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New England Patriots Look Back: Arizona Cardinals deliver shock

The New England Patriots 2012 season was filled with several memorable moments, and several moments that Pats fans would like to forget. And yet, those bad moments will all prove to be learning experiences, and the Patriots loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 was one of these learning experiences. They say you learn more from a loss than a win, and it’s safe to say the Pats were taught a tough lesson in that disheartening 20-18 loss to the Cardinals. This “Look Back” series aims to look back at the various storylines that transpired throughout the Pats 2012 campaign, and the series is largely pushed forward by viewer suggestions. Please get to us via email, Twitter, or Facebook with your suggestion for the next piece. Thank you.

The suggestion for the Cardinals game was given by my good friend Max, and you can reach him on Twitter @seytonmanning. This is the second piece of the series, and you can read the first one on Chandler Jones here.

In Week 1, the New England Patriots easily defeated the Tennessee Titans 34-13, and a home game against the Arizona Cardinals seemed like it would be a guaranteed win. The Patriots were high off of the convincing win against the Titans, and the Cardinals lack of offense made most people think the Patriots would easily outscore the Cards.

But the Cards vaunted defense showed up big time, whilst the Patriots heavyweight offense looked very light indeed. Stevan Ridley wasn’t the first or last running back to be stifled by the Cardinals run defense, and one can argue that averaging 3.94 yards per carry against the Cardinals is actually solid.

Nevertheless, the Patriots offense couldn’t get anything going against the Cardinals defense. Tom Brady played his worst game of the season against Arizona by posting a putrid 30.6 TQBR. The 316 yards in that game meant nothing, because Brady looked uncharacteristically inaccurate and averaged under seven yards per attempt overall.

The big issue for the Patriots in that game was the fact that they got absolutely nothing going downfield. Brandon Lloyd finished with eight receptions, but they were all on very short passes (7.5 yards per catch). Julian Edelman also averaged just ten yards per reception. The irony of this game for the Pats receivers was the fact that Wes Welker was their best deep threat (19 yards per catch), and you have to look at this game as damning evidence that the Pats need a deep threat this offseason. They still haven’t found one, and I would be extremely disappointed if the Pats didn’t come away with somebody in the draft or Emmanuel Sanders.

One of the reasons why I wanted to do this “Look Back” series is because it brings these sort of issues to the forefront in hindsight so that we have 20/20 vision and can put things into context.

Anyway, back to the game. So the Patriots ended up getting the ball back after a clutch play from Brandon Spikes to force Ryan Williams into fumbling the ball. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork promptly pounced on it, and Danny Woodhead won us the game. He ran for an incredible 30-yard touchdown with just a minute left in the game, and thus Woodhead proved in the biggest way possible why he is the most clutch back in the NFL.

Unfortunately, that would have been the headline had Rob Gronkowski not been flagged for a controversial holding call (my buddies were really pissed at the replacement refs after this game). But all was not over for the Patriots even though that touchdown was called back. Stephen Gostkowski had a chance to punch the ball through the uprights with the Pats down 20-18, but the 42-yard field goal was sent wide left.

Now Gostkowski in the beginning of the season was a storyline of his own. There were so many people who wanted Gostkowski gone after this game, and I even got into it with a few people on Twitter over wanting to kick Gostkowski out of his job. It was a very disappointing miss, but releasing Gostkowski would have been a scapegoat move for the Patriots. Let’s face it, the offense played like crap against the Cardinals. 18 points? I don’t care whose defense that is or how unlucky the game was from your perspective, losing 20-18 to the Cardinals was not acceptable.

And the fact that it was unacceptable made it a lesson for the Patriots. Call it the “WTF” loss (a la the Buffalo Bills loss in 2011) and the Pats getting it out of their system early on, because this truly was a learning experience for the Patriots early in the season. The Pats were humbled by this loss, and I bet Bill Belichick had some choice words following the game to give it a nice wrap-up.

What happened to Gostkowksi? Well, the talking heads, radio show hosts, and fans all spit their takes, some more educated than others. The Patriots handled the Gostkowski situation the right way by bringing in other kickers for workouts to push Gostkowski, and it never seemed like they were going to legitimately replace Gostkowski (unless if things really did slide out of control). I was initially critical of their decision to work out several subpar kickers like Billy Cundiff and Graham Gano, largely because I was paranoid about them signing one of those guys and paranoid that Gostkowski had a fragile psyche. However, Gostkowski proved he was a gamer, and the message I got from some of his press conference was, “Get off me, I know I’m in a small funk but it’s not a big deal. I’ll snap out of it, I have one of the best career field goal percentages, and the holding and kicking will get better. Relax. They’re pushing me to do better, and I’m going to do better; it’s not a big deal.”

Playing teams in the NFC West last season was certainly treacherous, and the Patriots only defeated one NFC West team last year; the St. Louis Rams. You have to also remember that the Arizona Cardinals were a much different team with Kevin Kolb under center and without Kolb, because they were undefeated with Kolb healthy. After Kolb went down, they couldn’t even beat the New York Jets (7-6, still have no idea how that was a real football game).

So the Pats loss to the Cardinals delivered some shockwaves throughout Foxboro, but there were several fans who kept it all in the right context and just looked at it as a learning process. In the end, those fans were right. Just want to give a shout out to the commenters and writers on Pats Pulpit, because I distinctly remember those guys offering up great takes on the game.

One of the most important events that took place during this loss was the injury to star tight end Aaron Hernandez, and this most definitely had a lasting effect on the Patriots in 2012. Hernandez’s ankle sprain was slow to heal, and the Pats rushed him back in the middle of the season. Had Hernandez not suffered that injury against the Cards, he would have had a true breakout campaign.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

 

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Tags: Aaron Hernandez Arizona Cardinals Bill Belichick Brandon Lloyd Brandon Spikes Danny Woodhead Julian Edelman Kevin Kolb New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski Stephen Gostkowski Stevan Ridley Tom Brady Vince Wilfork Wes Welker

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