Patriots

Patriots

Bill Belichick could have focused on any number of plays from scrimmage as the key to his team's victory. Instead, ever the special teams coach, he chose a kickoff.

The final kickoff, specifically, is the one that Belichick appreciated most. After the Patriots took a 23-21 lead with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal with less than four minutes remaining in the game, Belichick's club did what it could to pin the Cardinals deep in their own territory. 

Gostkowski's boot flew to the Arizona three-yard line, and returner Andre Ellington was only able to bring it back to his team's 17-yard line. Safeties Nate Ebner and Patrick Chung were the first Patriots to the ball-carrier, and undrafted rookie corner Jonathan Jones used his speed to get down the field and draw a holding penalty that pushed the Cardinals back to their own eight-yard line.

"Obviously," Belichick said, "big play in the game was the [final] kickoff. Making the tackle down there on the 15, getting the penalty. That field position ended up being a real big factor there on the final kick."

We know how things went from there. The Cardinals drove the field, made it to the Patriots 29-yard line, and lined up a 47-yard field goal that missed following a Patriots time out

Had the Patriots not started that drive with such advantageous field position, the job of the Cardinals field-goal unit would have been made that much easier. 

 

"I thought it was really good," Belichick added on Gostkowski's final kick of the night. "We went into the game feeling like we had to make some field-position plays in the kicking game. Obvously you don't want to put their offense on a short field. If you can pile a few more yards onto the drive, hopefully it works in your favor.

"I know there's a lot of sentiment to eliminate that play, but I think those are the kind of plays that are good strategy plays in football. Certainly we had the opportunity to kick it out of the end zone on the last kickoff but with a good field-goal kicker, good offense, good quarterback, we tried to put them on as long a field as we could.

"Chung did a great job, went down there, made the play. Jones, as he did all night was a big factor on coverage. Think he was the one that got the holding call. That was a great situational play. We needed it at that time. In the end, those yards showed up on the other end of the field."

The Patriots kicked off six times in the game -- their first six kicks under the new touchback rule that gives teams starting field position at the 25-yard line. Of their five kicks, two were kicked deep for touchbacks, while the other four were targeted for the area near the Cardinals goal line to encourage returns. The Cardinals starting field position on those four kicks was their 11-yard line, their 19-yard line, their 16-yard line and their eight-yard line (due to a penalty enforced at the 16-yard line).