By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Well. That’s one way to start a season.
There’s just something about Glendale and the Patriots that is a recipe for drama, and the latest chapter was yet another down-to-the-wire finish. With a lot of preparation — and a little bit of good fortune — the Patriots were able to escape Arizona with a 23-21 victory to start the season 1-0.
This was a game, mind you, which the Patriots entered as 9.5-point underdogs. Experts said they wouldn’t even be competitive, yet they went ahead and won it anyway.
That being established, it wasn’t a perfect game, and the Patriots were a bit fortunate to walk away winners. But that’s football — and here’s who shined, and who didn’t, in the season-opening victory.
Early on, Jimmy Garoppolo needed a go-to guy. Julian Edelman happily volunteered.
Put simply, Edelman was playing like it was his last night at the planet. He was running around at a breakneck speed, looking to be the one delivering the hits instead of the one getting hit. Even sideline ball boys weren’t safe.
All told, Edelman caught seven passes for 66 yards, and he also had three carries for 16 yards. But he set a tone early, and he caught three passes on the team’s opening drive, which ended in a touchdown. All three of those receptions created first downs.
With no Tom Brady and no Rob Gronkowski, the offense needed a leader. Edelman happily stepped up.
He played all preseason with a frightening look in his eyes, and it all led to Long busting out in his first real game with the Patriots.
His focus is obvious, and on Sunday night, he showed up in a big way. On a third-and-2 with the Cardinals in field-goal range, Long bullied his way through left tackle Jared Veldheer, whose hand to Long’s face couldn’t slow down the rush. Long sacked Carson Palmer on the play, forcing Arizona out of field-goal range and keeping points off the board.
He sandwiched Palmer again on the final play of the first half, and he drew a massively important holding penalty on the final Arizona drive — a penalty which again pushed the Cardinals out of field-goal range. Though the Cardinals did eventually get back into range, the penalty for holding Long reshaped the dynamic of that end-of-game situation.
Long just looks like a man possessed.
It’s always a bit of a mystery how new wide receivers will fit into the Patriots’ system, but Hogan got off to about the best start one could hope for by hauling in a 37-yard touchdown up the left sideline on his very first drive with his new team.
He was a bit excited.
LeGarrette Blount/Jimmy Garoppolo
They’re in here together, because they’ll reappear together in the Downs, too.
But for now, the positives. Blount was a workhorse, getting 22 carries and rushing for 70 yards and a touchdown. It was important work, because with an inexperienced quarterback and without Rob Gronkowski around, the passing game absolutely needed a rushing game in order for the offense to work. Thanks to Blount, it did. His highlights included a 13-yard spring on a third-and-11, and an 8-yard touchdown run which ended with Blount dragging multiple red jerseys on his back.
For Garoppolo, he was sharp early, and sharp late. He showed impressive poise on the road in a loud stadium facing a fierce defense, and he made some huge passes when the game was on the line. The spotlight was squarely on him, and he didn’t shy away.
Extra Point: Stephen Gostkowski
He was a perfect 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts, including what proved to be the game-winner late in the fourth. He also showed off his new skill, enticing Arizona to try to return four kickoffs. Useful.
LeGarrette Blount And Jimmy Garoppolo
For all of their contributions, Blount and Garoppolo were kind of the reason the game ever became close. Garoppolo fumbled in the second quarter, leading to the Cardinals’ first touchdown of the night, cutting the Patriots’ lead to 10-7. And Blount fumbled in the third quarter, leading to the Cardinals’ second touchdown of the night, cutting the Patriots’ lead to 17-14.
Two turnovers. Two touchdowns.
Accidents happen, but if the Patriots had ended up losing, those fumbles would be in the spotlight all week long.
Continuing on the mistakes theme, the Patriots committed a number of unnecessary penalties, finishing with eight for 69 yards.
On the whole, the offensive line did OK, considering the personnel. But David Andrews (tripping), Marcus Cannon (holding) and Ted Karras (holding) all got flagged for penalties, and so did tight ends A.J. Derby (false start) and Martellus Bennett (holding, albeit a bogus call). Cannon also surrendered a Chandler Jones sack which made the final scoring drive that much more difficult for Garoppolo.
After the game, Bill Belichick harped on the penalties multiple times, so you can bet there will be some unpleasant moments in the film room over the next day or two for the players.
Two plays in particular stood out with regard to the Patriots’ struggles to bring the ball carrier to the ground.
The first was a 45-yard run by David Johnson. Vincent Valentine tried to wrap him up behind the line of scrimmage. Dont’a Hightower joined in with a helmet to the torso. Logan Ryan got a hand on the running back. Patrick Chung bowled all of his teammates over. Devin McCourty was stiff-armed away. Duron Harmon wiped out. Eventually, McCourty brough Johnson down, but the damage was done.
The tackling issues popped back up on the final Arizona drive, when Palmer completed a simple four-yard pass to Fitzgerald. But Hightower overpursued and was left with nothing after his arm-tackle attempt. Justin Coleman tried to take out Fitzgerald’s legs; he failed. Very quickly, a four-yard pass turned into a 21-yard gain to get Arizona out of trouble.
Maybe it’s a product of the limited amount of hitting in the summer. But tackling around the league didn’t look great on Sunday, and the Patriots were no exception.
(Considering the “Downs” included a duo and then two team areas, that counts as well more than just four. And, after a win like that, there’s no need to harp on the negatives for too, too long. So that’ll do it for this one.)