clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Lane Breakdown: Defense and special teams step up to help Patriots beat the Cardinals

Related: Patriots vs Cardinals recap: Last-second 20-17 win keeps New England’s playoff hopes alive

New England Patriots vs Arizona Cardinals Staff Photo By Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

This year’s New England Patriots team just does not have a consistent identity. One week they almost lose to the 0-8 New York Jets, the next week they beat the 6-2 Baltimore Ravens; they get crushed by the 2-7 Houston Texans, then they beat the 6-4 Arizona Cardinals. One of the things that makes them frustrating is that they seem to have the potential to be a playoff team, and they simply haven’t been able to close out games.

Luckily, they were able to d just that against the Cardinals on Sunday, with some serious help from Arizona — and some tremendous play on defense and special teams.

Defense steps up

The Patriots’ offense struggled moving the ball on Sunday, but the defense stepped up and helped out. There were multiple players who played well, specifically Adam Butler, Lawrence Guy, and Ja’Whaun Bentley.

Butler was a beast in both the running game and rushing the passer, accumulating a sack and three quarterback hits. Guy, one of the most underrated defensive linemen in all football, continues his stellar season and was instrumental in both short-yardage stops.

Bentley, meanwhile, had his best game as a pro by far. He finished with 13 tackles, including the one at the goal line to end the first half with a successful fourth down stand. He also helped force the Kyler Murray interception by sitting in the zone for Murray’s hot route to DeAndre Hopkins, forcing Murray to hold onto the ball too long and make a bad pass that was tipped by Butler and picked off by Adrian Phillips. Bentley has been terrible, so if this could be a sign of better things to come, that would be a real boost for the Patriots.

Special returns

The special teams really helped the Patriots as well today. Jake Bailey had another punt downed inside the 5-yard line that only added to his stellar season, while Nick Folk continued his fantastic play.

The biggest surprise of the day, however, came from the return game.

Practice squad call-up Donte Moncrief had a 53-yard runback on a first-quarter kickoff, with Gunner Olszewski registering his best return of the season as well: while his would-be touchdown was called back because of a questionable block-in-the-back penalty against Anfernee Jennings, his return still resulted in a 43-yard swing in New England’s favor. Moving forward, the return game could be a big boost for a team that has trouble moving the ball on offense and winning the field position battle.

Still in Play(offs)

They may not be in the playoffs right now, but the Patriots still have a chance to make the tournament when all is said and done. Not only are they only a few games out, but they have the tiebreaker over a few teams ahead of them after beating the Ravens as well as the Miami Dolphins and Las Vegas Raiders. While they have certainly missed some opportunities to win important games along the way, they still have a chance to make the playoffs.

In what has been an incredibly disappointing season so far, even the chance of it ending with a playoff berth is something to be happy about. There are some big games coming up, and the Patriots are going to need to win most if not all of them. For now, however, just having a chance is good enough.

Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast

Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats