Well, it certainly wasn’t pretty but the New England Patriots escaped Week 12 with a 20-17 win thanks to a masterful defensive game plan for Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals’ high-powered offense. Heading into Sunday, the Cardinals were first in the NFL in total yards and third in the league in points. And yet, the Patriots held them to under 20 for the first time all year.
It looked as if New England was headed for another frustrating loss, though, when Cam Newton threw a terrible interception with just under four minutes to play.
However, when Arizona elected to kick instead of going for it on a 4th-and-1 inside the two-minute mark and Zane Gonzalez missed wide to the right, the Patriots suddenly had life again: they got the ball back with just under a minute to play and no timeouts. On 3rd-and-14, Newton was able to escape the pocket, run for the first down with 15 more yards tacked on to the end of the play after a late hit from rookie Isaiah Simmons. New England’s quarterback then hit Jakobi Meyers for a short gain before Nick Folk’s game-winning 50-yard field goal gave the Patriots the win.
It wasn’t the best showing from the team as it is still struggling to find consistency on both sides of the ball and has yet to string together a strong game of complementary football. However, sitting at 5-6 with tiebreakers over the 7-4 Miami Dolphins, 6-5 Las Vegas Raiders and 6-4 Baltimore Ravens (who are set to play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Tuesday), the Patriots have to continue to take it a week at a time while getting some help around the league if they want to sneak in as a wild card team in the AFC.
Winner: DT Adam Butler
Adam Butler was flat out dominant on Sunday totaling three tackles for a loss, a sack, three quarterback hits and a pass breakup that led to Adrian Phillips’ third quarter interception. It was arguably his best game as a professional and he stepped up when the Patriots needed it most.
There is no question New England’s front seven has struggled generating pressure and stopping the run. However, on Sunday, Butler was right in the middle of everything: he chipped in for a big goal-line stand to end the half as well as a third down sack on Kyler Murray after the Patriots had just taken a 17-10 lead. If the Patriots can get Butler and Lawrence Guy to continue to dominate at the line of scrimmage, it will be a major key in them making a late-season push into the playoffs.
Loser: QB Cam Newton
Aside from his 14-yard scamper with the game on the line, Newton wasn’t good on Sunday. Throwing for just 86 yards on nine completions as well as two interceptions, he continuously put the Patriots in tough situations from the opening kick. On just the third play of the game, a free rusher came through and forced him to get rid of it quickly, it was then batted down and intercepted leading to a quick seven points for the Cardinals.
Newton later also missed Jakobi Meyers over the middle of the field, saw N’Keal Harry late on what would have been an easy first down and overthrew a crossing Damiere Byrd in the end zone. Then, late in the game, he threw the aforementioned terrible pass intended for Byrd that was jumped by Dre Kirkpatrick to set up the Cardinals for a game-winning kick.
As mentioned above, Gonzalez missed and left just enough time on the clock for Newton to redeem himself. On Sunday, he therefore became the first quarterback since Mark Sanchez in 2012 to have a passer rating below 25 — Newton registered a 23.6 — and still win the game. His play has been much better the last few games, but Sunday might have been his worst in a Patriots uniform.
Winner: RB James White
A feel-good story for everyone involved. After missing a few weeks after the death of his father in a car crash in September, White seemingly hasn’t been as big a part of the game plan as of late; he’s not having the year in terms of production we all expected him to have due to a lack of touches and snaps.
However, the veteran turned in one of his best games of 2020 on Sunday by finding the end zone twice to help New England erase a 10-point deficit and take the lead in the third quarter. White had just five carries for 18 yards on the day, but his two touchdowns were clutch and helped turn the tide in the Patriots’ favor.
Loser: CB Jason McCourty
Jason McCourty has had a rough 2020 so far this season as he’s consistently been beat and flagged a ton this year. On Sunday, he got penalized for a bad holding call on 4th-and-goal early in the fourth quarter when the Patriots looked to have stopped Arizona once again inside their own 5-yard line. McCourty also got beat early in the game on a wheel route versus Andy Isabella. The veteran has struggled in the open field and in coverage this year as it seems his better days are behind him.
McCourty’s role is going to be interesting to watch going forward considering that New England has 2019 second round pick Joejuan Williams, who has been trying to find ways on the field for the last two seasons, behind him on the depth chart.
Winner: RB Damien Harris
Harris was a bit quieter in terms of his production as we have been used to seeing the last few weeks but he still ran extremely hard and totaled 47 yards on 14 carries. A lot of people were interested to see if his snaps would decrease with the activation of Sony Michel but Harris, once again, led all running backs in touches. His 18-yard carry in the third quarter was his longest of the day when he bursted through the middle to put the Patriots inside the Cardinals’ 10.
As the weeks continue to pile up, it’s looking more and more likely that the Patriots have found their early-down back for the future — and it is not the former first-round draft pick.
Winner: K Nick Folk
How about this man Nick Folk!? Folk banged home a game-winning kick for the second time in just four weeks, this time from 50 yards out as time expired to give the Patriots the upset win. Folk, who has now hit 19 straight field goals, has been arguably the most consistent member on the Patriots this season: he’s as reliable as they come and has certainly made the pain of drafting a kicker in fifth round and the loss of legend Stephen Gostkowski much, much better. As I say every week, where would this Patriots team be without the right leg of Nick Folk?
Loser: WR N’Keal Harry
N’Keal Harry suited up for his 17th game as a pro yesterday and for the fourth time already in his short career, he went an entire game without a reception.
Harry was also flagged for a holding penalty that negated a first down and was immediately pulled off for Donte Moncrief. Later in the game, he failed to get upfield and create space for Cam Newton as he was rolling out of the pocket on third down. When he’s not committing penalties, he’s dropping balls and not chipping in offensively; he has certainly blocked pretty well and been a good piece of the run game but that’s not what first-round wide receivers are supposed to be.
Harry has just 38 catches for 318 yards and three touchdowns in his career thus far. With each passing week it appears as if he may be headed to being deemed one of if not the biggest draft bust of the Bill Belichick era.
Winner: CB Stephon Gilmore
Although he was flagged a few times, that’s what is going to happen when you’re going up against All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins for four quarters. Gilmore won the battle again, limiting Hopkins to just five catches on seven targets for 55 yards. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year took his side of the field and completely locked it down for the entire game on Sunday and was a big help in the front seven containing Kyler Murray by taking away his top target.
What Gilmore has done on a week-to-week basis sometimes gets overshadowed, but he is the X-factor of that Patriots defense and consistently plays well every single Sunday.