Other plays could be mentioned as well, but these game-altering plays stood above all others momentum-wise. They shaped the outcome of the game, and turned it into a great game of back-and-forth during the second half.
Defense, special teams and offense will be highlighted as we rewind the tape in search of three plays that defined what the game became.
Play 1: 4th-and-9, third quarter, 9:48 remaining; Patriots 9, Cardinals 6
Following a stalled drive from the Cardinals’ offense, punter Dave Zastudil pinned Tom Brady and the Patriots deep within their own territory. The defense then went to work, pushing New England back further and forcing a three-and-out.
Enter Quentin Groves, who, as you can see from the picture below, is lined up to the punt formation’s left.
Groves gets off the ball like a sprinter running the 100m dash at the Olympics and beats defensive back Nate Ebner (43) to the edge. His right hand meets punter Zoltan Mesko’s left foot at the football, sending the ball nearly straight up in the air.
The ball lands briefly in the end zone, then bounces out of bounds at the Patriots’ 2-yard line, setting up the Cardinals with a 1st-and-goal that would shift momentum back to Arizona’s sideline.
Play 2: 3rd-and-goal, third quarter, 8:56 remaining; Patriots 9, Cardinals 6
The ensuing drive began with a Ryan Williams rush up the middle for no gain and an incomplete pass to Larry Fitzgerald to the corner of the end zone.
On 3rd-and-goal to go, Arizona lined up in a shotgun with four-wide and running back Ryan Williams to the left of Kolb.
Wide receiver Andre Roberts, shown at the top of the formation, will start forward as if he were about to run a route into the end zone. He cuts it off, however, and comes back toward Kolb to receive a screen pass. Tight end Todd Heap will provide all the blocking he needs.
As he receives the ball, a lane opens up through which Roberts can run. Safety Patrick Chung (25) will attempt to cut him off…
…to no avail, as Roberts dives underneath Chung for the go-ahead touchdown.
Although the lead proved to be one the Cardinals would not squander, it got hairy towards the end, as you will now see highlighted.
Play 3: 3rd-and-13, fourth quarter, 1:10 remaining; Cardinals 20, Patriots 18
The play that haunted Williams for 1:09 of game time begins with Kolb motioning Fitzgerald from the line, where he had a hand in the dirt, to wide out left in order to set up a run-blocking mismatch with Patriots’ cornerback Devin McCourty.
Kolb then motions tight end Jeff King to the spot left vacant by the already-motioned Fitzgerald, next to left tackle D’Anthony Batiste. King brings Chung with him across the formation, indicating New England is playing a straight man-coverage. This is where the play goes wrong.
As the ball is snapped, Chung’s momentum is carrying him to the outside, which is right where the toss play to Williams was intended to go. Chung simply continues down the line, being picked up by fullback Anthony Sherman. The lack of a lane forces Williams to cut back inside—a move that would prove costly. Waiting in the shadow of Gillette Stadium’s light tower is middle linebacker Brandon Spikes (55, circled).
Mayo puts his helmet directly on the football, forcing it to pop out of Williams’ grasp and directly into the giant arms of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. The Cardinals are doomed.
Play 4: 3rd-and-16, fourth quarter; 0:03 remaining; Cardinals 20, Patriots 18
Following the fumble and a touchdown run brought back by a holding call, New England lines up for a game-winning 42-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Gostkowski, who was 4-of-4 on the day, connecting from 46, 34, 51 and 53 yards successively, shanks the kick wide-left—as highlighted by Cardinals Spanish Radio Network announcer, the ever-excited Gabriel Trujillo.
It’s still early, but just two seasons ago, there is no way the Cardinals pull off this victory. Things that occurred throughout the game suggest they should have won by more than the two-point margin. Then—with how the fourth quarter unfolded—there was a feel that the same old Cardinals had returned, that the upset was a pipe dream.
But not this time.
Arizona withstood the barrage of Brady bombs and emerged victorious in New England for the first time since December 2, 1984. The Cardinals, of course, resided in St. Louis at that time.
The team has a lot of work to do on both ends of the ball, but a victory such as this can be a stepping-stone to greater things down the line. Only time will tell how big the 20-18 win in Foxborough was, but right now it looks pretty darn good.