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At the end of the day, Patriots-Cardinals was a tale of two kickers

Related: Instant analysis from Patriots’ 20-17 win over Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The last time the Arizona Cardinals visited the New England Patriots, back in Week 2 of the 2012 season, the game came down to a 42-yard field goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski. The kick sailed wide to the left with only seconds left on the clock, and the Cardinals ended up winning with a final score of 20-18.

Four years later, when the Patriots travel to Glendale to take on the Cardinals on opening weekend 2016, the game again came down to a field goal attempt. This time, Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro went wide to the left from 47 yards out with only seconds left on the clock. New England ended up winning with a final score of 23-21.

Measured against those standards, the 2020 meeting between the two organizations was a blowout: the Patriots prevailed 20-17 on Sunday in an entertaining back-and-forth contest — one that eventually came down to the kickers yet again. This time, however, it was not just a story of one of them.

It all started with New England quarterback Cam Newton, who took the field with the game tied at 17 and eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. His goal was a simple one: drive the Patriots offense down the field to a potential game-winning touchdown or field goal, and burn as much time as possible off the clock along the way to make it near-impossible for the Cardinals’ offense to come back. That plan did not work.

Six plays into the drive, Newton threw an interception that allowed Arizona to set up shop at the New England 47-yard line. With 4:27 remaining, the Cardinals suddenly appeared to have the upper hand in the game — and the Patriots’ already small playoff hopes were on the verge of taking another, possibly irreparable, hit.

The Cardinals went on to gain 20 yards on their ensuing drive before a third down stop by New England’s defense forced them to send their kicker, Zane Gonzalez, onto the field to attempt a 47-yard field goal. The kick would not have sealed the game just yet, but it would have left the Patriots down three points with under two minutes left and no timeouts to move the ball down into at least field goal range again.

In the grand tradition of recent Patriots-Cardinals games, however, Gonzalez’s kick did not split the uprights. It sailed wide to the right to keep the game tied at 17 each.

Accordingly, New England suddenly had another chance at driving for the win. This time, Newton and company did not fail: with a 14-yard run by the quarterback on 3rd-and-13 as the series’ key play, the Patriots’ offense marched all the way to the Arizona 32-yard line to set up a 50-yard attempt for kicker Nick Folk that would win the game and improve the team’s record to 5-6.

One kicker’s miss (and misery) is another kicker’s chance at becoming the hero. And Folk did just that: his kick sailed straight through the goal posts to secure a Patriots victory.

“Any time you get a chance to put one through with no time on the clock is fun,” said the veteran after his game-winning attempt. “It’s really fun to be around the guys. I’ve played with a lot of great teammates, this group is up there with the best of them. They’re a lot of fun, and just to see the effort that they put in — every day Monday through the game to get ready for a game and then play the game — and that I can make it worth it for them is more fun than anything for me.

“Seeing them smile, seeing them having a good time just makes me feel better about it. I play for them just as much as they play for everyone else. It’s fun, I definitely savor the moment. You never know how many more you’re going to get. It’s a blast to go out there and compete and help them team win however we can.”

The situation was not a new one for Folk. Not only was he playing in his 177th NFL game on Sunday, he also found himself in the same basic spot just three weeks ago. The Patriots’ game versus the New York Jets, after all, also came down to a game-winning field goal try. While that one was from 51 yards away, the result was the same: Folk was successful to give New England a three-point victory as time expired.

With today’s two field goals — he also made a 22-yarder before his game-winner — he is now at an impressive 90.7-percent success rate on the season: Folk made 19 of his 21 field goal tries as well as 20 of a possible 22 extra points. He has been money all season.

“Nick made a huge kick there at the end of the game, just like he did against the Jets,” said head coach Bill Belichick when speaking about his place kicker during his postgame press conference. “I thought that in that situation Cam did a nice job of putting us in position coming down to the final kick, and Nick came through again. That was great for it to all work out there.”

On the other end of the celebratory spectrum, meanwhile, resides Zane Gonzalez — even though his quarterback offered some words of encouragement after the game.

“It’s one of those positions where you don’t get that many opportunities, so it’s not like... I’m sure it’s very mental,” said Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. “I have never been a kicker. I can’t speak on it. I don’t know. But I don’t go and bash them or anything like that. I know how tough it is. It’s a tough game. He made every other kick, it just didn’t happen to go his way. I think we had a lot of other opportunities to make that game easier on ourselves, and we didn’t.”

While Arizona and New England both had some chances earlier during the game, neither team was able to take advantage of them. As a result, the game came down to the kickers at the end — to one that didn’t make the game-winning kick, and to one that did.