fb-pixel Skip to main content
CHRISTOPHER L. GASPER

Bill Belichick had more than enough to foil Cardinals

Patriots coach Bill Belichick (right) kept it short and sweet for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Advantage, Belichick.

On this night Bill Belichick earned both the upper hand in his strategic duel with Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and in the long-running referendum on whom is most responsible for the Patriots’ uninterrupted NFL eminence, the canonized coach or the canonized quarterback.

No Tom Brady. No Rob Gronkowski. No starting left tackle Nate Solder. A quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, with no career starts. It was all no problem for His Hoodiness with 150 days to prepare for the Arizona Cardinals. His team left the desert with a 23-21 victory over the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Advertisement



The NFL schedule was released on April 14. Giving Belichick nearly five months to dissect an opponent is like giving Usain Bolt a 10-meter head start in the 100-meter dash. It’s almost unfair. Belichick and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels put that time to good use, crafting a game plan that kept their neophyte quarterback in his comfort zone and out of trouble. Garoppolo was good, finishing 24 of 33 for 264 yards with a touchdown and leading the Patriots to the winning points with a fourth quarter drive.

BB and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia stifled an offense that averaged 30.6 points per game last season, allowing them to score 14 of their points only after Patriot turnovers gave them a short field.

The Patriots outexecuted and outcoached their opponent when it mattered most. Rinse, lather, and repeat.

The Brady-Belichick debate is one of the most polarizing arguments in Boston sports. It can be argued from all angles and all sides. It’s a players’ league. But there is no coach who makes as big of an impact on the outcome of games as Belichick. If the Patriots play like this during Brady’s four-game suspension, it might push a few more votes in Belichick’s direction.

Advertisement



The argument about who is more important to the franchise seemed to be leaning heavily in Brady’s direction after special allowances were made for him by Belichick to get playing time during the preseason. Then the Patriots erected a monument to their franchise quarterback after his suspension began on Sept. 3.

The Hail Brady banner came down as the Patriots kicked off Sunday night.

Belichick and McDaniels really dialed it up to aid Garoppolo. They gave him quick reads and short passes to players who could gain yards after the catch. He was often asked to throw to the perimeter, not thread throws into the teeth of a defense. The Patriots also kept Arizona off balance to keep Jimmy G out of third-and-long situations.

Just like they did with Matt Cassel in 2008, the Patriots drafted a game plan suited to their new QB’s game, not a typical Brady blueprint.

“We ran what we thought we needed to run to win,” said Belichick.

Larry Fitzgerald’s 100th career TD reception, an acrobatic 1-yard grab on a fade route, forced Garoppolo to play from behind for the first time all night, as the Cardinals took a 21-20 lead with 9:46 left in the fourth quarter.

The pressure was on both the kid and Belichick.

Garoppolo led the Patriots back down the field for the go-ahead Stephen Gostkowski field goal with 3:44 to go.

The key play on the drive was Jimmy G scrambling to buy time on third and 15 from his own 20 and then delivering a strike for 32 yards to Danny Amendola. There was an uncharacteristic delay of game penalty on first and 10 from the Arizona 22. That wouldn’t have happened with Brady. But the game-winning drive was grace under pressure.

Advertisement



Then Belichick made sure it stood up.

The last time the Patriots played in this building, Belichick didn’t call a timeout with the opponent on the verge of the winning points. The Seattle Seahawks threw the ball to Malcolm Butler, throwing away certain victory in Super Bowl XLIX.

This time, Belichick called a timeout with 41 seconds left when the Cardinals, out of timeouts, were rushing on the field to kick the potential game-winning 47-yard field goal. It was Belichick right again, as a bad snap forced Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro to yank his kick wide left.

“If they would have run right out and lined right up to kick it, then I don’t think I would have taken the timeout,” said Belichick. “Generally, I don’t think you want to go out and line up your field goal team and get it all set and then make your kicker wait 20 seconds to kick it. I mean you could, theoretically. But most kickers don’t like that. I don’t think that’s really the way to go personally.

“So, when they came out there that’s what I thought they were going to do was run right out and kick because it was fourth down. But then the holder wasn’t even down yet. The kicker was sort of 10 yards off to the side warming up. It looked like they were going to bleed it down, so I thought we could save like 20 seconds or so in there. I thought we would be able to save that. Obviously, the kick was no good anyways, so it didn’t really make any difference. But it would have only helped us if the kick had been good.”

Advertisement



You’re being modest, Bill. You Jedi mind tricked yet another opponent into failure.

This victory had to bother NFL personnel across the league who stick pins in their Belichick voodoo dolls. Deflategate and Brady’s four-game suspension was meant to punish Belichick as much as Brady.

We all know that commissioner Roger Goodell and his small council at 345 Park Ave. are still upset with the way Belichick handled Spygate, never offering the public apology that Goodell was under the impression the Patriots coach was going to give.

The suspension of his franchise quarterback was supposed to strip Belichick of his secret weapon. Sorry, folks. It didn’t work.

Based on one week, it still looks as if the Patriots are the class of the AFC East, even without TB12.

The Patriots might have been 9½-point underdogs in their season-opener, but the wise guys in Vegas haven’t figured out that Belichick is the wisest of them all.

Watch: Ben Volin, Jim McBride, and Dan Shaughnessy break down the Patriots’ win


Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.

Advertisement