just worried about what we can control and that is going out there and having a good week of practice and try to do that in the game. It was good to see guys come up and do that and see it transition from the practice field to the game. That is why you work so hard."
The Patriots defeated the Cardinals 23-21 in a game that I was convinced New England would have lost even if Brady and Gronkowski were on the field. I think kicker Stephen Gostkowski put it best when asked about playing in the face of adversity.
“There are still a lot of really good players on this team,“ Gostkowski said with a mental shrug of his shoulders. “We felt good all week. The vibe felt positive. It’s good to come out with a win."
We spent so much time focused on Brady and Gronkowski- which isn’t an unfair thing to do since they’re two future Hall of Famers- but played like Edelman and WR Chris Hogan and TE Martellus Bennett all rose to the challenge, while the defense played to the lofty level necessary to overcome a -2 turnover margin against the best offense of 2015.
This is a Patriots team that has gone to five straight AFC Championship games that wasn’t given a chance against the Cardinals. Belichick, Edelman, and company threw down the gauntlet for the rest of the league and issued a challenge.
I dare you to call us underdogs, Edelman seemed to be saying. I don’t think anyone will be calling the Patriots underdogs for the rest of the year.