Monday night at State Farm Stadium, the New England Patriots revisited their Super Bowl past as well as their AFC playoff present.
The 27-13 win over former draft pick Kliff Kingsbury’s Arizona Cardinals saw Bill Belichick’s roster climb to a 7-6 record on the regular season — and back into the third and final spot in the wild card after consecutive losses. It proved ugly.
Here’s a look through what took place in Glendale before New England’s December road trip reaches Las Vegas.
Patriots sack McCoy six times after Murray sustains non-contact injury
Through 10 starts prior to the Cardinals’ bye week, Kyler Murray had amassed 2,359 passing yards, 415 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns. But the dual threat went down with a non-contact knee injury following a scramble on the third play from scrimmage. He was carted off.
In stepped Colt McCoy from there. The veteran backup went 27-of-40 passing for 246 yards with no touchdowns and one interception against the Patriots. After the initial series ended with a missed 50-yard field goal, he was sacked six times.
Those sacks began with a split between outside linebacker Matthew Judon and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy. Those sacks continued with Josh Uche’s eighth, ninth and tenth of the year off the edges — and a hit that became an interception for all-purpose rookie cornerback Marcus Jones. Rotational defensive lineman Daniel Ekuale also factored into New England’s tally before Judon extended his career best to 14.5.
Meyers-less Mac throws for 235 yards as quick game continues
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones found himself without his top target. The same target he had thrown to in the end zone in the fourth quarter last week against the Buffalo Bills. The same target who had caught twice as many passes as the next wide receiver on the depth chart while leading the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
Jakobi Meyers remained in the NFL’s concussion protocol for the 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff. The remaining options in the passing game soon grew thinner. DeVante Parker went to the locker room to be evaluated for a head injury after securing two passes for 24 yards and did not return.
New England’s captain under center completed 24-of-35 attempts for 235 yards and an interception against an Arizona side allowing 26.8 points per game. A batted third-and-long, a hit-turned-pick by linebacker Isaiah Simmons and a conservative play-calling approach were all endured. The passing game predominantly operated at or behind the line of scrimmage on swing plays and quick screens. But tight end Hunter Henry went for 30 and 39 yards down the seam while wideouts Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Tyquan Thornton accounted for 107 receiving yards on 14 catches.
New England’s offensive line hangs on while battling more of the same
New England’s offensive line entered the evening with question marks beyond attrition. But just one sack would be conceded to a blitz-heavy defense that stood with 23 on the year. A twist by defensive end Zach Allen got Arizona on the board and the punt unit on the field prior to halftime.
With Isaiah Wynn out for a third straight game due to a foot injury, Trent Brown and Conor McDermott started at the bookend spots. The left tackle did so despite being listed as questionable with an illness he battled through for every snap the matchup prior. The right tackle did so in place of Yodny Cajuste, who had been listed as questionable due to calf and back issues that previously kept him inactive.
And between their shoulders stood a regular interior of starters in Cole Strange, David Andrews and Mike Onwenu. A trio of penalties were accepted against the front five.
Stevenson departs twice as rookie rushers notch first touchdowns
The Cardinals sat 30th in Football Outsiders’ pass DVOA versus running backs. Rhamondre Stevenson was on track to test that metric. The Patriots sophomore entered the Monday meeting with a team-high 56 catches to go with a team-high 734 yards on the ground. And with Damien Harris doubtful because of a thigh injury, the backfield was in his hands.
But Stevenson started with a stuffed handoff for a gain of one and limped off late in the first quarter with an ankle injury. To the tunnel he went before returning to the sideline and briefly to the game.
Rookie running back Kevin Harris was thrust into action along the way. The sixth-round pick, who began the fall on the practice squad, got the next rep in blitz pickup. He turned his initial runs into back-to-back gains of nine and fought into the end zone shortly thereafter. It marked NFL touchdown No. 1 for the South Carolina product. And it came from 14 yards out in the red zone, where no offense around the league ranked lower in terms of touchdown efficiency. Fellow rookie Pierre Strong Jr. rounded out the available depth chart. The fourth-rounder from South Dakota State had sprints of 16 yards, 44 yards and 19 yards after halftime to go with a score of his own.
Conner does early damage for Arizona
Cardinals running back James Conner had touched the ball on 13 occasions by intermission on Monday night. A pickup of 23 yards was among them. So was a touchdown from 10 yards out that dragged tacklers across the plane.
It put New England into a 13-7 gap that was closed by 51-yard and 23-yard field goals from kicker Nick Folk.
Conner, a Pro Bowler during his inaugural year with Arizona, finished with 114 yards from scrimmage across 21 touches. Yet he was held to a handful of yards in the final quarter as the ground game took a backseat to the game clock.
‘He’s every bit as good as anybody I’ve ever coached against’
“He’s a very smart football player, very savvy. But his ball skills are at the very elite level with guys that I’ve seen in this league. He’s up there with whoever the top guys are, the Cris Carters of the world and guys like that. He’s every bit as good as anybody I’ve ever coached against.”
That was how New England’s head coach described DeAndre Hopkins leading up to the trip to Arizona. The five-time Pro Bowl and All-Pro wide receiver had never scored a touchdown nor eclipsed the century mark through eight encounters over the years. On Monday, Hopkins totaled seven catches for 79 yards and had a fumble forced by safety Kyle Dugger. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan returned it 23 yards. The fourth defensive touchdown of the season for the Patriots was the result.
Hopkins’ tally excluded a third-and-13 conversion that was negated by an illegal shift, as well as a one-handed grab that was ruled out of bounds in the back of the end zone. He faced a secondary missing Jalen Mills due to a groin injury. Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant and rookie Jack Jones, who broke up an out route on the opening drive before being downgraded to out with a knee injury, started at cornerback in the nickel set.