Cardinals vs. Patriots: New England's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 2
The Patriots looked grim and dismal all afternoon. They were flat, unhinged, sloppy, unfocused and awful. They played like a team that deserved to lose.
For the first three quarters, the Patriots never showed a real sign of life. The Cardinals played the game on their terms and forced the Patriots to play Arizona football.
Late in the third quarter and into the fourth, the Patriots were getting hit with huge penalties and finding themselves on the losing end of challenges. Brady's offense was stuck in quicksand and Kevin Kolb was playing one of the best games of his life.
With 14:00 left in the game, the Patriots were down 20-9. Despite the closable nature of that gap, the game already felt over. The Patriots had nothing positive to hang their hat on.
With 12:51 left, Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Lloyd made big consecutive catches. Arizona challenged Lloyd's catch, but the ruling was upheld. With that decision, three good things happened in a row. It seemed like the tide was turning.
But again, the Patriots couldn't convert their opportunities into points. This was the pattern all afternoon.
Late in the fourth, Brady drove the team down field for a score. Not surprisingly, a two-point attempt went haywire and the conversion fell flat.
A big-time fumble from Arizona gave New England the ball back. Brady led his team down field and let Stephen Gostkowski take his shot at the game-winning field goal.
He missed it. The Cardinals won, 20-18.
Thus ended one of the bleakest and most wretched performances I've ever witnessed from the Patriots.
Here are New England's biggest winners and losers from Week 2.
Losers: Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd
We keep sweeping the disconnection between Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd under the carpet and justifying it with the notion that chemistry takes time to develop.
Well, you know what? The Patriots lost two Super Bowls to the same team, they haven't hoisted the trophy since 2004 and they just lost to the Arizona Cardinals. How long do fans have to wait for this flirtatious dance to become a relationship?
Lloyd had eight receptions and 60 yards against the Cardinals. He had five receptions and 69 yards against the Titans last week. These two games have been an extension of the preseason, in which Brady and Lloyd struggled to connect in any meaningful way.
I'm more than willing to stand by and watch them improve their chemistry, but only if I know there's any real chemistry there to begin with.
As of now, I'm not so sure there is.
Winner: Stevan Ridley
Stevan Ridley had another nice outing against the Cardinals with 18 carries and 71 yards. Those stats were a bit down from his Week 1 performance against the Titans (21 carries, 125 yards), but the general path towards establishing him as its franchise back still feels very serious and deliberate on New England's part.
Ridley continues to be one of the brightest stars of the 2012 Patriots.
Loser: Stephen Gostkowski
After connecting on four straight field goals from crazy distances and single-handedly keeping the Patriots relevant in this game, Stephen Gostkowski missed the game-winning field goal and cemented the team's first loss of the 2012 season.
In all fairness, though, this defeat wasn't Gostkowski's fault.
In fact, if you were to compile a "blame list," one could easily place Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Donald Thomas, Marcus Cannon, Tom Brady and Danny Woodhead ahead of Gostkowski.
Nevertheless, Gostkowski needs to be singled out here for one big reason: the devastation of the moment.
For years now, we've been waiting for Gostkowski to have his "Adam Vinatieri moment." And sure, this wasn't the proper forum for such a moment, but it was still a chance for heroism. In nailing this field goal, Gostkowski could've captured some degree of lightning in his bottle.
But now, he's in a strange situation. There's a black mark on his body of work. Patriots fans will eagerly forgive him, considering he's normally a tremendous kicker, but the burden is still on his shoulders to keep his chin up.
If we're going to be successful, we need Gostkowski clear-headed and confident.
Winners: Jerod Mayo, Chandler Jones and Brandon Spikes
Jerod Mayo had nine tackles on the afternoon. Only two games into the season, this guy has 22 tackles already. He's a beast. He's a machine. He's elite.
Chandler Jones brought consistent pressure on Arizona's offense, racked up five tackles, forced a key fumble, drew a big holding penalty and caused massive disruption throughout the day.
Along with Stevan Ridley, Jones is establishing himself as one of the most important members of the 2012 Patriots.
Brandon Spikes was energetic, brutal and focused all day. He forced a key fumble down the stretch, which gave the Patriots an opportunity to steal the game.
Jones, Spikes and Mayo are consistent warriors. Even in one of the most agonizing, hair-pulling games I've ever seen, these three guys shined.
Loser: New England's Swagger
The Patriots are a title contender every season. Still, though, they rarely blow out their opponents. On certain days, they even lose to bad teams.
This reminds me of another Boston team: the Celtics.
For both the Patriots and Celtics, almost every game they play is a knock-down, drag-out affair. Even against bad opponents, these Boston teams need every ounce of their strength and cunning to win.
These teams should be winning multiple championships, but instead, they're always too busy being engaged in mortal combat with inferior enemies, coming up with chess moves down the stretch or using cerebral methods to fight off opponents who employ sheer physical force.
These Boston teams are excellent, but they get beat up during the regular season. They take strong punches on the chin without absorbing the shock. They get bruised, battered and tired.
Along the way, they have a tendency to lose their swagger. Opponents head into playoff games with the belief that they can beat these teams because they've seen them get roughed-up before.
The Patriots need to take a stand. Right here, right now. Losing to the Cardinals? They shouldn't have even been engaged in a close game with this opponent. Tom Brady should've been resting in the fourth quarter instead of spearheading a comeback attempt.
The Patriots should've blown them out and sent a message to the rest of the league that this team is on a mission and they won't be deterred or thwarted.
The Giants made that statement on Sunday. Why didn't the Patriots?
Loser: The 'Bend Don't Break' Philosophy
As we all know, the Patriots prescribe to the "bend don't break" philosophy of football.
"Bend don't break" is fine, but when you lose two Super Bowls to the same opponent without breaking 20 points in either game, you're breaking. And when you make Kevin Kolb look like a legitimate starting quarterback in the NFL, you are really, truly, officially splitting wide open.
What happened on Sunday is absolutely ridiculous. Every Patriots fan has a right to be shocked, angry and mortified. And while this single loss should ultimately be viewed in the proper context of a much longer season, the fact is that the Patriots just showed how far they are from where they want to be.
The "bend don't break" philosophy is dead.
From here on out, bending is as good as breaking.
You're either good enough to win a championship or you aren't.
I love the Patriots more than anything, but what I saw on Sunday is a broken team that hasn't even picked a path, let alone a destination.