FOXBOROUGH — When Patriots quarterback Cam Newton rushed for a crucial first down late in the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals, some of his teammates initially had something else on their minds.
“You couldn’t even really be happy about the first down because he got smacked on the sideline, helmet-to-helmet,” safety Adrian Phillips said Sunday after New England’s 20-17 victory. “You never want to see your quarterback getting hit like that.”
On a third-and-13, with the score tied at 17 and the clock ticking, Newton faked a handoff to running back James White before hustling toward the sideline. As Newton rushed out of bounds, past the first-down marker, Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons levied a hit that knocked the 6-foot-5-inch quarterback to the ground.
Newton stayed on the turf for a few extra moments while teammates on the sideline immediately came over to check on him. Others on the field jawed with Arizona’s defenders. Center David Andrews was visibly upset, as members of the coaching staff had to restrain him from getting into it with the Cardinals.
The swift response didn’t go unnoticed by Newton.
“To see the guys come to your protection, it means a lot,” he said. “It means a lot.”
Simmons was whistled for unnecessary roughness, a 15-yard penalty, which pushed the Patriots into Cardinals territory. The play combined for a 29-yard gain.
Newton did not miss a snap, noting after the game he felt fine.
“I’m happy Cam got back up,” said offensive tackle Jermaine Eluemunor. “That just shows how tough he is. He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve been around. You feed off that energy. Him getting up, running back to the huddle, you’re like, ‘Damn. Let’s go. We ain’t got a choice. We have to win this game.”
Asked about the unnecessary roughness call, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t have much to say. (Simmons also was flagged earlier in the game for lowering his helmet to initiate contact on a 13-yard reception by wide receiver Jakobi Meyers.)
“I couldn’t tell,” Kingsbury said. “It looked like the quarterback was still in play, but I didn’t get a great look at it.”
The Patriots advanced the ball 7 more yards, then spiked it on third down to set up a 50-yard field goal attempt for kicker Nick Folk. With time expiring, Folk knocked the ball through the uprights for the come-from-behind win.
“We just kept battling for 60 minutes,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We showed a lot of mental toughness, physical toughness, and just determination.”
Although Newton’s performance left plenty to be desired — he finished with two interceptions and just 84 passing yards — that fourth-quarter rush (and subsequent penalty) proved to be key in the winning effort.
Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez had just missed a 45-yard field goal attempt, giving the Patriots possession at their own 35-yard line. With the two-minute warning passed and no timeouts remaining, New England had 1 minute, 47 seconds to move within field-goal range.
Things didn’t get off to a great start.
Play 1: Newton dumped off the ball to White for a loss of a yard.
Play 2: Newton did his best to scramble but couldn’t escape the sack, getting tackled for a loss of 2 yards.
Play 3: Newton came through. At New England’s 32-yard line, on third and 13, he converted for the first down.
“It was a huge play,” White said. “They were blitzing the house on that one. It was the perfect call right there. He got enough yards, and then the penalty gave us even more yards.”
Not only did Newton’s rush keep the drive alive, but what ensued after the play demonstrated the closeness on this year’s team.
“You got to protect your quarterback,” Phillips said. “If you touch one of our guys, we’re definitely going to come. It’s a family over here. We understand that we have to have each other’s back if you want to take it the distance.”
Added Folk: “I’ve played with a lot of great teammates. This group is up there with the best of them.”
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Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.