GLENDALE, Ariz. — Eight years ago, this place was a house of horrors. A place where bad things happened to the Patriots.
The giant stadium in Glendale was bad luck. It is where 18-0 became 18-1. It is where Eli Manning made the scramble of his life and then David Tyree made the last catch of his career, pinning a prayer to the side of his helmet while he was wearing Rodney Harrison. It is where perfection was derailed.
But today Patriot Nation loves this place. Now it is the place where Bill Belichick and Ernie Adams made Pete Carroll lose his mind in Super Bowl XLIX (Go watch the “Do Your Job” video again). It is the place where Malcolm Butler introduced himself to Football America. And in September of 2016 it is the place where Jimmy Garoppolo and the undermanned Patriots beat the heavily favored Arizona Cardinals, 23-21, in the first game of Tom Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension.
Take that, Roger Goodell! You can overpunish Brady and roll out an NFC title contender for “Sunday Night Football.” Vegas can make the Pats 9½-point underdogs. But you still cannot beat Belichick and the Patriots.
No Brady? No Gronk? No first-round draft pick?
“Obviously, I’m really proud of our team,’’ deadpanned a low-talking Bill after the pulsating victory. “A loud stadium, on the road, a Super Bowl-caliber team . . . ”
Belichick downplayed the ballad of Jimmy G, a song that will be sung every day until Brady returns from Football Alcatraz in October. When asked to assess the play of his kid quarterback, the coach said, “Good.’’
Informed by a desperate media man that Garoppolo was going to be a big story line starting Monday, Belichick sneered, “I’m really concerned about the story line. There’s nothing higher on my list than the story line . . . ”
It was easy to be smug on a night like this. In the same stadium where he pantsed Carroll two seasons ago, Belichick thoroughly outcoached the estimable Bruce Arians. There cannot have been many more satisfying wins than this one — a comeback victory in which the guy Belichick picked to replace Brady played like a young Montana in the fourth quarter, converting three third-down plays while moving the team 61 yards in six minutes to set up a game-winning field goal.
It started where it always starts — with the coin toss. After the Pats lost the pregame toss, the Cardinals opted to take the ball. Even Donald Trump knows you’re supposed to defer. Trump won the coin toss before last Wednesday’s “Commander In Chief” session with NBC’s Matt Lauer and deferred to the second half (it was agreed upon beforehand that the winner of the candidates’ coin toss could choose which half of the program in which he or she wanted to appear). Clearly a student of Belichick 101, Trump let his opponent answer questions for the first 30 minutes.
Arians? Not so much. He took the ball, watched a stalled drive, then wimped out and punted from midfield on fourth and 1. Bizarre. Arians is supposed to be an offensive genius. He’s old and bold. Taking the ball to start the game is aggressive, so why would you send out the punt team on fourth and 1 from your 49? This made Arians just another Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, or Chuck Pagano turtling at the sight of the Hoodie.
Enter Jimmy G. Getting rid of the ball quickly, Brady-style, the kid moved the Pats 74 yards in eight plays, capping the surgical touchdown drive with 37-yard strike to Chris Hogan down the left sideline. It was hard not to wonder if Brady in that moment fired a free weight through his flat screen.
On New England’s next drive, Garoppolo put the Pats in position for a 47-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead. Completing seven of 11 passes, Jimmy G threw for 106 yards in the near-flawless first quarter.
While all of this was going on at University of Phoenix Stadium, folks back home in Foxborough were busy taking down the giant Brady murals that adorned the stadium lighthouse last week. The Krafts evidently did not want Jimmy G seeing Brady’s gigantic image by dawn’s early light when the New England entourage returned home Monday. The Pats play their next three games at Gillette and Garoppolo heretofore will be allowed to work at Gillette without Touchdown Tom lurking over his shoulder.
The kid’s first mistake came midway through the second quarter when he was strip-sacked by Markus Golden near midfield. Old friend Chandler Jones recovered the ball and the Cardinal nitwits were penalized for dancing after making their plays. The Cardinals converted the turnover into a touchdown, cutting the margin to 10-7 before halftime.
The first drive of the second half had everything. Garoppolo scrambled for 10 yards on a third-and-6 play, completed a nifty third-down pass to Malcolm Mitchell for 28 yards, then handed off to LeGarrette Blount for an 8-yard touchdown and 17-7 lead. The drive covered 75 yards on nine plays.
En route to the end zone, Jimmy G even delivered a message to Gisele Bundchen. Remember when Gisele said, “My husband cannot throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time” after the Super Bowl loss in Indy? Well, it turns out that Jimmy G CAN do that. On the first play of the second half, Garoppolo had a pass batted, but the ball ricocheted right back into QB 10’s hands and he ran for 3 yards.
“That was a first,’’ acknowledged Garoppolo.
After a Blount fumble, the Cardinals came to life and rode the wings of Larry Fitzgerald to a 21-20 lead with 10 minutes left. Then it was Jimmy G Time. Winning Time.
The dramatic win made the Patriots the first team in NFL history to clinch its division on Opening Night. Tomato Cans from Buffalo, Miami, and New York all lost, which gives the Pats eight straight AFC East titles and 13 of the last 14.
No need to hurry back, Tom. Your team and your dynasty are in good hands.
Watch: Ben Volin, Jim McBride, and Dan Shaughnessy break down the Patriots’ win
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at email@example.com