Breaking Down Game Tape of New England Patriots' Loss to the Arizona Cardinals

James DiMaio@@JamesDiMaioCorrespondent ISeptember 17, 2012

Sep 16, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko (14) reacts after kicker Stephen Gostkowski (3) misses a field goal in the last seconds of play against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half at Gillette Stadium. The Arizona Cardinals defeated the New England Patriots 20-18. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

The Arizona Cardinals shocked Patriot Nation as they stole a "W" from a Patriots team that didn't look like itself, even before star tight end Aaron Hernandez left early in the game after suffering an ankle injury.

Let's take a closer look at the game, with a focus on some of the things that went wrong for the defending AFC champs.


Passing Offense: Poor Protection Leads to Poor Execution

New England's passing offense was stifled right off the bat, with Tom Brady throwing a tipped-pass interception to Patrick Peterson on the team's first offensive play to give the Cardinals offense a short field. 

Things didn't get much better for Brady, as the Cardinals pressured him throughout the game, racking up four sacks.

Most of the pressure seemed to break through the right side of the offensive line, where Donald Thomas—who filled in for injured starting right guard Dan Connolly—was particularly bad in pass protection. Thomas seemed to get blown up on almost every passing play.

Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon split time at the right tackle position and collectively had a so-so performance.

They need better protection up front, because as good as the Cardinals defensive line is, they will face more talented fronts throughout the season.

The Pats were terrible on third down, going just 5-for-15 on the day. Opting to run rather than pass on multiple third-and-longs is likely the culprit for this poor conversion rate.

Perhaps New England should have let their future Hall of Fame quarterback throw the ball more in those situations.


Rushing Offense: Good but Not Great

After a career game against the Titans last week, Stevan Ridley put together another solid outing with 71 yards on 18 carries.

The running game wasn't as dominant as it was in Week 1, but playing from behind for most of the day doesn't open many opportunities for the running game to completely take over the game. 

One thing we learned is that Ridley's performance last week wasn't a fluke. He looks like a special young talent in the NFL.

Passing Defense: Impressive Despite Loss

Perhaps the most inspiring "win within the loss" would be the performance that New England's secondary put together, holding six-time Pro Bowl selection Larry Fitzgerald to just one reception for four yards—no easy task for any secondary. 

In the last two games, Devin McCourty looks much improved after enduring a sophomore slump a season ago. Like last week, he made a couple of nice pass breakups and looked particularly sharp in successfully defending a goal-line fade in single coverage against Fitzgerald.

The Pats also held Kevin Kolb to just 140 passing yards. While Kolb is not a top-tier quarterback by any stretch of the imagination, New England still did what a good defense should do to a mediocre quarterback: they made him look mediocre.  

Rushing Defense: Still Solid

The rushing defense is the real deal.

Aside from a lengthy Wildcat rush from the speedy Patrick Peterson, this unit didn't let the Cardinals do too much on the ground. 

Additionally, with the Patriots down by two points and with just over a minute left in regulation, Brandon Spikes forced Ryan Williams to fumble and Vince Wilfork recovered the ball.

Impressive stuff from the front seven.

Special Teams: Not So Special

New England's special teams unit was responsible for the two most devastating plays of the day: allowing a punt block that would ultimately lead to a Cardinals touchdown, and failing to connect on a would-be game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter. 

While the team certainly struggled as a whole, the offense and defense still did enough to put the team in position to win, but special teams couldn't rise to the occasion.


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