GLENDALE, Ariz. — This game was in the desert, so it’s only fitting that the Patriots made everyone sweat it out till the end before heading home with yet another dramatic victory at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Chandler Catanzaro missed a 47-yard field goal wide left in the final minute to secure New England’s 23-21 win Sunday night. Stephen Gostkowski had given the Patriots the lead with a 32-yarder on the previous possession.
It wasn’t as captivating as New England’s win two seasons ago in Super Bowl XLIX, but it wasn’t bad for an opening act to the 2016 season.
Jimmy Garoppolo, in his first career start, was up to the challenge, putting together statement drives on his first possession of the game, of the second half, and in crunch time. Garoppolo completed 24 of 33 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown. He was very Brady-like with his distribution, hitting seven different receivers — including himself as he snagged one of his own passes that ricocheted off a Cardinals defender.
“Jimmy made some good plays,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “It’s not perfect, but he made of lot of good plays [in a] tough place to play against a good team . . . It’s good to come down here and win, on the road, against a good team.’’
Garoppolo came out firing on the first drive, completing four of his first five passes, including a 37-yard scoring strike to a wide-open Chris Hogan, capping an eight-play, 74-yard drive.
Garoppolo led the Patriots on a 12-play, 63-yard drive the next time he had the ball as the Patriots increased their lead to 10-0 on Gostkowski’s 47-yarder.
Garoppolo fumbled on the next possession as he was sacked by Markus Golden. The turnover had a lingering affect as the Patriots offense stalled the rest of the half. Back to back three-and-outs — including a terrible sequence that featured consecutive penalties on the offensive line (David Andrews for tripping and Shaq Mason for holding) — derailed one possession.
But Garoppolo came out firing in the second half, too. He led his mates on a nine-play, 75-yard drive that LeGarrette Blount capped with a bulldozing 8-yard run up the gut.
But Garoppolo’s most impressive drive came in the fourth quarter after Arizona took its first lead, 21-20. Garoppolo spearheaded a 13-play, 61-yard sequence in which New England converted three key third downs. Gostkowski capped the run with his winning field goal.
“I felt very good today. I was focused and I was just glad the points mattered,’’ said Gostkowski, who also drilled field goals of 47 and 53 yards. “It was a fun game. We had a blast out there tonight. We fly out west, come home with a win, can’t ask for anything more than that.’’
Watch: Ben Volin, Jim McBride, and Dan Shaughnessy break down the Patriots’ win
Other observations from the victory:
■ The New England defense was dominant at times. Two of Arizona’s scoring drives came off short fields after turnovers. The unit was at its best at the end as the Cardinals were driving for the winning points. Constant pressure on Carson Palmer forced a couple of errant throws, and a holding penalty sent what could have been a chip-shot field goal farther back.
“It was just a good team win,’’ said Chris Long, who played his Patriots debut like his hair was on fire, providing relentless pressure off the edge and collecting an 8-yard sack.
■ The young offensive line surprised. The unit, which included a pair of rookies at guard in the starting lineup (Joe Thuney on the left and Ted Karras on the right) and a second-year man at center (David Andrews), more than held its own. Garoppolo was sacked twice, but all in all a yeoman’s effort against a talented Arizona front.
“They competed hard,’’ said Belichick. “We blocked them sometimes, we had trouble blocking them a couple of times. But they competed hard and we made enough plays.’’
■ James White continues to dazzle in the open field. The man they call “sweet feet” is really dangerous in space and his 21-yard screen pass was a thing of beauty as he followed his blockers perfectly. He also snagged a clutch grab to convert a third down on the winning drive.
“The slant throw to James White was a great throw, a great catch in tight coverage,’’ said Belichick.
■ Danny Amendola stepped right in. After sitting out the summer, the diminutive receiver grabbed three catches for 48 yards, none bigger than his 13-yard reception on the final drive.
“As he usually does, Danny made a big play for us,’’ said the coach.
■ Blount had an uneven night. The big tailback got dropped in the backfield a few times, but his touchdown run was vintage Blount, and his 13-yard run on third and 11 on the winning drive caught everyone by surprise.
“That was a nice run, broke a couple of tackles, dropped his pads,’’ said Belichick.
■ Malcolm Butler continues to play through the whistle and broke up several passes that looked like sure completions.
■ The Flying Squirrel was, well, flying. Julian Edelman was targeted seven times and caught seven passes for 66 yards. He also had a pair of end-arounds for 16 yards and took numerous big hits but kept bouncing right back up.
■ Devin McCourty made nine tackles and registered the hit of the night when he leveled Larry Fitzgerald inside the 5. They heard that one in Scottsdale.
■ Jabaal Sheard, Shea McClellin, and Trey Flowers, all of whom had been nursing ailments, had solid outings. Sheard had four tackles, McClellin had two, and Flowers had one — though he should have been credited with a half-sack on rookie Vincent Valentine’s sack.