(Note: Many scientists believe there are countless time-space continuums. We at all22.com found one where the word ‘Deflategate’ never existed. In this world, Tom Brady was never suspended and was playing Sunday night for the New England Patriots against the Arizona Cardinals.)
GLENDALE, Ariz. – The New England Patriots could not count on Malcolm Butler’s heroics or Pete Carroll’s questionable play-calling to rescue them in the Arizona desert Sunday night.
They instead needed a patented Tom Brady come-from-behind, late-game drive and a 39-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski with 13 seconds to play to slip past the Arizona Cardinals 23-21 in their NFL 2016 season opener.
Both the Patriots and Cardinals came up a win short of the Super Bowl last January. The Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks here in Super Bowl XXXIX. University of Phoenix Stadium was also the scene of the most traumatic on-field moment in Patriots history: the 18-1-inducing loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
With Brady’s Canton-bound arm and Gostkowski’s tarnished golden toe, the Patriots withstood a fierce Cardinals defense commanded by ex-Patriot Chandler Jones. Brady was sacked 4 times, including twice by Jones, as the Cardinals enjoyed the benefits of an untested New England offensive line. New England committed an uncharacteristic 3 turnovers, both resulting in Cardinal scores, and rolled up 85 yards in penalties.
The Patriots AFC title game debacle in Denver dominated the football conversation from Maine to Connecticut during the offseason. A TMZ report in March about so-called “deflated” footballs being used in the Patriots AFC 27-20 divisional win over the Kansas City Chiefs was quickly refuted by team and NFL officials.
The Patriots were their resilient selves. The oft-concussed Julian Edelman caught 13 passes for 115 yards. He also converted on 3 third-downs and caught Brady’s lone TD pass, a 22-yard strike.
“Tom is special. I mean really special,” Edelman said through tears after the game. “He is my man.”
Brady was less emotional, if not pleased.
“It’s been a long offseason,” Brady said. “It was a good team win. A lot of guys contributed. Stephen was huge at the end. We fought hard, I think our defense played incredibly. Offensively we did enough. I think we took advantage of some opportunities and didn’t make any really big mistakes so that was pretty important. I got the ball in the end zone when we had the chance, so just keep plugging along.”
While the Patriots were unable to stretch Brady’s passing game (he finished a tepid 23-for-26, 214 yards, 1 TD), they did score on their first 4 possessions of the second half. Gostkowski kicked 2 of his 3 field goals during that run.
LeGarrette Blount scored New England’s other TD with a 7-yard bull-rush, carrying 6 defenders on his back for the ride.
— Obnoxious Boston Fan (@realOBF) September 12, 2016
Coach Bill Belichick never doubted that New England could switch its defensive schemes enough to confuse Arizona QB Carson Palmer. The Patriots were playing without linebacker Rob Ninkovich, serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
“We have to improve in all areas of the game. We played a lot of different people, that’s what we have been doing along the front. Our linebackers did a good job, they had good coverage, they gave up a couple of big plays, but on a down in down out basis I thought we competed well, tackled well, we were able to get off the field on third down, had a couple of stops when they got it down there to hold them to field goals and then a fourth down stop there in the third quarter. Our red to high red area defense, third down defense, those are some big keys for us.”
Gostkowski felt a measure of redemption after making all of his kicks – including 2 no-sure-thing extra points. New England’s 20-18 battering at the hands of the Broncos last January was lowlighted by Gostkowski’s first missed point in 10 years and 524 tries.
“I still feel like I cost us a win in Denver last year. Nothing will take away from that, but this feels good to do my job.”
The Patriots only allowed 2 sustained, time-consuming drives that led to touchdowns Sunday, one in the third quarter and another in the fourth that put Arizona up 21-20 .
Palmer connected with Larry Fitzgerald as he outfought Logan Ryan in the corner of the end zone. It was Fitzgerald’s 100th career TD catch.
— Jaison Davis (@JaiHawkFly) September 12, 2016
The teams would exchange punts. Then Brady, who turned 39 in August, would then lead the Patriots up field with the same poise he displayed leading New England back from a 24-14 deficit during the Super Bowl 20 months ago on this same scientifically enhanced grass turf. Starting from his own 25, Brady had New England past midfield in just 3 snaps, hitting Edelman, Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett on consecutive plays.
A penalty and a 13-yard catch and run from James White left the Patriots with the ball at the 24 and set up the game-winning kick.
“There’s no quarterback I’d rather have than Tom Brady. He’s the best. He does so much for us in so many ways on so many different levels,” Belichick said. “I’m really fortunate that he’s our quarterback and for what he’s able to do for this team. It’s good to win with him and all the rest of our players.”
The Cardinals were unable to control possession or the line of scrimmage. Arizona converted on just 9 of 21 third-down tries.
“We didn’t do enough,” Palmer (31-for-45, 289 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) said. “Our offense was disjointed all night.”
The Patriots did just enough, as they so often do. New England played without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed much of training game and all 4 preseason games with a right hamstring injury. Dion Lewis, who emerged as a star for the Patriots in the first half of 2015, remains out for at least 8 weeks.
Brady was able to adapt and keep the Cardinals guessing all night – usually wrong.
“He’s a tough SOB to play against in practice,” Jones said. “In a game, he’s brutal.”