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Unsung heroes from the Patriots’ Week 12 win over the Cardinals

Related: Adam Butler was a one-man wrecking crew against the Cardinals

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at New England Patriots Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

It certainly wasn’t pretty but the New England Patriots improved their record to 5-6 on Sunday with a 20-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Weeks 10 and 11 saw extremes both ways. The Patriots dismantled the Baltimore Ravens on both sides of the ball two weeks ago, turning in their best performance of the season. They followed that up with their worst performance of the year last Sunday in Houston, where they couldn’t stop a nosebleed on defense or generate any consistency on offense. How did they play this week against Arizona? They were just all right.

The performance we saw on Sunday did, however, answer a question that I presented in last week’s unsung heroes blog. Is this a good football team or a bad one? Neither, they’re just ok.

So with this newfound information in the back of my mind, let’s take a look at the players who were better than ok, whether it was on an individual play or throughout the whole game. Here are the Patriots unsung heroes from Sunday’s victory over Arizona.

The Plays

Chase Winovich being a disruptor

This is the kind of play that these blogs are built on. Adrian Phillips will get credit for the interception and Adam Butler will get recognition for tipping the pass, but this play doesn’t happen without the effort from Winovich.

The Patriots successfully execute a WR screen

This play usually doesn’t even work on 1st-and-10, the fact that it did on 3rd-and-17 is a minor miracle. The execution was just that good. It started with an accurate pass from Cam Newton out into the flat, N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers were able to hold blocks on the outside, and big Michael Onwenu scooted downfield to block two men long enough for Damiere Byrd to pick up the first down. That’s some good-looking football.

Ja’Whaun Bentley with a potential game saver

First and foremost, this was a complete effort by the Patriots defense. Winovich, Kyle Dugger, and Stephon Gilmore did a great job at setting the edge, Terez Hall even made a nice adjustment to get in on the tackle. The play, however, is made by Bentley who was able to diagnose the run, work through traffic, fight off a block, and stonewall Kenyan Drake to force a field goal attempt. Complimentary defense at its finest.

Jakobi Meyers: route running technician

It’s not everyday that an undrafted free agent straight up beats a three-time All-Pro in man coverage, but that is what happened here. One of the most promising developments to come out of this season is the growth of Jakobi Meyers. He’s turned into a legit option at all three wide receiver spots and will be a big part of what the Patriots do on offense in the future.

Lawrence Guy with the assist

Much like the Winovich play, these assists are what this blog is predicated on. Akeem Spence beat his block and Ja’Whaun Bentley filled his gap to combine on the tackle. Lawrence Guy is the man who made it all possible. He takes on a double team here and holds the guard, preventing him from climbing to Bentley. Sure it’s a penalty, but with 0:00 left on the clock all it would do is give the Cardinals another shot from the same spot. Understanding the situation and making that play the way he did is what makes Lawrence Guy so special.

The Player

DT Adam Butler

Ok, so categorizing Adam Butler’s performance on Sunday as “unsung” is a bit of a stretch. Butler had a career day with three quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, and a sack — all after missing a game for the first time in his career last week in Houston with a shoulder injury. Nonetheless, there is no man more deserving of this spot. Adam Butler was the best player on the field Sunday.

The first play that caught my eye from Butler was his pressure on Kyler Murray in the first quarter:

Butler displayed what the team was missing last week, an ability to generate pressure up the middle. Butler worked through a double-team and was eventually rewarded as Lawrence Guy’s stunt pulled the center away. This allowed Butler a free shot at Murray, forcing the incompletion.

Entering a matchup with the Cardinals ensured that the Patriots’ run defense would be put to the test. In addition to the efforts of Lawrence Guy, Akeem Spence, and Isaiah Mack, Adam Butler was at his run-stopping best this week. The play that stood out to me specifically was one where his quickness was on full display and helped him make a big stop that led to a punt:

Throughout the game we were able to see him be disruptive. As I highlighted previously, despite not showing up on the stat sheet on some plays he was able to affect the outcome. In perhaps the biggest spot of the game up to that point, Butler finished:

Not only did Butler generate pressure, he finished off the sack to force a punt and give the Patriots an opportunity to extend their lead to double digits (they squandered said opportunity.) Despite being double-teamed Butler got the job done in a big spot.

At the end of the season, the Patriots are going to have a decision to make as both Adam Butler and Lawrence Guy are free agents and the defensive front’s future will be completely up in the air. They will have to sink some serious money into those two guys if they want to ensure at least some production in 2021.

With performances like this, Butler is making that decision easy.