Stephen Gostkowski shanked a 42-yard field goal that would have beaten the Arizona Cardinals – frankly it wasn’t even close – and just like that the Patriots were handed their first loss of the season. Gostkowski, who had already made field goals of 34, 46, 51, and 53 yards in the game, will undoubtedly go down as the scapegoat for this loss – but he shouldn’t. While it’s undeniable that Gostkowski missed at a pivotal moment, it was a plethora of uncharacteristic mistakes and solid play by the Cardinals that led to the loss.
First off, the late fumble that gave the Patriots life (and Gostkowski a chance at winning it) was an absolute gift. Second of all, the Patriots produced 142 yards more offense than the Cardinals did, yet lost. The last time they out-gained an opponent by such a margin in a loss was 1989. Third of all, Rob Gronkowski was called for a holding penalty that offset what would have been the game winning touchdown. Finally, the Cardinals got the breaks they needed – an interception and a blocked punt. Collectively, these mishaps should result in a loss, as they did.
This game also gave Pats fans a reason to be weary – the Cardinals are just the most recent team to verify the blueprint for beating the Pats – attacking the quarterback relentlessly. Tom Brady was sacked 4 times and hit 6 times, generally keeping him off-balance and out of the end zone. But if anyone had any doubts about his ability to lead a down-field charge late in the game, Brady was able to surgically pick the Arizona defense apart to force the issue and make a game of it. Brady needs to continue to improve his ability to make something happen when under duress, and the front office should be looking at all options for offensive line reinforcements.
While the loss was certainly tough to swallow, the injury to tight end Aaron Hernandez adds to the sting. Hernandez is on the field on a vast majority of offensive plays, and his versatility will certainly be missed. On a brighter note, kudos to Wes Welker for breaking Troy Brown’s all-time Patriots receptions record – the man, like Brown, has been nothing but a pleasure to watch year in and year out. And despite the loss there’s no need to panic – this might just be the spark the Patriots need to really get rolling.