Going into State Farm Stadium after back-to-back losses, the Patriots desperately needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The offense in its current form didn't help out any these last several weeks, nor would it have tonight had the Patriots played a more formidable performance. But with some massive performances on defense, along with a next-man-up mentality on offense, New England will live to fight another day in the AFC Playoff hunt.
Dropping Like Flies
Not exactly a banner night for player health on Monday. Not even four plays into the opening drive of the game, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was done for the night due to a non-contact knee injury. Unfortunately, the news is as bad as it looked, as Murray is feared to have torn his ACL in his left knee. Just an absolutely brutal blow to one of the most fun-to-watch guys in the NFL. That also could potentially impact the start of his 2023 season as well.
The Cardinals' injuries weren’t done there either, as cornerback Marco Wilson went down later. The Patriots didn’t leave Arizona unscathed either. DeVante Parker suffered a concussion after a first-down conversion. On that subject, give a massive shoutout to Nelson Agholor for doing everything he could to try and get Parker off the field before the next Patriots offensive snap. Somehow Parker was allowed to continue despite looking visibly woozy once he got up. Not the best night stat-wise for Agholor, but that's the clearest sign of a good teammate and friend if there ever was one.
Additionally, Rhamondre Stevenson and Jack Jones both suffered leg/ankle injuries in the first half. A shame for Jones given that he had an impressive PBU going up against DeAndre Hopkins. Jones said postgame that he simply bruised his knee, which seems like the best-case scenario. Stevenson meanwhile said that "he hopes" to be ok for this Sunday against Las Vegas. Worth noting that is a homecoming game for him.
Rookies Stepping Up
With Stevenson hurt, the Patriots needed to go to both rookie running backs, Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong, last night. Harris hadn't seen many carries to this point at all, and Strong appeared to head to the Belichick Shadow Realm for his special teams miscue in Minnesota. Given an opportunity in a must-win game, the Patriots got some critical runs out of both rookies. Harris only needed two carries to get his first career touchdown, both of which were downright angry runs by the South Carolina product. Strong also found the endzone under a minute into the fourth quarter, but before that, picked up a 44-yard gain to set up a field goal.
Tyquan Thornton, while perhaps could have been used a bit more, saw five targets (tied for second most) and hauled in four passes for 28 yards. Two of those grabs picked up first downs however on gains of 8 and 12. Marcus Jones once again was factored in on offense but had only one catch for 12 yards. This week he earned his keep on the other side of the ball, picking up his first career interception. More impressive than that was that Jones spent some time against DeAndre Hopkins on the outside and held his own and then some. The former All-Pro was held to just 79 yards on the night, largely up against all three of the Jones. Very impressed with the Houston product on all fronts once again. Also, his hit stick on Trey McBride did not go unnoticed.
Trouble Up Front
The win was not absent some shakey play up front for New England. Trent Brown, who has been especially on the rocks as of late, continues to be a sore spot at left tackle. An early false start brings him up to 10 penalties in 2022, which ranks second most in the league among offensive linemen. Given his play and contract situation, along with Isaiah Wynn who is in the same boat, there is a very high chance there are two new tackles next season in Foxborough. A swap from right tackle to left for Brown likely didn't help things, but he hasn't been great as in years past.
This was the perfect pick-me-up game for this Patriots defense. The immediate loss of Murray was a factor, but you saw a little bit of everything on Monday. Defensive touchdowns, third and sometimes even fourth down stops, picks and fumbles, sacks, the whole nine yards. Outside of the Cardinals' lone touchdown drive, there were very few complaints from Monday night. Maybe a couple of missed tackles by Kyle Dugger, but when he ends up forcing a fumble on DeAndre Hopkins, it evens itself out. Good eye by Raekwon McMillian to get the scoop and score as well.
McMillian wasn't the only defender in the front seven that made some big plays, however. Jahlani Tavai was nothing short of tremendous in this tilt in the desert. The box score doesn't do a whole lot of justice, although around a half dozen tackles are solid. His fourth-down pass breakup with under 35 seconds to go in the first half completely flipped the momentum in this one. Felt like he may have lost too much ground after chipping Trey McBride, but Tavai was able to be in the perfect spot to get the PBU. He also shed the tight end to stuff James Conner on a reception for no gain.
The real story was the pass rush of the Patriots, who went nuclear on Colt McCoy. Matt Judon got back in the sack collum (1.5) to go into a tie for the league lead with Nick Bosa at 14.5 But once again, Josh Uche showed up and was maybe the best player in this game period. Will probably get into this more later in the week, but he has been nothing short of incredible these last six games. 10 sacks in a season are pretty good, and he's done that in just six games. Judon claiming that Uche is the best pass rusher on the Patriots several weeks ago continues to look better and better.
Screens Screens and More Screens
Remember when Josh McDaniels would go with two runs followed up by some form of a screen pass on third down (or a draw if he felt frisky)? Take away the two runs beforehand, and that was the wide majority of the script for Matt Patricia in this one. As a byproduct of that, close to half of Mac Jones' throws were at or behind the line of scrimmage. The average quarterback in the NFL this year is at 22 percent via Warren Sharp. Furthermore, 60 percent of Jones' throws on third down were at or behind the line. Absolute malpractice, genuinely stunned this didn't lose them this game even with how well the defense was. We even got another McCorkle F-Bomb near the end of the first half.
Seeing as three of the next four Patriots' opponents are the Bengals, Dolphins, and Bills, it would be wise to probably never run this script again. Had this been one of those three teams there is likely a five percent chance they pull out a win. Especially considering the Patriots punted on three of their last four drives (excluding kneel down). Outside of that, I thought Jones did a good job in this game. He made just about every big throw that he needed to make, including a laser beam down the seam to Hunter Henry.
Up Next: Sin City Showdown
As they are already staying out west, it won't be a long trip for the Patriots as they head to Las Vegas to take on the Raiders. As a historical anecdote, this is the first time the Patriots are playing a true road game against the Raiders since 2011, and only the 5th time dating back to 1986. Things for this year's Radiers squad have been less than ideal. After a gigantic offseason and entering the regular season with a ton of hype, they have fallen flat about as bad as any team not named the Broncos or Rams. They already sit at eight losses, four of which were games where they lead by as many as 13 points. Now, who is the coach of this rag-tag squad you may be wondering with results like this? That would be none other than Josh McDaniels.
His second stint as an NFL head coach essentially picks right off where he ended with the Broncos. Those four-blown 13-plus point lead losses are already the most in a single NFL season. McDaniels lost to the Jeff Saturday Colts in his first week as head coach. And in the McDaniels' latest magic trick, they lost to the Rams with Baker Mayfield, who was only in their building for 36 hours tops before Thursday night.
Now of course there is some real talent on this team. Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs immediately jump out on offense, as does Maxx Crosby on the other side of the ball. Like most teams, the Raiders have some key injuries, none bigger than to tight end Darren Waller, and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow. Both are eligible to come off of IR this week, so that will be worth watching out for.
Final Score: New England Patriots 27, Arizona Cardinals 14
Gaffney's Three Stars:
1st Star – Josh Uche (3 Sacks)
2nd Star – Matt Judon (1.5 Sacks)
3rd Star – Marcus Jones (1 INT, 1 Catch for 12 Yards)