FOXBOROUGH — After recovering a fumble with a little more than a minute to go and setting up a winning field goal try with five seconds left, the stars were aligned for the Patriots to end Sunday’s game against the Cardinals in dramatic fashion.
So how did it go so wrong when everything was going so right? Stephen Gostkowski missed a 42-yard field goal attempt, pushing it wide left, and the Cardinals hung on, 20-18.
Let’s go over each play in that final sequence, starting with the fumble by Cardinals running back Ryan Williams.
On third and 13 at the Arizona 35 with 1:10 remaining, Brandon Spikes burst through the line and blew up Williams, relieving him of the ball in the process. Vince Wilfork recovered the fumble, giving the Patriots the ball at the Arizona 30 with 1:01 left. It was more than enough time to punch it in the end zone or set up Gostkowski for the winning field goal.
“It was a big play for us,” said linebacker Jerod Mayo. “But there were a lot of plays out there that we should have made that we just gave up.”
On the Patriots’ first play, Brady threw it in the dirt to Wes Welker on an out route to his left. Three seconds ticked off the clock.
On second and 10, Danny Woodhead bounced to the outside and ripped off a 30-yard touchdown that was called back because of a holding penalty on tight end Rob Gronkowski. Six seconds ticked off the clock. Gronkowski was called for a false start two plays later.
“It’s frustrating,” Gronkowski said. “You saw me out there [mad]. They were not good. You can’t have penalties.”
Said Woodhead: “Whenever I get the opportunity, I try to make the most of it. I had 10 guys out there doing everything they could to give me some space. I tried to do what I could and it ended up coming back and that’s how it went.”
With the touchdown negated, the Patriots went back to their shotgun formation, and Brady fired a pass to Welker down the left side for 12 yards. Welker got out of bounds, and the Patriots were at the Cardinals’ 18-yard line with 52 seconds on the clock.
At that point, the Patriots opted to line up the kick for Gostkowski instead of attempting to score a touchdown. Gronkowski was flagged for a false start as Brady attempted to sneak to the center of the field, pushing the Patriots back five yards to the 23. The Patriots ran the same play again, letting 39 seconds come off the clock.
“Yeah, it’s just a decision that coach makes,” Brady said about opting for the field goal. “I think we were a little closer and we had a penalty there that moved us back five more. You know, penalties hurt us a few times today. Like I said, offensively, when you don’t play well and you don’t play consistently, if you’re not going to get a big play, then you have to drive the ball and you can’t drive the ball if you’re always two steps forward, one step back. That’s the way it felt today. We’d get the drive going and then there would be a negative play and we’d be forced to try to make a miraculous play to get back on track. It just wasn’t a very good day in that sense.”
With seven seconds remaining, Brady spiked the ball to put the game on Gostkowski’s shoulders. Two seconds go off the clock. Gostkowski kicked it wide left and the Cardinals raced onto the field to celebrate. Gillette Stadium was quietly confused.
“We put a lot of pressure on a lot of field goal teams,” said Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson. “I think he was a little scared of us, honestly, that is why he pushed it left.”
Said Gostkowski: “You had an opportunity to win the game. I’d had a good game up until that point and I felt good going out there. It was just one of those things, you get opportunities like that not very often and I have to do a lot better job of 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. I feel bad for the fans and my teammates. I can’t take it back now. I went out there and felt good about the kick and just didn’t execute.”
Afterward, Gostkowski’s teammates came to his defense.
“He’s an unbelievable kicker,” Woodhead said. “As a team, we lost the game and that’s how it always is. Offense, defense, special teams, we all play together and we as a team didn’t score enough points. That’s how it happened. It’s not one person’s fault.”
Said Gronkowski: “Definitely [it’s a team loss]. Stephen does a great job. He kicked four great field goals to keep us in the game. The loss is not on him. The loss could be on me. I got that penalty at the end holding the guy. You can’t have things like that happen. It’s definitely not on Stephen. He’s a great kicker and a great player.”