Big win 4 the @cardinals 2day what a nail bitter. Even more exciting 2nite HBO season 3 of Board Walk Empire can't wait to get home 2 c it.— Larry Fitzgerald (@LarryFitzgerald) September 16, 2012
Back to the Patriots. The spirit of Joe Pisarcik met the ghost of Billy Cundiff Sunday in Foxborough.
Cundiff won. And the Patriots lost 20-18.
Stephen Gostkowski's 42-yard field goal attempt sailed to the left of Elizabeth Warren Sunday with one second to play, denying the Patriots' an amoral victory Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals. Had "Goatkowski's" kick gone straight, instead of taken a turn for Cape Cod, it would have papered over a lot of problems with the Patriots offense and a surprisingly sloppy day on special teams (at least when it came to punts and game-winning field goals). Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels (above) got their signals crossed and couldn't get things moving until about 3:45 p.m. The good news, there was little bending and only minor breakage on defense. The Vince Wilfork-anchored, youth-inspired marauders continued to provide hope. They gave up only one touchdown drive longer than two yards. And the Patriots are still on pace to go 15-1 (or 1-15) and are - at 1-1 - tied for first in the AFC East. They're also tied for second, third and fourth depending on how you want to alphabetize.
Glad we could make all you Jets fans happy.— Jay Feely (@jayfeely) September 17, 2012
The NHL locked out its players at midnight Saturday. The Cardinals locked out the Patriots offense on the first play of the game, as Darnell Dockett tipped Brady's pass and Patrick Peterson picked it off at the Patriots' 36-yard line. The last time Brady turned the ball over on New England's first play from scrimmage, things didn't turn out so well, either. Unless your name is Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin or Brandon Jacobs. This time, it was Mark Sanchez, Rex Ryan and Tim Tebow who stood to benefit, but couldn't take advantage and lost to the Steelers.
Two hours of brutal-to-watch football if you had Brady on your fantasy or reality team as all of the Patriots points came off four Gostkowski field goals.
All of that was punctuated by the loss of tight end Aaron Hernandez to an ankle injury as the Patriots had no real back-up plan for the two tight-end set. The Patriots ran the ball 16 times in the first half, netting 71 yards but only six points. All 634 Arizona Cardinals fans must be euphoric over their team's defensive ability to contain and pressure Brady until the final few minutes. The are two ways to beat Brady. Keep him off the field, which the Giants did during last February's Super Bowl (controlling 37:05 of the clock). Or, sack him four times, apply pressure and rattle him to the point where he goes 7 for 12 for 75 yards in the first half and not sustaining a single drive of more than 47 yards until there was 5:42 left in the game. The Cardinals chose the later Sunday.
New England's lone touchdown drive covered 82 yards in 11 plays and closed with Rob Gronkowski's touchdown that cut it to 20-18 with 2:06 to play. Gronk's TD negated half of the two touchdowns he dropped earlier in the game (one in the first half and one earlier on the scoring drive.) And lost in the field-goal miss was the Patriots' failure to convert on the necessary two-point conversion. Instead extra pressure or planning one of those patented Belichick two-point direct snaps, the Cardinals dropped seven players into coverage while Brady sent Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead (in motion out of the backfield) into the end zone. No chance, even for America's Alpha Dog.
No fear, Patriots fans. Last season was marked by victory after victory where the offense bailed out the defense. This season's first defeat was marked by the defense bailing out the offense and the offense stumbling before Gostkowski's miss. The Cardinals faced a 3rd-and-13 with 1:10 left and no New England time outs remaining and outsmarted themselves. Kevin Kolb could have taken a knee to set up the punt, or even tried a daring potential game-ending first-down pass attempt. The Cardinals, however, ran to the outside. Instead of Pisarcik and Larry Csonka muffing the handoff and Herm Edwards sprinting with it into the end zone, Kolb fed Ryan Williams, who was then popped by Brandon Spikes and fumbled as Wilfork devoured the ball at the Cardinals' 30.
Fans flooded back into Gillette Stadium as the Patriots were on the verge of trick-tory.
Gronkowski took back his touchdown two plays later when he held Kerry Rhodes on Danny Woodhead's should-have-been-a-30-yard scoring run. Even Rodney "I cannot tell a lie" Harrison admitted it was holding on NBC Sunday night. No need to panic:
Attention attention pats lost a game they will be fine. Long season. Wow never knew so many people hated pats so much.— Rodney Harrison (@Rodney_Harrison) September 17, 2012
Gronk was willing to both blame himself and the officiating, saying "I felt like it was a clean block" but later adding "the loss could be on me. I got that penalty in the end, holding the guy, can't have things like [that] happen."
