Sunday night's dramatic 23-21 win at Arizona will certainly be memorable for every member of the Patriots who helped pull off the unlikely victory.
But two people can forever use this as a Résumé Game — Josh McDaniels and Jimmy Garoppolo.
In rewatching the game tape, it was clear that they had the most impressive showing during the Patriots' victory. McDaniels demonstrated why he is one of the best play-callers in the NFL, and Garoppolo showed impressive moxie in the fourth quarter, particularly for a young quarterback making his first start.
Sunday's game was a clinic from McDaniels in how to keep your opponent off-balance, put a quarterback in position to succeed, and how to overcome your own deficiencies.
All week, the Cardinals talked about preparing for the Patriots to use deception and gimmicks to move the football — play-action, bootlegs, screens, end-arounds, and so on.
And that's exactly what the Patriots did to begin the game. Of their 18 plays in the first quarter, they ran three play-actions, two screens, and two end-arounds.
But once the second quarter rolled around, the Patriots switched course. Their offense really revolved around rub routes or pick plays.
And they ran them all . . . day . . . long.
Garoppolo did a nice job of recognizing zone or man coverage before the snap, and when the Cardinals showed a man-to-man look, Garoppolo and the Patriots killed them with pick plays, quick throws, and yards after the catch.
Malcolm Mitchell set a perfect pick for Julian Edelman on an 11-yard catch on third and 10.
Mitchell did it again for Chris Hogan, opening him up for a 19-yard reception on third and 5, and again on a 4-yard route in the fourth quarter that could've gone for more if not for a good open-field tackle.
McDaniels kept the Cardinals off-balance with a few more play-actions and screens. But they accounted for only 10 of Garoppolo's 33 pass attempts. The others were rub routes and quick outs — simple, designed reads for Garoppolo, as long as he could figure out whether the defense was in zone or man (and he usually did).
As for Garoppolo, three areas of his performance jump out: His ability to open each half with a scoring drive, his performance on third down throughout the game, and his cool demeanor in some bad situations in the fourth quarter.
Garoppolo completed 8 of 10 passes on third down, seven of which earned the conversion. Garoppolo also converted a third-and-6 with a heady 10-yard scramble. Overall, the Patriots were 10 of 16 on third down, an excellent rate for any quarterback.
And not only did Garoppolo lead a fourth-quarter comeback, but on the winning field goal drive he overcame situations of third and 15, second and 16, third and 11, and first and 15. He kept his cool when plays broke down, kept his eyes down the field, and made some great scramble plays, particularly the 32-yarder to Danny Amendola on third and 15.
It was a banner day for McDaniels and Garoppolo, and if nothing else serves as a tremendous building block for the Patriots' young quarterback.
Other observations after rewatching the game:
When the Patriots had the ball
■ The difference between Garoppolo and Tom Brady was apparent in the fourth quarter, when the Cardinals defense figured out the pick routes and switched to a zone defense. Garoppolo only had one read on his throws, and if the first look wasn’t there, the play was essentially busted. But Garoppolo also deserves credit for turning busted plays into something, particularly the 32-yarder to Amendola and also the heave to Amendola in the end zone that resulted in a pass interference.
■ Garoppolo also did a nice job of identifying whether the Cardinals were in zone or man coverage before the snap and adjusting accordingly. Cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Brandon Williams stuck to their own side of the field, and the key was how the Cardinals matched up against the tight ends. If it was a cornerback on Martellus Bennett or A.J. Derby, then the Cardinals were probably in zone coverage. If it was a linebacker, then the Cardinals were probably in man.
Garoppolo picked apart the man coverage with rub routes, quick outs, and the deep fade to Hogan for the touchdown, which was simply a busted coverage from Williams, a rookie. When the Cardinals were in zone, Garoppolo looked to the middle of the field, and the flats.
■ The Patriots picked badly on Williams, connecting on 5 of 7 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown, as opposed to just 2 of 2 for 13 yards against Peterson. Another smart move by Garoppolo and McDaniels.
