Patriots

Pats-Cards Overreactions: Was that New England's best defensive effort?

Patriots

The New England Patriots' roller coaster of a season is back on the rise.

After falling to the lowly Houston Texans in Week 11, the Patriots rallied to beat the 6-4 Arizona Cardinals 20-17 on Sunday.

The upset win moves New England to 5-6 and revives its fading playoff hopes with five games remaining in the season.

Highlights from Patriots' upset win over Cardinals

So, how did the Patriots pull off the victory despite a putrid offensive performance? Let's break down their Week 12 win with three overreactions from a wild contest at Gillette Stadium.

1. This was the Patriots defense's best game of the season ...

The defense must have heard the critics after getting lit up by Deshaun Watson last weekend.

New England's D held dynamic Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray out of the end zone for the first time all season Sunday, keeping the Patriots in the game despite their sputtering offense.

Murray finished with 170 passing yards on 23-of-34 attempts with zero touchdown passes, one interception and a 67.0 passer rating, his lowest in a game this season.

The Patriots' defense also made arguably the biggest play of the game by stuffing running back Kenyan Drake on a fourth-and-1 before halftime to prevent the Cardinals from extending their 10-7 lead.

New England allowed fewer points to the Miami Dolphins in the season opener, but considering the circumstances and the talent of its opponent, this may have been the unit's finest performance of 2020.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

2.  ... But special teams was still the MVP of this contest.

 

The Patriots' offense continues to look absolutely anemic, but the unit got a boost from a pair of key plays in the return game.

First, Donte Moncrief broke off a 53-yard kick return late in the first quarter that set up New England's first score, a 7-yard James White scamper.

Then Gunner Olszewski broke off an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown that was nullified by a questionable penalty on Anfernee Jennings but still gave the Patriots possession on the Cardinals' 39-yard line.

NFL Twitter reacts to controversial penalty on Pats' punt return

Olszewski's clutch return led to Nick Folk's field goal to tie the score at 10-10, and the Patriots kicker played hero for the second time this season when he booted the game-winning field goal as time expired.

Add a few solid Jake Bailey punts and some strong play from New England's punt- and kick return coverage teams, and Bill Belichick should be all smiles when he watches this film.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

3. The Patriots' offense needs serious help.

Cam Newton and Co. mustered just 179 yards of total offense Sunday. That's the third-fewest ever in the Belichick era. The normally potent rushing attack averaged just 3.7 yards per carry, as Damien Harris carried 14 times for just 47 yards.

The Patriots essentially couldn't move the ball against a pedestrian Cardinals defense missing several key players, including Pro Bowler Chandler Jones. N'Keal Harry (zero catches on three targets) continues to be a nonfactor in a passing attack that relied on Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd for 85 of its 84 yards. (James White caught one pass for -1 yards.)

If it wasn't for the stellar play of New England's defense and special teams, this game would have been a rout. But once again, the Patriots proved they can somehow find a way to win despite getting virtually no production from its offense.

Verdict: Overreaction