FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- If the New England Patriots are to make a charge in their final five games of the season in hopes of a long-shot playoff berth, they’ll need to duplicate the formula that helped them upset the Arizona Cardinals 20-17 on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
The defense mostly bottled up dangerous quarterback Kyler Murray and didn’t allow him to beat them with his legs. The kickoff- and punt-return units delivered big plays, which, in turn, helped the not-too-explosive Cam Newton-led offense with short fields to make life easier for them.
It’s what coach Bill Belichick often refers to as "complementary football."
Yes, it also came with some good fortune, with Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez missing a 45-yard field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter, which could have been the knockout punch.
That allowed Newton and the Patriots’ offense to take over at their own 35-yard line to set up Nick Folk’s 50-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.
The Patriots improve to 5-6 with the victory, with their next three games on the road -- against the Chargers, Rams and Dolphins -- before wrapping up the regular season with home games against the Bills and Jets.
They’ll likely need to run the table to have a shot of playing in the postseason.
While a tall task, they ensured that there is still something to play for by recovering from a slow start against the Cardinals, and giving Murray -- who was playing through an injured right shoulder -- all he could handle.
QB breakdown: Newton completed 9-of-18 passes for 84 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. The first pick wasn’t necessarily his fault, as the Patriots struggled with a blitz pickup off the right side of the line, and the ball was tipped in the air. Newton added nine rushes for 46 yards -- with his most important yards coming on a 14-yard run during the game-winning drive, a play that included a penalty on Cardinals rookie Isaiah Simmons for unnecessary roughness that added 15 yards. Newton appeared to be apologizing to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels after the game for the fourth-quarter pick, but he made up for it with his play on the game-winning drive.
Describe the game in two words: Containing Kyler. The Patriots’ defense, which was shredded by Deshaun Watson the week before, bounced back in a big way, with defensive tackle Adam Butler as one of the stars of the show.
Pivotal play: They don’t get much bigger than a 50-yard field goal with no time left, with veteran Folk thrusting his arms in the air right after the ball left his foot. He knew it was good. It was his second game-winning field goal of the season in that type of situation.