No, they cannot. The hold was unwise because Woodhead was past the spot of the foul and because of the presence of replacements who would be more prone to call a play that was both obvious to see yet often uncalled by real referees. Wonder if Robert Kraft was on his iPhone to someone at NFL HQ on Park Avenue in New York Sunday night saying, "My last shot at 16-0 went down the tubes on that penalty?" Or something like that, maybe with 300 or 400 f-bombs dropped in for dramatic effect.
Bill Belichick was Belichickian as ever in defeat. "We made plenty of mistakes out there. We need to correct them. We need to coach better, we need to play better, we need to do better than that." The Patriot Way also includes no excuses, at least when it comes to injury. "Not the first time a player has been injured in a game," Belichick said. No doubt he said something similar following that loss to the Jets 11 years ago.
"Goatkowski" is somewhat unfair (he had hit his past 38 fourth-quarter FG attempts) and too easy a target. "It stinks," he said after the game. Arizona wide receiver Andre Roberts was more direct. "He is a kicker. It is his job to make the field goal and he missed the field goal," he told ESPN. "We have a really good field-goal block team and I think that may have been in the back of his mind, you never know."
It was also firmly clenched around his neck. The most accurate kicker in Patriots' history has not connected/nor been asked to connect on a big-money kick since his 35-yarder beat the Baltimore Ravens in overtime back in 2010. He's been lost in Adam "Margin of Victory in Three Super Bowls" Vinatieri's shadow since coming to New England in 2006, Where was Vinateri Sunday? Kicking the 53-yard game-winner at Indianapolis with 10 seconds left in a 23-20 Colts victory. Why he was booed in Foxborough last season remains one of those all-time great Patriot infamous moments along with the fire in the stands at BC, that home opener in Birmingham, Ala., Mark Henderson. Why Gotskowski got booed Sunday? That's a no-brainer.
"Hopefully it never comes to down to a 42-yard field goal at the end," said Brady, who is now 10-1 in home-openers. Drew Bledsoe was New England's starting quarterback in its last home opening day loss, a 10-3 defeat by Jets on Sept. 23, 2001 at the late Foxborough/Sullivan/Schaefer/Patriots Stadium. Bledsoe was injured in that game and replaced by Brady. The rest is history in the making. Bledsoe was throwing passes to Patriots' Hall of Famer Troy Brown on the field during half time at Gillette Stadium (another one of those omens) and both looked like they could make the practice squad this week.
Conspiracy talk aside, any doubt that Welker was being phased out of the long-term plans in Foxoborugh only got a temporary reprieve with Hernandez's injury. Welker, who didn't start, became the team's all-time leader in receptions, passing Brown with his his 558th catch as a Patriot with a 25-yard grab from Brady in the second quarter. But that his lone highlight of the day. Welker and Edelman each had five catches, although Welker was targeted 11 times to Edelman's six. But it's Lloyd who will be the main slot and deep target in a post-Hernandez world (which hopefully won't last more than a month). Brady targeted Lloyd 13 times - including several dead-on balls that were dropped early. Lloyd may have finally shed the demons associated with is his No. 85 jersey on a spectacular diving slide-line catch where he dragged both feet in bounds while flying horizontally out of bounds. The catch was upheld on review and it finally became clear that this No. 85 knows his playbook.
A few thousand more snaps in practice and they should be just fine.
The Patriots certainly had it right on defense Sunday. Half of Arizona's points came off turnovers (a pair of 49-second drives). Aside from the Cardinals 75-yard, nine-play march that put Arizona up 20-9 early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots yielded just four first downs in the second half. The rookies continue to suppress. Chandler Jones mauled Kolb in the second quarter, forcing a fumble that flew into the hands of second-round steal Tavon Wilson.
Offense, defense and special teams. Going 1-for-3 might be good enough to reach the Baseball Hall of Fame. In the NFL, it won't even get you past the Arizona Cardinals at home.
Don't forget to join us Sunday at 8 p.m. for our in-game Patriots-Ravens fan chat and look for our Week 3 NFL Power Rankings on Saturday. Guessing there will be a new No. 1 unless the replacement refs really screw something up. As always, let us know what you think. Post your thoughts here, on our Obnoxious Boston Fan Facebook page or e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And don't forget to follow us on Twitter @realOBF. Thanks for reading. Pass the clicker.
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