GLENDALE, Ariz. — It was injury-plagued, mistake-filled, and sometimes downright unwatchable. But in the end, it was a beautiful thing for New England football fans as the ragged Patriots scored 20 unanswered points in a 27-13 victory over the 4-9 Arizona Cardinals on “Monday Night Football.”
Bill Belichick and Co. are 7-6. Postseason hopes live.
“We did some things better, but we’ve still got a long ways to go,” said Belichick. “It takes everybody, and I thought we kind of had that tonight . . . It’s always good to win. That’s what we practice for.”
Mac Jones (24 for 35, 235 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT) did little to remind anyone of Tom Brady — and he’s still yelling at his own people — but his performance was good enough to keep playoff hopes alive in this tractor-pull season. The Pats have been able to beat bad teams and the Cardinals (losers of five of their last six) certainly qualify. Making things easier for New England, Arizona’s star quarterback, Kyler Murray, suffered a non-contact injury on the third play of the game and never returned.
State Farm Stadium has been the scene of three memorable games in New England franchise lore.
▪ It was known as University of Phoenix Stadium in February 2008 when David Tyree made an impossible velcro-helmet catch and the New York Football Giants destroyed New England’s hope of a perfect season in a 17-14 thriller.
▪ Seven years later, this huge house of the setting sun was where Seahawks coach Pete Carroll finally won a Super Bowl for Bob Kraft, calling for a slant pass in traffic (hello, Malcolm Butler) instead of handing the ball to Beast Mode from the 1-yard line.
▪ Nineteen interminable Wells Report in Context months later, the Patriots returned in 2016 while a legally-exhausted Brady served the first game of his of his four-game suspension. Jimmy Garoppolo beat the Cardinals, 23-21, no doubt convincing Belichick that any quarterback could win in the Patriot system.
The Pats carried controversy and baggage into the billowy dome Monday. Jones was out to kickstart a Patriot offense that was universally mocked after an pathetic showing at home against the Buffalo Bills Dec. 1. The last image we had of the Patriots was that of Jones yelling at new “play-caller” Matt Patricia.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph last week joined the chorus Patricia-bashing when he was asked about New England’s still-life offense.
“It’s like a defensive guy is calling offense," chortled Joseph, adding that New England’s play-calling was “very conservative."
Jones and Co. did little Monday to prove Joseph wrong, but it didn’t matter in the second half as the Pats took advantage of Arizona turnovers and penalties. When Belichick had a chance to run up the score at the finish, he declined and took a knee.
“It’s good to win," said Jones. “That’s all we came here for . . . The rookies definitely did their job and we’re super proud of them. We wanted to win the game however we had to do it."
When Jones was asked if he’s frustrated with the Patriots offense, he said, “No. The biggest thing is not to let it affect my play."
The night got off to a ghoulish start when Murray’s leg gave out on him as he scrambled for 3 yards on the third play from scrimmage. Arizona’s star QB was carted off the field and replaced by 36-year-old, 13-year veteran Colt McCoy. Murray would not be the last player hurt in this game as concussion spotters worked overtime.
Things didn’t start well for the Pats. After DeVante Parker sustained a head injury, Rhamondre Stevenson went off with an ankle injury, and Jones was intercepted when he dropped back on third down and threw a wobbler as he was hit upon release. Arizona linebacker Isaiah Simmons grabbed the wounded duck out of the air and the Cardinals wound up with a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The Pats answered with a eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, taking a 7-3 lead on a 14-yard run by rookie Kevin Harris early in the second. After a couple of more injury timeouts and some ragged QB play by McCoy, Matt Prater kicked a 32-yarder to make it 7-6.
Arizona led 13-10 at intermission and it was a 13-13 game when the Cardinals got sloppy. DeAndre Hopkins, carrying the football with an extended hand, fumbled deep in his own territory and watched New England linebacker Raekwon McMillan run it into the end zone untouched.
“A huge play, obviously," said Belichick.
A 20-13 lead with five minutes left in the third proved insurmountable against the inept Cards. Marcus Jones’s interception and a short TD run by rookie Pierre Strong Jr. made it 27-13 early in the fourth.
“Pierre finished the game out for us," said Patriot center David Andrews.
No one at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton will be asking for the video of this one.
The Patriots will stay in Arizona all week, then play Josh McDaniels’s 5-8 Raiders in Las Vegas Sunday. The Patriots have a good chance to be 8-6 when they return to Foxborough to play the Bengals Christmas Eve.
The Super Bowl will be played at State Farm Stadium Feb. 12.
We’re not expecting the Patriots to attend.
Read more about the Patriots’ win over the Cardinals
- Instant Analysis: The Patriots were hardly challenged by the Cardinals, but a convincing road win was just what they needed
- In a game of really hard knocks, rookies Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong carried the ball for Patriots in victory over Cardinals
- 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
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.