GLENDALE, Ariz. – Even without Tom Brady, even without the NFL’s biggest matchup nightmare in Rob Gronkowski, and even without two starting offensive linemen, the New England Patriots outlasted.
They fended off an Arizona Cardinals fourth-quarter rally to win the season-opening Sunday night game, 23-21, after Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro hooked a 46-yard field goal that would have given Arizona the lead with seconds left in the game.
And much of the credit for the Patriots prevailing goes to backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
USA Today | Sports | NFL | Boxscore [oembed : 90250512] [oembed : 90250512]
In the first outing filling in for Brady, who is serving a four-game Deflategate suspension, Garoppolo held the offense together. He drove the Patriots. He avoided mistakes. He lined the Patriots players up in the right spots. And he weathered the crowd and the defense of what was a popular preseason Super Bowl pick.
And he was most impressive when it mattered most, leading New England on a 13-play, 61-yard drive late in the fourth quarter. He converted three crucial third downs and set up place kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s 32-yard boot that gave New England a 23-21 lead.
And he did all of that without Gronkowski, starting left tackle Nate Solder and starting left guard Jonathan Cooper, all of whom were inactive.
Garoppolo completed 24 of his 33 passes for 264 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
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There was still one problem, however, that allowed the Cardinals to stay in the game: fumbles.
The Patriots lost two fumbles Sunday night. Arizona recovered them, respectively, at the Patriots' 39- and 33-yard line. Both turnovers yielded touchdowns.
On the first score, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer flung a quick pass on a pick play to receiver Larry Fitzgerald for a 3-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
On the second, Cardinals running back David Johnson rumbled in from 1 yard out in the third quarter.
Palmer completed 24 of his 37 passes for 271 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Partially because of the absences of Brady, Gronkowski, and the others, New England entered Sunday’s game as 9.5-point underdogs, the largest point spread they have faced since Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002.