We’re just a few days out from the official start of free agency, and we’re all wondering which New England Patriots will show up this year. Business as usual, the way it was in 2022? Or will they go crazy the way they did in 2021?
The Patriots have been more public with their personnel decisions and signings than usual so far, so maybe that indicates some big moves are coming. The Patriots have the cap space, and they certainly have areas of need, so I’m excited to see where things stand this time next week.
Which means that we might not be seeing this countdown of the Top 20 Most Memorable Patriots Moments of 2022 for a little while, so time to bang another one out today.
The list so far:
Those first two moments on this list weren’t all that enjoyable to relive, I know; trading away a bust and losing the starting QB to injury isn’t making anyone’s happy time party anytime soon. So I’m excited to right the ship a bit today with not only a big win, but some real cause for optimism going forward.
18. Rookies step up big in relief duty against the Arizona Cardinals.
The New England Patriots, losers of two straight, traveled to Arizona to take on the Kyler Murray led Cardinals for a Week 14 Monday Night matchup they desperately needed. Arizona had also lost two straight, but were coming off their bye and were at home with an extra week to prepare. The Cardinals seem to be one of those teams that everyone is all high on in August, but as the season winds down they’re never serious contenders. At 4-8, Arizona needed a W as much as New England did.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, they were all kinds of banged up going into this one. Rhamondre Stevenson was active, but extremely limited since suffering a Week 9 head injury. Damien Harris was also out, still recovering from his hamstring tweak, leaving a backfield populated almost entirely by rookies. To make matters worse, the only reliable offensive weapon all season, Jakobi Meyers, was also a no-go as he dealt with a concussion, and Isaiah Wynn continued his struggles to stay healthy. That left Mac Jones, already struggling, with no tested runners and no reliable pass-catchers against a desperate team on the road in primetime.
Unfortunately for Arizona, Kyler Murray tore his ACL on the third snap of the game when a non-contact injury on a scramble ended his (and as it would turn out, Arizona’s) season. His replacement, Colt McCoy, didn’t have any of Murray’s athleticism or ability to extend the play. So, as expected, the first half was an extremely low-scoring affair; the Patriots engineered just 10 points on six drives, taking a 10-13 deficit into the locker room at halftime.
Those 13 points, however, would be the last that the Cardinals would score, as the defense did what it did all season and kept points off the board. In the meantime, Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong stepped up when they were needed, running hard, moving the chains, and taking time off the clock. Strong took on lead back duty, rushing for 70 yards and a score on five carries, including a beautiful 44-yard scamper where he bounced to the outside and outran most of the secondary to open up the 3rd quarter and set the Patriots up for the game-tying field goal. Strong also added two catches for 20 yards on the day. Kevin Harris also added a score with a 14-yard run to give New England their first points.
Tyquan Thornton and Marcus Jones also contributed to the offense; Thornton caught four of the five passes thrown his way for 28 yards, and Jones took a screen 12 yards on his lone reception as he continues to show his versatility. Add to that Raekwon McMillan’s fumble recovery for a score, and the Patriots cruised to a 27-13 victory to put them back above .500 and keep their playoff hopes alive.
A road win on Monday night is always a good thing, even though this particular game was marred by Murray’s injury. But it isn’t really the win that puts this game on my countdown; it’s the way the rookie backs, and the rookies in general, stepped up and took advantage of their reps. A lot of Patriots missed time over the 2022 season, and there was never a time where a rookie proved himself to be a real liability when he was on the field. The Patriots are primed to have one of the deepest, most dominant backfields in the NFL in 2023, with the potential in some rookie receivers to perhaps put out a potent passing attack if they can just add a few pieces. As December rolled around and most Patriots fans were more or less resigned to the season ending with, at best, a Wild Card Round playoff exit, seeing this rookie class perform the way they did was a nice confidence boost and real cause for optimism in 2023 and beyond, and so here we have it at No. 18.
Game highlights here.