Happy Victory Tuesday, everyone!
A huge Monday Night win for the New England Patriots has them back above .500 and into the playoff picture. Lots can happen between now and January, but in a game the Patriots needed, they got it. Can’t ask for much more than that.
- The Arizona Cardinals are just one of those teams that I regularly forget even exists. I feel like the last time these two teams played, Jimmy Garoppolo got his first career start and led the Patriots to a surprising Week 1 win on a missed field goal all the way back in 2016.
- Of course, the last time these two teams actually played was 2020, when the Patriots squeaked out a 20-17 victory off a last-second field goal to keep their playoff hopes alive. That 2020 game was the NFL equivalent of that old comedy bit where two men stand in front of an open door just saying “no, after you!” to each other as they refuse to be the impolite one who walks through first, as both the Pats and the Cards did everything they could in that game to hand the W to their opponent. Cam Newton had 84 yards passing and two picks and Kyler Murray threw for 170 and an interception. At least 2022 isn’t 2020, for all kinds of reasons.
- Speaking of Kyler Murray... Yuck. All reports state that he tore his ACL and is out for the year. And while missing the rest of the season isn’t that big of a deal for Arizona, as they’re not making the playoffs anyway, to tear an ACL this late in the season (at any point, really) is just brutal. Hopefully he’s able to rehab and get right back to where he was in 2023.
- And what exactly constitutes “back to where he was” in regards to Kyler Murray? I honestly have no idea. All these reports about how he’d rather play video games than watch game film and how his accuracy is lacking this season... I was looking forward to watching him play for the first time this year. Given the way the game shook out, I can’t help but wonder if the Patriots lose this one if Murray was in.
- Given the number of ACLs that get torn across sports, you’d figure they’d have worked out some kind of bionic knee brace by now that would prevent it. Or maybe an adamantium implant you can get right after you sign your six year, $350 million deal with $200 million guaranteed.
- As for the game itself: I’m under no delusion that this was some kind of masterful performance. The Cardinals are a mess, their best player went down right away, and the vaunted New England defense was forced to contend with Colt McCoy. I’d imagine it requires an immediate philosophical defensive shift when a shifty, athletic running threat gets replaced by... well, whatever you’d classify McCoy as... but I actually thought he did pretty well in relief duty. So forgive me if I’m not sitting here this morning thinking that any kind of wrongs have all been righted.
- But make no mistake: this was a must-win game. The Patriots couldn’t have dropped this one and expect any reasonable shot at the postseason. Even now, at the seven seed, it’s going to take a lot of effort and a fair amount of luck to sneak in and hope to win the Wild Card game before heading to Buffalo for another blowout loss. And they won it. I’ll take a victory victory over a moral victory any day.
- Granted, it’s a very small sample size, but the first Cardinals drive saw a very stacked box, likely in anticipation of Murray runs, and the rest of the game was mainly a four-man rush with extra DBs clogging up the passing lanes. The Patriots haven’t been able to stop big backs, mobile quarterbacks, and RB wheel routes for a very long time, and so I imagine the strategy was to let Connor do his thing, keep everything in front of them, and get pressure on the QB behind what is perhaps the only offensive line worse than New England’s.
- Which is why I only partly feel that Matt Patricia read Vance Joseph’s quote from earlier this week about the Patriots running a lot of screens and said to himself, “A lot of screens, eh? I’ll show you a lot of screens!” Because that’s, for the most part, what this offense was. Get the ball into the hands of the skill players quickly and let them do their thing.
- What I’d like to know is whether the Patriots came into this game with the short game already installed or whether they had to switch to it once DeVante Parker and Rhamondre Stevenson went down. I’m inclined to believe the latter, as New England’s first play from scrimmage was a medium slant to Parker for a first down.
- That’s right, folks — a first down on the opening possession! I mean sure, the next few plays were a stuffed run, a false start, an incompletion, and a punt, but they didn’t go three-and-out right away!
- I made the terrible, terrible mistake of briefly logging onto Twitter during that opening drive, and the number of positive Tweets I saw about that Parker catch for the first down was, at first, heartening. But then I realized that we were all fawning over an in route for a first down in the first quarter of a game.