■ The Cardinals are known as one of the NFL’s most blitz-happy teams, but they really only rushed the four guys up front, and tried to drop seven into coverage and keep Garoppolo contained in the pocket. We counted only seven true blitzes, a couple of four-man zone pressures, a handful of three-man rushes. Hogan’s touchdown and Mitchell’s 28-yard catch both came against a blitz, and the 32-yarder to Amendola came on a three-man rush.
■ Martellus Bennett didn’t seem to play that hard in the preseason, and there was some talk in New England that he was in danger of getting cut (not that we believed it), but he was a beast on Sunday night, particularly in the run game. Bennett caught 3 of 5 passes for 14 yards, but he played 69 of 71 snaps and was a road grader in the run game. Bennett had a key trap block on LeGarrette Blount’s 8-yard touchdown run and a key seal on Blount’s crucial 13-yard pickup on third and 11 in the fourth quarter. Bennett wins one of those old-school lunch pail awards for his performance.
■ Considering that the Patriots had a fill-in at right tackle, a backup at left tackle, two rookie guards, and a third guard who played with a club covering his broken hand, the offensive line was fantastic. It wasn’t perfect — Marcus Cannon allowed a couple of sacks, and Cameron Fleming was pretty brutal in the run game. But overall we counted only two sacks, two more quarterback hits, and one pressure against Garoppolo, who helped himself tremendously with a laser-quick release. Rookies Ted Karras and Joe Thuney had several great screen blocks on the second level.
Bennett was often kept in to help with pass protection, and the Patriots ran several plays with seven blockers and only three receivers.
The Patriots specifically ran away from Fleming, who was mostly blocking Calais Campbell. They ran 12 times in the first quarter, none to the left side. Overall, they rushed 10 times for 44 yards to the left, 13 times for 40 yards up the middle, and five times for 25 yards to the right.
■ Just a tremendous game from both Patriots running backs, Blount and James White. Blount picked up from an excellent preseason with some really hard running, including his 8-yard touchdown run in which he dragged four bodies into the end zone.
And White showed great hands and ability to catch the ball in traffic. Four of White's six touches went for first downs.
When the Cardinals had the ball
■ The Patriots were much more diverse than the Cardinals in their pass-rush schemes. We counted seven three-man rushes, three zone-four rushes, and nine five-man blitzes. Once again, the Patriots used their versatile front seven to disguise their pass rush well, using Dont’a Hightower often as a pass rusher (especially on third down) and having Chris Long, Trey Flowers, and Jabaal Sheard dropping off into coverage. The Cardinals hit several big plays against the blitz, including Larry Fitzgerald’s 21-yarder, Michael Floyd’s 39-yard catch, and a 26-yard catch-and-run by David Johnson. Jamie Collins’s and Long’s sacks both came on three-man rushes.
Hightower had a hit and a pressure on Carson Palmer, and for a linebacker not known for his coverage skills, did fairly well covering Johnson out of the backfield.
■ The Cardinals also liberally used the pick routes, and Fitzgerald’s first touchdown was virtually unstoppable, although Logan Ryan did a decent job fighting through the pick.
Ryan couldn't hang with Fitzgerald, who caught 8 of 10 passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns, but not many cornerbacks can slow Fitzgerald. Justin Coleman had a really nice performance against third receiver John Brown, making several key pass breakups in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots opened the game in press-man coverage, but utilized much more zone coverages and pressure as the game went on.
■ Alan Branch was active in the middle and had a couple of great run stuffs. Malcom Brown and Anthony Johnson also moved some bodies in the run game. But the Patriots had trouble generating much push when they rushed only three or four defenders, and Palmer had plenty of time in the pocket.
■ Not only did Stephen Gostkowski nail all three of his field goals (including from 47 and 53 yards), he was excellent in placing his kickoffs. He kicked two deep into the end zone for touchbacks, but landed four of them masterfully around the goal line. Those kickoffs were returned to the 11-, 19-, 21-, and 18-yard lines.
■ In tight goal line situations, the Patriots used Amendola as the punt returner given the importance of making the right decision. But in home run situations, the Patriots used rookie cornerback Cyrus Jones, who has better breakaway speed.