GLENDALE, Ariz – New England Patriots proved that they are a dangerous team even when playing without some key pieces. They won against Arizona 23-21 in the season opener at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Patriots played without their stars – Tom Brady, who serves his four-game suspension, All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, and Rob Ninkovich, a defensive end who is also suspended. Moreover, two starting offensive linemen were also unable to play. However, an absence of the best players, allowed some other players to shine. Thus, led by the backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the kicker Stephen Gostkowski, the Patriots managed to break Arizona in front of their crowd.
The Cardinal started out slow and at the end of the first quarter, they were losing 10-0. They woke up later and with 9:46 left in the match, Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught a 20-yard pass from quarterback Carson Palmer and this dynamic duo tied the score at 20-20. After that, Catanzaro scored an extra point for the lead.
However, Grappolo, who is starting instead of a future Hall of Famer, Tom Brady, who is said to have a role in the Deflategate controversy, remained calm, made excellent decisions and threw great passes in the end of the game. He proved the oddsmakers from Las Vegas wrong. They claimed that the Arizona would come up with the 9-point win.
He controlled the Patriots offense and managed to bring his team to 32 yards from the end zone. The kick from this distance was a piece of cake for Gostowski, who brought a 23-21 lead to New England with 3:44 remaining. This was his third successful field goal as he scored from 47 and 53 yards earlier in the game.
The Cardinals still had a chance to win. In the last minute of the game, they drove to the New England’s half and Catanzaro had an attempt from 47 yards. However, the snap from the rookie Cameron Canady was low and Catanzaro missed the goal.
The Patriots got into the possession of a ball 41 seconds before the end and they run the clock.
Garappolo was nearly perfect completing 24 of 33 passes for 264 with no interceptions and a touchdown. On the other side, Palmer was 24 of 37 for 271 yards. His receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught two passes for touchdown recording his 100th touchdown which moved him up to the eighth place all time. Now he is tied with legends Tim Brown and Steve Largent.
Cardinals’ second-year running back David Johnson scored a touchdown after a fumble by an experienced LeGarrette Blount. With this touchdown, the Cardinals reduced the deficit to 17-14. Johnson had a solid game with 89 yards on 16 carries and four passes caught. On the other side, Blount finished the game with 70 yards on 22 carries.
Arizona had two sacks, one of which comes from former New England linebacker Chandler Jones. The Patriots decided to trade Jones for a second-round pick, guard Jonathan Cooper who is currently injured.
In the first minutes of the game, Garoppolo was a little bit anxious and his first pass finished over Chris Hogan’s head. However, he managed to calm down quickly and complete four consecutive passes, one of which was 37-yard long to Hogan, who scored a touchdown. Arizona’s rookie cornerback, Brandon Williams, had no chance of stopping Hogan.
The second possession for the Patriots was almost successful as the first one. Now, instead of passing, the Patriots gained yardage from running the ball. Arizona’s defense did not know whom to guard -LeGarrette Blount or James White because they were both aggressive. Safety Tyvon Branch deflected a pass for a touchdown and New England had to satisfy with a field goal from 47 yards.
The Cardinals’ defense forced a turnover when Markus Golden sacked Garoppolo and Jones picked up the ball. Later in the possession, Fitzgerald recorded a touchdown by catching a pass from Carson Palmer. With this touchdown, Fitzgerald moved to the 14th place on all-time receiving yards list passing Torry Holt who caught 13,382 yards.
Pro Bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu returned after a torn ACL and he played a more conventional role in this game, as a deep safety. Although Arizona was lucky he recovered, the two other players unfortunately injured in the first half. Receiver J.J Nelson had problems with his left shoulder and he left a game and right guard Evan Mathis was complaining about a pain in his left foot. Luckily for the Cardinals, they have a depth on their roster. Earl Watford replaced Mathis.
Arizona will face Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their next match and New England Patriots will host the Dolphins.