- And then Rhamondre went down with what I’m hoping is only a mild ankle injury, which meant that New England’s best two offensive weapons were gone, their third weapon was in concussion protocol, and their top option was a guy who seemed to confuse the football with the speaking stick in a roundtable discussion where everyone was required to express their political beliefs.
- I mean seriously; Agholor was targeted 10 times. He caught five of them. He dropped one that was an absolute dime down the sideline between two defenders. He dropped another one that could have been a defensive touchdown for Arizona. He just flat out couldn’t hold onto another where he was wide open on second down and would have easily fallen forward for a first. But to get mad at him for dropping passes would be like getting mad at Skip Bayless for saying something nonsensical. It’s just what the man does.
- I’d love to know how many times the Patriots have run the ball for a loss on second down in 2022. Stats nerds, assemble!
- When your main back is gone and you have no receivers, it’s a great time to use those tight ends you paid all that money for. And while it would be easy to say that the Patriots did that, based on Hunter Henry’s 70 receiving yards, the reality is that Mac Jones threw to Henry three times and Smith twice. Jonnu had zero catches and Henry grabbed all three of his, including two game-changing grabs to set up scores. But hey... it’s something.
- Luckily for the Patriots, the 2022 rookie class is all showing up now. Even Tyquan Thornton, who was on the field for the bulk of the offensive snaps. Two rookie running back who up until last night could boast running into their own lineman and running into the kicker as their highlights of the year filled in for Stevenson and each got their first career TD.
- Both Harris and Strong (note: great name for a law firm or a terrible cop show. Or put the names together and you have yourself a solid porn name) made decisive cuts, showed good vision, exhibited patience, and moved the chains. Pierre Strong also brought it two targets through the air and closed the game out on a beautiful bounce to the outside for 19 yards as the two minute warning approached.
- However, Marcus Jones continues to pull away from the pack as Patriots ROTY. He was limited in the return game, as Kliff Kingsbury is addicted to going for it on fourth down, but saw a lot of action in the secondary — many times on an island against DeAndre Hopkins — and reminded me of why I fell in love with football when he delivered a textbook truck stick hit on Trey McBride.
- The warts on this team are there and they aren’t going anywhere. Wasted downs. Drives killed by avoidable penalties. Expecting Hunter Henry to solo block edge rushers. Poor execution. Wash, rinse, repeat. But they had success in the red zone for the first time in their last nine drives. Their playmakers were able to make plays. And they did it all without most of their actual playmakers even on the field. There’s something there with this squad.
- There was a back and forth period in this game where it seemed like once again the Pats and Cards were doing their best 2020 impression and trying to see who could give the game away best. At which point I figured that whichever team gets the inevitable ST or defensive touchdown is going to win this one. And De Andre Hopkins, perhaps determined to finally score a touchdown against the Patriots, inexplicably held the ball like it was a used diaper and rolled it right to the waiting arms of Raekwon McMillan, at which point there seemed to be a visible switch in both momentum and team confidence.
- The scoop and score, the Jones pick, then the Strong TD coming off the 39-yard Hunter Henry seam route is the first time I saw this team play complimentary football since... honestly, I don’t even remember. And once the score was 27-13, I felt good that the Cardinals weren’t going to be able to come back to win.
- New England must have as well, because they more or less adopted the NFL equivalent Coach Beaulieu’s Bourbon Bowl strategy, which I was OK with.
- I can’t help but feel like I’m singing a different tune if Murray hadn’t gotten injured — I don’t see Murray getting sacked six times last night — but we’ll never know.
- Thank Tebow that was the last primetime game of the year. Staying up until midnight and turning these articles around before noon the next day ain’t easy.
- Of course, now that I said that, watch Bills-Pats in Week 18 get flexed into the SNF spot.
- But I won’t complain too much about that, as that will mean that the game actually has playoff implications.
The main thing to watch for this week is everyone’s health; Jakobi Meyers, Devin McCourty, Rhamondre Stevenson, DeVante Parker, Jalen Mills, and Jack Jones are all going to need to be available down the stretch, and with another must-win game coming up as the Pats finally play their first Sunday afternoon game since November 20, there really isn’t any room for error.
The Patriots need to be at full strength as we close out the year.