Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 27-13 win over the Cardinals:
⋅ If we’re being honest, Monday’s win was more about the opponent than the Patriots. The Cardinals had little to play for, entering the game with a 4-8 record. They have the bottom-ranked scoring defense. And Kyler Murray suffered a knee injury on the third play of the game, which sucked the air out of the Cardinals’ sideline. The Patriots have struggled against scrambling quarterbacks this year, and were extremely fortunate to instead face 36-year-old backup Colt McCoy.
But when you’re riding a two-game losing streak, you feel the playoffs slipping away, and your quarterback is screaming his head off with everyone frustrated, all that matters is the win. The Patriots’ offense finally hit a few big plays, the defense teed off on McCoy in the second half, and the Patriots showed some depth by getting contributions from a few new names. Getting a comfortable win in a game you had to win is a great way to start a week on the road, as the Patriots stay out West to prepare for next Sunday’s game against the Raiders.
The Patriots are now 7-6 and, thanks to a loss by the Jets, currently hold the No. 7 playoff seed in the AFC. No one should thump his chest about beating a terrible Cardinals team, and the Patriots still have plenty of issues to work through over the final four games, particularly on offense.
The Patriots just needed to feel good about themselves again after weeks of negativity swirling around the team, and Monday night’s win should do the trick.
⋅ Still a lot of frustration from Mac Jones and the offense. Jones had a couple of passes batted at the line of scrimmage in the first half and threw his first interception in five weeks. Then he screamed an expletive at the sideline in the third quarter as the Patriots had to burn a timeout, and then screamed another at Kendrick Bourne a few minutes later for running the wrong route.
The offense was limited with Jakobi Meyers and Damien Harris missing the game, and DeVante Parker (concussion) and Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle) leaving the game early. The Patriots had to rely on the quick-passing game again, with Jones throwing 13 of his 35 passes behind the line of scrimmage, and another eight passes within 10 yards. Nelson Agholor struggled with drops again. And the negative plays were glaring — the Patriots had third down attempts requiring 14, 12, 15, and 11 yards in the first half. It was baffling why the Patriots didn’t put Jones under center more and utilize play-action, calling it on just 15 percent of pass plays (compared to 37 percent for McCoy).
⋅ But the offense did at least show a few signs of life against the Cardinals’ porous defense. Jones picked his spots with the vertical passing game, and hit Hunter Henry on two really nice seam shots for 30 and 39 yards. Bourne finally got involved in the passing game, catching all five passes thrown his way for 47 yards and converting a few tough first downs. Kevin Harris showed good vision on his 14-yard touchdown run, and Pierre Strong flashed great speed on his 44-yard carry.
The Patriots also did a nice job of converting field goals before and after halftime. Jones shook off a couple of poor series to drive the Patriots into scoring range right before halftime (and did a great job of jumping on a fumble to preserve the opportunity for a field goal). The Patriots later drove for a game-tying field goal to start the third quarter.
The Patriots still only gained 328 total yards, but they at least made a few strides on a night where they were missing several key players.
⋅ No one beats up on bad quarterbacks like the Patriots defense. They struggle against Lamar Jackson and Kirk Cousins, but tear apart Zach Wilson, Sam Ehlinger, Jacoby Brissett, and now McCoy. McCoy actually made a few nice throws and moved the ball well in the second quarter, but once the Patriots took the lead in the second half, McCoy wasn’t effective playing from behind.
His protection was miserable, with the Patriots sacking McCoy six times and hitting him nine times. Edge edge rusher Josh Uche wrecked the game in the third quarter when he beat Cardinals left tackle Josh Jones on consecutive plays — once for a sack, then for a QB hit that led to an interception for Marcus Jones. Uche finished with three sacks and now has nine in his last five games.
⋅ The Patriots defense gave up 323 yards but had good situational performances. The Cardinals went just 1 for 3 in the red zone, and 1 for 5 on fourth down. Linebacker Jahlani Tavai made a terrific play on fourth and 2 late in the second quarter to get a fingertip on the pass and knock it away. The Patriots were trailing 13-7 at the time and a score could have put the Patriots in a big hole.
⋅ The Patriots defense also benefitted from a few crippling mistakes by the Cardinals. DeAndre Hopkins was reckless with the ball in his hands and simply dropped it on the ground when trying to gain yards after catch, leading to Raekwon McMillan’s 23-yard fumble return TD. Marquise Brown had a terrible drop on fourth and 5 in the third quarter that should have been a big play. And the Cardinals’ offense committed five penalties and couldn’t get out of its own way.
⋅ What a game for rookie Marcus Jones, who is certainly living up to his reputation as one of the most versatile players in football. He played 59 snaps on defense, finishing with seven tackles and his first career interception. Jones also just allowed three catches on seven targets for 43 yards. Jones ran four routes on offense and caught a swing pass for 12 yards. And he had two kickoff returns for 47 yards.
⋅ Another game of conservative coaching decisions from Bill Belichick. Instead of a handoff with 10 seconds left from the Cardinals’ 28-yard line — which was almost a disaster thanks to the fumble — why not take one shot to the end zone? And he chose a 23-yard field goal on fourth and 2 from the 4-yard line when the analytics said he was better off going for it. But the analytics don’t take into account the fact that the Patriots’ offense isn’t playing well.
⋅ Monday’s game was tough to watch from an injury standpoint. Murray’s reaction to suffering a non-contact knee injury on the third play of the game was heartbreaking. Late-season injuries are always tough, and if it was as bad as it looked, it could affect Murray for much of next season.
And it was utterly ridiculous that none of the referees or concussion spotters noticed Parker wobbling and stumbling after making a catch and being driven into the ground. Parker was lined up for another snap, and it took Agholor taking a knee and waving wildly at the referees and Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury challenging the play, for the officials to stop the game and remove Parker. Do better, NFL.
Read more about the Patriots’ win over the Cardinals
- Shaughnessy: It wasn’t the prettiest football in a place filled with Patriots lore, but Mac Jones and Co. remain in the playoff chase
- In a game of really hard knocks, rookies Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong carried the ball for Patriots in victory over Cardinals
- Finn: In another must-win, the Patriots got plenty of help from some unexpected names
- Sullivan: Nelson Agholor was looking out for teammate DeVante Parker. Why didn’t the NFL’s concussion spotter see what Agholor clearly did?
- A win, but at a price: Patriots Rhamondre Stevenson, DeVante Parker, Jack Jones exit with injuries vs. Cardinals
- How it happened: Behind defense, New England scores 20 unanswered points to jump back into playoff race
- Cardinals QB Kyler Murray carted off vs. Patriots, injury ‘doesn’t look good’ according to Kliff Kingsbury
- ESPN pregame show questions Bill Belichick, and sheds more light on Matt Patricia-Mac Jones relationship
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.