5 Takeaways from the Patriots' Stunning Defeat to the Cardinals

Sebastian LenaAnalyst ISeptember 17, 2012

5 Takeaways from the Patriots' Stunning Defeat to the Cardinals

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    Following a decisive 34-13 thumping of the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, the New England Patriots looked set to put it on cruise control.

    A revamped defense. Two up-and-coming tight ends re-signed to long-term contracts. The arrival of a top-flight wide receiver. The emergence of a true rushing threat.

    This was quickly shaping up to be the year that Bill Belichick decided he was tired of leading the rest of the league to believe he was, in fact, human. He would surely regain his immortality as the King of the NFL landscape come February.

    Then the Arizona Cardinals came into town. 

    Riding the momentum of backup quarterback Kevin Kolb, the Cardinals escaped Foxboro with a stunning 20-18 victory.

    A late fumble recovery by Vince Wilfork gave the Patriots a heartbeat. However, a botched Stephen Gostkowski 42-yard field goal quickly took it away.

    The defeat marked the first time the Patriots dropped a home opener at Gillette Stadium in 11 openers since the team moved there in 2002.

    While many in Foxboro rushed to sound the alarm, allow me to provide you with some food for thought.

    Here are 5 takeaways from Sunday's loss. 

1. This Defense Will Win Some Games

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    Just last season, the Patriots held the reigns to the second-worst defense in the NFL—allowing an average of 411 total yards per game. 

    Through two games this season, the Patriots have only allowed 529 yards—good for second in the league.

    A stunning role-reversal for a unit that has been carried by the offense for years.

    But the most impressive feat accomplished by the defense early on is the way they've shut down their opponents' biggest threat. 

    Chris Johnson in Week 1? 11 carries for four yards. 

    Larry Fitzgerald in Week 2? One catch for four yards.

    That's getting it done. Good luck this weekend, Ray Rice.

    But while shutting down the opposing threats will keep the Patriots in the game, it's the takeaways that will set the offense up with better field position and an increased chance to win the game.

    Last season is living proof of that.

    Although they allowed so many yards to the opposition, the team ranked first in the AFC in takeaways with 34. So far this season, they rank fourth with four.

    On Sunday, with the Cardinals gaining a first down, and no time outs remaining for the Patriots, the game was as good as lost.

    Then the defense took matters into their own hands, forced a turnover, and gave the ball back to the offense in Arizona territory.

    Takeaways give teams chances to win. Expect this defensive unit to do just that for the Patriots this season.

    It’s a chance the Patriots will make good 99 out of 100 times.

2. Welker's Importance Only Grows with the Absense of Hernandez

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    Since 2011, the Patriots have lead the NFL in utilizing at least two tight ends in 80.1% of their offensive plays (926 of 1,149). That includes all 66 plays in their Week 1 victory over the Titans.

    Needless to say, losing Aaron Hernandez to an ankle injury in the first quarter threw a wrench into the Patriots' offense Sunday. 

    How big of an impact did Hernandez's absence have on the game?

    Consider the fact that the Patriots only utilized two tight ends 20 times out of 77 offensive plays Sunday and only averaged 3.0 yards per play. Compare that to their 5.9 average in 66 plays in Week 1.

    Houston, we have a problem.

    But that's where Wes Welker comes in.

    In a move that surprised many, the Patriots had Welker listed third on the depth chart behind Julian Edleman. On Sunday, Edelman was on the field for 75 plays, while Welker was on for 63.

    It's a surprising drop for a receiver who was on the field more than any other receiver for the Patriots last season (89 percent of the time).

    The move become even more boggling when you take into consideration that Welker has outperformed Edelman in both games—8 receptions for 109 yards versus six for 57 yards. 

    Whether or not the demotion stems from Welker's disagreement with the Patriots' front office this offseason is unknown. 

    Whatever the case, Welker's performance on Sunday magnified just how important he is to the success of this offense.

    Now, more than ever. 

3. Ridley Is the Answer to the Run Game

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    After his eye-grabbing performance against the Titans in Week 1 (125 yards on 21 carries), Ridley was the talk around Foxboro.

    While impressed by his outburst, many wondered if this was just a flash in the pan.

    After rushing for 71 yards on 18 carries, along with hauling in three grabs for 24 yards, we can officially put the concerns to rest. 

    With 196 rushing yards in the first two weeks of the season, Ridley ranks second in franchise history behind Corey Dillon's 244 in the first two weeks of the 2004 season. That year, Dillon rushed for 1,635 yards.

    I'd say that's good company to be in.

    Although he didn't reach the endzone on Sunday, Ridley was still effective at something that's quickly becoming his trademark: moving the chains.

    Ridley gained six more first downs against the Cardinals to increase his league-leading total to 16.

    If he keeps it up, Ridley just might be the missing piece to the puzzle for the Patriots in their quest for their fourth Lombardi trophy. 

4. New England Fans Are Spoiled Rotten

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    I get the argument. They paid for the seats so they have every right to boo if they'd like. 

    But I'll counter with this: three Super Bowl titles, five conference championships, nine divisional titles, and the most wins by any NFL team since 2000 (140). 

    How dare you boo that

    Sure the Patriots' offense looked like they were sleepwalking for much of the game, but to boo your hometown team is something else.

    Cardinals' defensive back James Sanders went as far as to call it an advantage.

    "Sometimes [Patriots' fans] get impatient," the former Patriot said. "I knew if we jumped on them the way we did, they would turn on them a little bit. That helped us out a lot today."

    I'm sure that sits well in the stomachs of those boo birds. 

    If your team is down, take it upon yourself to make some more noise. Help bring your team back into the game. They don't call it home field "advantage" for nothing.

    But then again, that's what happens when you get spoiled into believing that your team can never lose. 

5. The Patriots Mystique Is All but Gone

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    Over the last decade there were three things we had grown to know as certainties when it came to the Patriots.

    1. Tom Brady will throw for at least 350 yards, a couple of touchdowns, and no interceptions.

    2. A successfully run two-minute drill in the fourth quarter is right behind death and taxes when it comes to sure things in life.

    3. A last-second field goal attempt will always sail through the pipes dead center—no matter the distance.

    No. No. And no.

    If Super Bowl defeats to the New York Giants in 2007 and 2011 put it in doubt, then Sunday’s defeat made it official: the mystique surrounding the Patriots is gone.

    As Stephen Gostkowski’s 42-yard attempt spiraled further and further left, it took with it the notion that the Patriots were the bullies in the yard you just couldn’t beat. The notion that no matter how much you outplayed them they’d still find a way to come out on top.

    Sunday was close, but no cigar.

    Much like Y.E. Yang’s stunning defeat of Tiger Woods in the 2009 PGA Championship, the Cardinals proved that no one is unbeatable in sports.

    Tiger Woods was 14-0 in Majors when holding a lead after three rounds.

    The Patriots were 10-0 in home openers at Gillette Stadium.

    Now what?

    Since then, Woods is still struggling with humanity. Let’s hope the Patriots can handle it a little bit better.