FOXBOROUGH – The sound you heard repeatedly at Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon was not “Drewwwww” in honor of former quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who was on hand for the Patriots-Cardinals game.
No, the sound was fans booing the Patriots’ effort against the Cardinals. The home team struggled to move the ball and defensively let Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb mix just enough good plays in among his head-scratching ones to put points on the board.
As home openers at Gillette go, it was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
The Cardinals pulled off a surprising 20-18 victory, the first time the Patriots have lost a home opener in Gillette Stadium. The last time they opened with a loss at home was in 2001 against the Jets in Foxboro Stadium.
Facing a game-winning field goal situation for the first time in his career in regulation, Stephen Gostkowski missed a 42-yarder wide left with six seconds left, sending the Cardinals into celebration mode.
Arizona has won nine of its last 11 games, with all the wins coming by 6 points or fewer, and four coming in overtime.
“That’s how we like to do it it seems like,” Kolb said about the nail-biting win. “As long as they keep falling into the W column, we’re good.”
It was lucky for the Patriots that they even had the chance to win. With just more than a minute to play in the game, the Cardinals had the ball and should have been trying to kill as much clock as possible.
But on third-and-long, running back Ryan Williams got the handoff and Brandon Spikes got his helmet on the ball, popping it free. It landed under Vince Wilfork.
New England took over from the Cardinals 30, which is well within Gostkowski’s range – he’d hit two from 50-plus yards in the second half.
“We had an opportunity to win the game. I’d had a good game up to that point and I felt good going out there,” Gostkowski said. “It was just one of those things, you get opportunities like that not very often and I have to do a lot better coming through for the team.
“I had a chance to win and it came down to me and I didn’t pull through and it stinks.”
As badly as Gostkowski felt, he certainly wasn’t the only player to make a mistake on the afternoon. A few plays before his missed field goal, New England had a Danny Woodhead touchdown called back because of a holding call on Rob Gronkowski.
“Stephen kicked four great field goals to keep us in the game; the loss is not on him,” Gronkowski said. “The loss could be on me — I got the penalty at the end, holding the guy. Can’t have things like that happen.”
Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira, now an observer of officiating for Fox, said via Twitter that it was indeed a hold, though he’s seen many just like that not called.
Kolb, acquired from the Eagles last year and signed to a big contract by Arizona, was beaten out of the starting job by John Skelton coming out of training camp. But Skelton sprained an ankle in Week 1, and Kolb led the Cardinals to a come-from-behind win over Seattle.
On Sunday, Kolb’s stats weren’t stellar — 15 for 27 for 140 yards, with a touchdown passing and one running — but he did just enough, and sometimes that’s all a team needs, especially when a defense is playing as well as Arizona’s was.
Taking nothing away from the Cardinals, the Patriots offense gave them some help, with suspect play-calling and a lack of execution. On third and 6 from the Arizona 30 in the third quarter, the call was a pitch to Woodhead, who was immediately swallowed up for an 8-yard loss, forcing a punt.
On the next possession, New England faced third and 1, and rather than run a quarterback sneak, the give was to Stevan Ridley, who also was taken down for a loss.
“We didn’t play very good,” Logan Mankins said. “Not scoring a touchdown till the fourth quarter, kicking field goals, penalties, pressures, negative runs — the offense, we didn’t bring our best game and it showed.”
The Patriots also held off on the no-huddle offense — which has been so successful for them in recent years — until the fourth quarter. The switch led to a field goal and an 11-play, 82-yard drive that ended with a Gronkowski touchdown. However, the 2-point conversion to tie the game failed.
After the game, several Patriots players said the week of practice leading up to the game wasn’t good; Mankins said it played a role in the team’s performance.
“We didn’t have a great week of practice and coach [Bill Belichick] made a point of that, that we needed to almost play some catchup,” said Wes Welker, who oddly did not start the game, did not play a snap until after Aaron Hernandez’s right ankle injury, and finished with five catches for a team-high 95 yards. “We really didn’t do the things necessary to come away with a win, especially early.”
New England found itself in a 6-point hole early. The Cardinals got the ball to start and drove down the field, though a poor throw on third and short meant they had to settle for a 38-yard field goal by Jay Feely.
On the Patriots’ first play from scrimmage, Tom Brady’s pass was batted at the line and Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson made a one-handed interception, pinning the ball to his helmet to secure it.
Arizona took over at the 36, but again had to settle for a field goal after a short first-down gain by Beanie Wells and two iffy passes from Kolb. This time Feely converted from 47 yards, and with half of the opening quarter gone, the Patriots had taken one snap and given up two field goals.
New England got on the board on its next possession, but it didn’t come without a price: On a second-down screen to Julian Edelman, Hernandez was blocking and had his right leg rolled up on.
Hernandez clutched his right ankle and needed a lot of help off the field. He was immediately taken to the locker room, where X-rays were negative, indicating there was no break. It is unknown what damage he did suffer — sprains can sometimes be tougher to come back from than breaks depending on the severity of ligament damage.
He left the game in a walking boot and with crutches.
The game was tied, 6-6, at the half.
New England took a 9-6 lead early in the second half on a 51-yarder by Gostkowski, but the Cardinals went ahead for good at 8:52 of the third.
Quentin Groves blocked a Zoltan Mesko punt, the first time Mesko has been blocked in the NFL, and Arizona got the ball just 2 yards from the end zone. It took three plays, but Kolb hit Andre Roberts for the 2-yard touchdown pass and a 13-9 lead.