Patriots-Cardinals Score, Takeaways: New England defense hounds Arizona big win without Kyler Murray

After a 27-13 win over the Cardinals on “Monday Night Football,” the Patriots moved to 7-6 on the season. The win not only pushed New England over .500, but also into the No. 7 seed in the AFC playoff picture, moving ahead of the Chargers and Jets.

It was a game filled with a variety of injuries, but none more notable than Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. He suffered a non-contact knee injury on the third play of the game and had to be carted off the field. Preliminary tests suggest Murray fears he tore his ACL, which if an MRI confirms/will end his season. That would push Colt McCoy into the starting spot under center as Monday night.

Under duress, McCoy was solid and helped Arizona jump out to a field-goal lead at halftime. Thanks to back-to-back halftime possessions that both led to field goals, New England was able to tie the game at 13 apiece early in the second half, but it was another fumble on the offensive side of the ball. Patriots.

However, their defense was able to carry them to victory after causing turnovers on back-to-back drives in the tail end of the third quarter. First, Kyle Tucker fumbled DeAndre Hopkins and Raequan McMillan took it 29 yards for a touchdown to go up 20-13. On the following Cardinals possession, Josh Uche knocked a McCoy throw off its path and landed in the hands of freshman Marcus Jones. The offense put together a five-play, 63-yard touchdown drive with a 39-yard reception by Hunter Henry en route to the victory.

Mack Jones was 24 of 35 for 235 yards and an interception on the night. With the backfield packed, running backs Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris each managed to find the end zone. On the Arizona side, McCoy finished 27 of 40 with 246 yards and an interception. James Conner rushed 15 times for 85 yards and a touchdown.

For more details on how this game unfolded, check out our takeaways below.

Why the Patriots won

For most of this game, the offense will once again be New England’s undoing. There were several questionable play calls, including a first-down run with 10 seconds left in the first half. There were times in this game where Mack Jones was frustrated with how the offense was performing.

It’s amazing how a few key defensive plays can not only flip the script for this game, but also lighten the mood on the New England sideline. In the second half, the Patriots defense overwhelmed the Arizona offense and continued to pressure Colt McCoy. As a team, New England compiled six sacks, half of which came from linebacker Josh Uche. Matt Juden has been a staple in the Cardinals backfield, already adding a career-high 1.5 sacks.

That consistent pressure helped lead to a shutout in the second half and contributed to one of the game’s key turnovers. Uche was able to quickly get the pressure on McCoy on the ensuing possession, following a scoop-and-score by Hopkins and McMillan’s forced fumble by Tucker. He rocketed to the left side of the line and hit McCoy as Hopkins attempted a deep ball down the left sideline. It changed the trajectory of the ball and landed in the hands of Marcus Jones. New England now has 85 turnovers this season, the most in the NFL.

While the offense certainly still needs to get into a better rhythm for a full game, Jones’ interception was a promising step following that touchdown drive. A deep shot to Hunter Henry for 39 yards put them inside the 5-yard line. If they can introduce more depth to their offense, it will help New England tremendously entering the postseason.

Another note on offense: With Damien Harris (thigh) out earlier in the game and Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle) out early, New England will be without freshmen Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong Jr. were advanced in an important way. The first-year backs each found the end zone and rushed for a total of 96 yards for a 7.3 yards per carry average.

Why the Cardinals lost

Of course, losing your franchise quarterback to injury just three plays into a game is never ideal, but this was a winnable matchup for Arizona even with Colt McCoy under center. It was able to move the ball early against this Patriots defense, but couldn’t completely throw them away, scoring a touchdown on one of its three red-zone trips in the first half.

In the closing seconds of the first half, Kliff Kingsbury continued to be very aggressive on fourth down and drove his offense down the field at the New England 32-yard line with 36 seconds left. McCoy found Trey McBride wide open for a first down in the flat, but the veteran quarterback didn’t get far enough on the ball and Patriots linebacker Jahlani Tawai tipped it, causing a turnover. That gave the ball back to the Patriots, who quickly drove down the field and kicked a field goal to pull within three. A missed fourth down late in the second quarter didn’t stop Kingsbury from punting on fourth down on the team’s next possession, in which it also failed to convert.

It was only after that that the Patriots defense eased the clamps on the Cardinals and started creating turnovers that led them to victory.

On top of some questionable decisions on critical downs and poor play, the Cardinals were largely undisciplined. They were called for eight penalties, ruining a few key plays early on, including an illegal shift on Hopkins’ third-and-13 conversion on the second possession of the night. The breach effectively killed the movement.

turning point

The key swing of the game was undoubtedly Hopkins’ fumble return for a touchdown. Just before that, the Cardinals defense forced a quick three-and-out that lasted just over 90 seconds, and New England felt like it was on fire inside. However, that scoop-and-score by McMillan breathed new life into the club and sparked a 14-0 run that would allow the Patriots to pull out the win.

Hopkins was too slow to handle the football on the fumble, catching the ball with one hand and extending his arm anywhere near his chest. This allowed Tucker plenty of room to poke free.

Game of the game

James Connor’s 10-yard touchdown run in the second quarter may have been lost in the shuffle of the loss, but it was a tremendous display of strength from the senior back. He took a first-and-goal carry from the 10-yard line to the gut, and as he met a cluster of white jerseys around the line of scrimmage, it looked like he was going to be stopped for a limited gain. However, Conner had other plans and decided to take Patriots safety Devin McCourty with him and head into the end zone.

What’s next

From here, the Cardinals travel to Denver to face the Broncos, who are currently starting quarterback Russell Wilson in the concussion protocol. Meanwhile, the Patriots will stay out west as they prepare to face the Raiders next Sunday in Las Vegas.

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