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Patriots 20, Cardinals 17

‘I just put the cherry on top.’ Nick Folk’s field goal as time expires caps a most unusual Patriots victory

Adrian Phillips (center) celebrates with teammates Jason McCourty (left), and Devin McCourty after his third-quarter interception set up a Patriots scoring drive.
Adrian Phillips (center) celebrates with teammates Jason McCourty (left), and Devin McCourty after his third-quarter interception set up a Patriots scoring drive.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH — Isaiah Simmons sent Cam Newton flying.

Nick Folk sent all of the Cardinals packing.

The veteran kicker nailed a 50-yard field goal with zeroes on the clock for the second time in a month, giving the Patriots a 20-17 win over Arizona at Gillette Stadium Sunday.

“I just put the cherry on top. The guys did a whole bunch of stuff [before the kick],” said Folk, who FaceTimed his family following the win. “I’m just happy I got the last touch.”

Folk’s heroics were set up by Newton’s 14-yard scramble that turned into a 29-yard gain when Simmons clocked the quarterback as he was stepping out of bounds and the linebacker was hit with a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call.

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It was one of many close calls on the day and perspective is everything.

“Looked like the quarterback was still in play," said Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury.

“We’re definitely won’t let guys take cheap shots on our quarterback," said James White.

Four plays after the sideline blast, Folk blasted a kick that just might have been good from 60 yards.

“I told Kicker Guy that he’s putting on a performance that is going to put him on Santa Claus’s Christmas list," said Newton. “I’m expecting him to stay on Santa’s good list moving forward."

It was sweet redemption for Newton, who completed just 9 of 18 throws for 84 yards and threw a late pick with the game tied at 17 to set Arizona up with a chance to take the lead before Zane Gonzalez’s 45-yard field goal toward the Lighthouse sailed wide right.

“It was just a bad throw," said Newton.

After falling into a 10-0 hole after the first quarter, the Patriots outscored Arizona, 20-7, consistently stifling one of the league’s most high-powered offenses.

Kyler Murray’s road to the MVP hit a serious New England pothole as the Patriots pressure and ability to mix coverages and looks often left the second-year quarterback without passing or running lanes.

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Murray has been lighting up scoreboards with video game-like numbers all season but against New England he looked like his Internet connection was stuck on 3G.

At the head of the defensive charge was Adam Butler, who seemed to spend as much time in the Cardinals backfield as running backs Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds.

Shaking off elbow and shoulder injuries that forced him to miss his first career game last week in Houston, Butler came out with a vengeance. The defensive tackle landed three hits on Murray, including a sack, and also deflected a pass that Adrian Phillips intercepted.

“Adam did a real good job of penetrating the inside part of the pocket," said Bill Belichick. “I think that certainly helped our pass defense, not just the sack but some disruptive plays in there. Just made it a little tougher for them to execute the passing game."

It was an ugly start for New England (5-6) with Newton getting picked on the third play of the game when his pass was tipped at the line by Jordan Hicks and corralled by Markus Golden at the 23. Two plays later Drake bashed in from a yard out for a 7-0 lead.

Arizona (6-5) upped its lead to 10-0 (47-yard Gonzalez FG) on its next possession, but the 68-yard march was also when the Patriots first started flexing their defensive muscle. The final three plays were a Murray run for minus-2 yards and back-to-back incompletions.

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With a miserable first quarter in the rearview, the Patriots hit paydirt sparked by newly minted kick returner Donte Moncrief’s 53-yard return.

New England took seven plays to march the 46 yards (helped by another 15-yard penalty on Simmons for lowering his head on Jakobi Meyers’s 13-yard catch), capped by the first of James White’s two scores to cut it to 10-7.

After trading punts, the Patriots’ defense stood tall at the end of a 15-play, 71-yard drive when Ja’Whaun Bentley and Akeem Spence stopped Drake at the goal line on fourth down as the first half expired.

It was a momentum shifter as the Cardinals originally thought they scored on a KeeSean Johnson 8-yard catch that was overturned, putting the ball at the 1-yard line. After Kingsbury called timeout and possibly tipped his hand, Belichick called time, huddled with Steve Belichick and Jason McCourty, and set the defense.

“There’s a lot of things to cover down there, multiple runs, the quarterback is a potential runner. [D’Andre] Hopkins is out there. There were several things that, depending on how they aligned, several things we were ready for," Belichick said. “Once they aligned, I thought we could eliminate a couple of them. Just wanted to make sure we had everyone straight."

Everyone was straight except for Drake, who couldn’t find a sliver to sneak through.

“Everybody was amped up," Phillips said of the halftime locker room atmosphere.

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After stopping Murray out of the second-half gates, Gunner Olszewski returned a punt 82 yards for what looked like a touchdown. An egregious blindside block call on Anfernee Jennings nullified the score and ultimately cost 4 points when New England settled for Folk’s 22-yarder.

Phillips’s pick on the ensuing possession set up White’s second score (1-yard run) and gave the hosts their first lead at 17-10.

The Cardinals answered by opening the fourth quarter with an 80-yard tying touchdown march (another Drake 1-yarder) that included more bizarre flags — including offsetting pass interference calls on Stephon Gilmore and D’Andre Hopkins and a phantom fourth-down holding call on Jason McCourty in the end zone that kept the drive alive.

“I said in the locker room, I’d rather have an ugly win rather than a pretty loss, if that makes any sense. I don’t know if that even exists," said Newton, who led an offense that netted just 179 yards. “We didn’t play our best game offensively, but when we needed it, we got the job done. That’s all that counts."

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Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.