Patriots-Cardinals score, takeaways: New England defense hounds Arizona without Kyler Murray to earn big win
New England now jumps to the No. 7 seed in the AFC
The Patriots moved to 7-6 on the season after pulling out the win on "Monday Night Football" over the Cardinals, 27-13. The victory not only pushes New England back above .500, but it slots it in as the No. 7 seed in the AFC playoff picture, leapfrogging the Chargers and Jets.
This was a game filled with a wide array of injuries, but none more noteworthy than Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. He suffered a non-contact knee injury on just the third play of the game and needed to be carted off the field.that Murray is feared to have torn his ACL, which would end his season if/when an MRI confirms. That would thrust Colt McCoy into the starting spot under center like he was Monday night.
Under duress, McCoy was solid and helped Arizona jump out to a field-goal lead by halftime. Thanks to back-to-back possessions sandwiched around halftime that both resulted in field goals, New England was able to knot things up at 13 apiece early in the second half, but it was largely another choppy outing on the offensive side of the ball for the Patriots.
However, their defense was able to catapult them to victory after notching turnovers on back-to-back drives at the tail end of the third quarter. The first was a Kyle Dugger forced fumble on DeAndre Hopkins that Raekwon McMillan picked up and returned 29 yards for the touchdown to go up 20-13. On the following Cardinals possession, Josh Uche knocked a McCoy throw off its trajectory and landed into the arms of rookie Marcus Jones. The offense then put together a five-play, 63-yard touchdown drive headlined by a 39-yard reception from Hunter Henry to go up two scores en route to victory.
Mac Jones was 24 of 35 on the night for 235 yards and an interception. With the backfield banged up, rookie running back Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris picked up the slack, as each was able to find the end zone. On the Arizona side, McCoy finished with 246 yards and an interception on 27 of 40 passing. James Conner rushed 15 times for 85 yards and a touchdown.
For a more detailed breakdown of how this game unfolded, check out our takeaways below.
Why the Patriots won
For the bulk of this game, it looked like the offense was once again going to be New England's demise. There were a number of questionable play calls, including a first-down run with 10 seconds to go in the first half that nearly resulted in a turnover that would've eliminated a scoring opportunity. There were also times in this game when Mac Jones was visibly frustrated with how the offense was operating.
All that said, it's amazing how a few key defensive plays can not only flip the script for this game, but lighten the mood on the New England sideline. In the second half, the Patriots defense engulfed the Arizona offense and continuously applied pressure on Colt McCoy. As a team, New England compiled six sacks, and half of those came from linebacker Josh Uche. Matt Judon was also a mainstay in the Cardinals backfield, adding 1.5 sacks to his already career-high totals.
That consistent pressure helped pitch a shutout in the second half and also contributed to one of the key turnovers in this game. Following Dugger's forced fumble of Hopkins and the scoop-and-score by McMillan, Uche was able to quickly get pressure on McCoy on the ensuing possession. He came rocketing off the left side of the line and hit McCoy just as he was trying to hit Hopkins on a deep ball up the left sideline. That changed the trajectory of the ball and landed into the arms of Marcus Jones to spark an eventual touchdown drive by the offense and complete the 14-point swing. New England has now scored 85 points off turnovers this season, which is the most in the NFL.
While the offense certainly still needs to get into a better rhythm for an entire game, that touchdown drive following the Jones interception was a promising step. The key play on that drive was an uncharacteristic -- albeit welcomed -- deep shot to Hunter Henry for 39 yards that put them inside the 5-yard line. If they can start introducing more of those deep shots into their offense, it'll go a long way in helping New England get into the postseason.
Another note regarding the offense: With Damien Harris (thigh) previously ruled out for this game and Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle) leaving the contest early, New England saw rookies Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong Jr. step up in a major way. The first-year backs each found the end zone and totaled 96 yards rushing on a 7.3 yards per carry average.
Why the Cardinals lost
Of course, it's never ideal to lose your franchise quarterback due to injury just three plays into a game, but this was a winnable matchup for Arizona even with Colt McCoy under center. It was able to move the ball against this Patriots defense early, but couldn't fully put them away, as it scored a touchdown on just one of its three red zone trips in the first half.
In the final seconds of the first half, Kliff Kingsbury continued his theme of being hyper-aggressive on fourth down and kept his offense on the field with 36 seconds remaining on the New England 32-yard line. McCoy had Trey McBride open in the flat for a first down, but the veteran quarterback didn't get enough on the ball, allowing Patriots linebacker Jahlani Tavai to tip it and force a turnover on downs. That gave the ball back to the Patriots, who'd quickly move down the field and kick a field goal to pull within three. That missed opportunity on fourth down at the end of the second quarter didn't dissuade Kingsbury from pushing the envelope on fourth down on the team's very next possession, in which it also failed to convert.
It was after that point when the Patriots defense put the clamps down on the Cardinals and started to create turnovers that catapulted them to victory.
On top of some questionable decisions on critical downs and poor play along the offensive line, the Cardinals were largely undisciplined. They were called for eight penalties, with a few erasing key plays early on, including an illegal shift that took away a third-and-13 conversion by Hopkins on the second possession of the night. The infraction effectively killed the drive.
The major swing in this game was unquestionably the Hopkins fumble returned for a touchdown. Just before that, the Cardinals defense forced a quick three-and-out of the Patriots offense that lasted just over 90 seconds, and it felt like New England was teetering on combusting internally. However, that scoop-and-score from McMillan gave the club new life and sparked a 14-0 run that would allow the Patriots to will out the win.
Hopkins was extremely sloppy with his handling of the football on the fumble, holding the ball with one hand and outstretched with his arm nowhere near his chest. That allowed Dugger plenty of space to punch it free.
Play of the game
James Conner's 10-yard touchdown run in the second quarter may get lost in the shuffle of defeat, but it was a tremendous display of strength by the veteran back. He took the first-and-goal carry from the 10-yard line up the gut, and it looked like he was going to be stopped for a minimal gain, as he met a collection of white jerseys around the line of scrimmage. Conner had other plans, however, and decided to barrel his way into the end zone, taking Patriots safety Devin McCourty along with him.
From here, the Cardinals will travel to Denver to take on the Broncos, who currently have starting quarterback Russell Wilson in concussion protocol. Meanwhile, the Patriots will remain out west, as they are set to take on the Raiders in Las Vegas next Sunday.
If Rhamondre Stevenson's ankle injury lingers into next week, Pierre Strong looks like the early candidate to take over as the lead back for New England. Kevin Harris technically has more carries, but he also fumbled. Strong, meanwhile, is up to 90 total yards on seven touches, including a touchdown. The rookie fourth-rounder has taken advantage of open holes.
A bright spot for the Patriots on this night:
Mac Jones is doing his best to create on a night that's still been scattershot for the Patriots offense. Quite a bit of running around for him, in and around the pocket, throughout the contest. Only averaging 6.6 yards per pass, but it's at least more efficient (barely) than the Cardinals' attack. Hunter Henry has accounted for most of their downfield production.
Hunter Henry's had a couple of big-time catches in open space tonight, and his latest, a 36-yarder, sets up a Pierre Strong TD run. Patriots now in control, up 27-13. Arizona has roughly one quarter to make up the difference. If they can stop coughing up the ball.
Third quarter in the books. Patriots remain in front, 20-13, but no lead is safe in this game. Now might be a good time for New England to get Kevin Harris or Pierre Strong working on the ground once again.
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