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Special teams, short fields, turnovers, a knucklehead penalty? The Four Horsemen of Bill Belichick’s two-decade reign

Bill Belichick (right) had a great view as the Cardinals' Isaiah Simmons leveled Cam Newton, and was penalized, late in the fourth quarter.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

It was a game only Amos Alonzo Stagg and William Stephen Belichick could love.

It was not a day of football artistry, not a good day for Cam Newton, not a good day for NFL officials, and not a good day if your fantasy fortunes hinge on big offense and over-the-top passing games.

But it was a win and the Hoodie no doubt loved it the way he loved every Army-Navy game in the 1960s. It was a day for special teams, goal-line stands, crucial turnovers, and stupidity by the opposition — the Four Horsemen of Belichick’s two-decade reign over the NFL.


Patriots-Cardinals won’t be the Face of the Franchise for the next edition of Madden NFL, but it was a special teams bacchanal. Belichick porn.

Nick Folk’s 50-yard field goal as the clock expired gave New England a 20-17 victory over the Cardinals and improved the Pats to 5-6. The Patriots don’t play in Foxborough again until after Christmas. They have upcoming trips to California (Chargers and Rams) and Florida (Dolphins). But in reality, we all know they aren’t going anywhere. They aren’t going to get gifts like this every week.

All the stuff Belichick loves came into play Sunday.

New England’s four scoring drives were the result of great plays by special teams, short fields, turnovers, and a knucklehead penalty/questionable call on Arizona’s Isaiah Simmons, which put the Pats into field goal position in the final seconds.

“It was good complementary football,” said Belichick. “We took advantage of opportunities. Good situational football. We played hard and competed for 60 minutes and made enough plays at critical times in the game to allow us to win. I thought our special teams had a good day for us. The most important thing is we made the plays we needed to make to win . . . That’s a lot of what this league is: opportunity and being ready to go and taking advantage of it when it comes.”


The Patriots won it by pinning the Cardinals on their own 3-yard line with a great punt. They won it on terrific returns by Donte Moncrief (kickoff) and Gunner Olszewski (punt). They won it on a goal-line stand at the end of the first half that was mildly reminiscent of Willie McGinest’s play-for-the-ages at the end of that late-November game in Indianapolis back in 2003. They won it thanks to a pair of terrible calls by Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury inside the red zone. They won it when Simmons was flagged for a personal foul on Newton on a third-and-13, 14-yard run in the closing seconds. The 15-yard penalty put Folk closer to field goal range.

When it was over there was a lot of noise about another terrible call, which came midway through the third when the much-maligned Olszewski took a punt back 82 yards to the house, only to have his TD nullified for a blindside block call on Anfernee Jennings. The call seemed to be at odds with the spirit of football. There was nothing dirty about it. Jennings looked like Marcus Smart taking a charge on Jimmy Butler when he blocked Ezekiel Turner as Turner was about to tackle Olszewski.

Belichick’s ensuing five-star nutty was not enough to persuade the zebras the call was a mistake. The call cost the Patriots 4 points. But not the game.


What almost cost New England the game was a hideous Newton throw directly into the arms of Arizona cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick with the game tied and 4:27 left. The only excuse for this pass would be telling your coach you are color blind.

Fortunately, the horrible throw did not cost the Patriots the game.

Before we say goodbye for today . . . a word about Cam Newton.


Newton has worked hard. He has said all the right things. At times, he still seems able to impose his will and help win games with his legs. He has been a good, supportive teammate. He’s been gracious. He’s a snappy dresser.

But we can’t watch him play quarterback anymore. Seriously. Just how bad can Jarrett Stidham be? Against Arizona, Newton completed 9 of 18 passes for 84 yards with two interceptions. His quarterback rating was 23.6. September, October and November have come and gone and Cam Newton has thrown four touchdown passes.


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Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @dan_shaughnessy.