Patriots vs. Cardinals thumbs up, thumbs down: James White’s two TDs score the win

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A week after a disappointing loss in Houston, New England returned to Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon for a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire 20-17 win over the Cardinals on Nick Folk’s 50-yard field goal as time expired.

Benefiting from big returns on both kickoffs and punts, as well as a key batted-ball interception, Bill Belichick’s team did just enough to turn around a 10-7 halftime deficit and overcome Cam Newton’s late interception to secure the victory.

New England hung around and eventually got the win thanks in part to a key goal line stand by Ja’Whaun Bentley, Akeem Spence and the rest of the defensive front to keep Arizona running back Kenyan Drake out of the end zone as time expired on the first half. The goal line stop was then upheld on video review.

New England did a solid job keeping Cardinals rising star quarterback Kyler Murray, who’s dealing with a right shoulder injury, in relative check most of the afternoon, with the visitors missing out on the road win themselves on a missed 45-yard field goal attempt with less than two minutes to play following the ugly Newton pick.

The victory pushed the Patriots to 5-6 on the season.

Before turning the page to next Sunday’s afternoon’s trip to L.A. to take on the Chargers – the first leg of a three-game December road trip -- here are some of the personnel highs and lows from gritty win over the now 6-5 Cardinals:

Thumbs up

James White – A few weeks ago, it looked like White’s role was shrinking in the Patriots offense. But after a solid day in the losing effort in Houston, White was a centerpiece of the New England scoring Sunday afternoon against the Cardinals. White finished New England’s first scoring drive of the day with a 7-yard run in the second quarter. He then gave the home team its first lead of the day with a 1-yard scoring run around left end in the third quarter. White’s numbers were rather pedestrian, finishing with just four rushes for 16 yards and one catch for a 1-yard loss, but New England doesn’t win without his first two scores of the season.

Jake Bailey – One of New England’s best, most consistent players all season, Bailey had another very impressive day against Arizona. The punter unleashed a 50-yard boot downed at the Cardinals 3 in the first quarter.
He then unleashed a 59-yard bomb later in the first half. Bailey, who entered the week as with the second-best net punting average in the NFL this season, is indeed what Bill Belichick refers to as a “weapon” for the Patriots.

Donte Moncrief/Gunner Olszewski returns – Called up from the practice squad, the veteran receiver Moncrief had an instant impact taking over the kickoff return duties. Moncrief’s 53-yard return early in the second quarter jump started the Patriots only scoring drive of the first half. Early in the third quarter it was Olszewski’s turn. Despite losing the kickoff job, the second-year receiver retained punt return duties and hit for what should have been an 82-yard touchdown were it not for a horrific flag. Still, it went down as a 58-yard return and set up a short Nick Folk field goal. Bill Belichick got the improvement in the return game that he’s been seeking for most of the season, the impact returns keying most of the Patriots points on the day.

Adam Butler – With the Patriots defensive front still undermanned, Butler made impact plays against the Cardinals. Butler batted a Kyler Murray pass that resulted in an Adrian Phillips interception in the third quarter. Later in the quarter he had a 9-yard sack of Murray on third down to force a punt. Butler finished the day with five tackles, the sack, three QB hits and two tackles for a loss. Impressive work.

Nick Folk – For the second time this season the veteran kicker pulled out a win for the Patriots as time expired, this time a 50-yard field goal to beat the Cardinals at the final gun. Folk also hit a 22-yard field goal in the third quarter and now has nailed 19 straight field goals dating back to Week 2 after opening the season missing his first two attempts.

Thumbs down

Blitz pickup – New England struggled to assess Houston’s blitzes a week ago in the loss to the Texans and the issues continued early against the Arizona. Jordan Hicks came unblocked off the offensive right side on Cam Newton’s first pass attempt of the day, the inside linebacker’s QB hit causing the attempt to pop up into the air and into the waiting hands of Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden. The turnover set up three-play, 23-yard touchdown drive for the visitors to open the game’s scoring.

Cam Newton – Though the Patriots pulled out the win in the final seconds, it was in spite of the play of its quarterback. Newton had just 37 yards passing and a 13.0 rating at halftime. Things got worse in the fourth quarter with the game tied and the Patriots driving to a potential victory. Newton threw off-target to the inside on a sideline for his second interception of the day. It was another day where Newton had slow reads, off-target throws and just wasn’t a positive overall force for the limited Patriots offense. Newton completed just nine of 18 passes for a mere 84 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 23.6 rating. He did have a key 14-yard run on third-and-13 that garnered another 15 yards via an Isaiah Simmons personal foul call for a big hit on the sidelines. He’ll take the win, but not a day Newton will likely want to remember.

N’Keal Harry – The former first-round pick not only continues to have little positive impact on the Patriots offense, but has added bunches of negative plays to his resume of late. Harry had another penalty against Arizona, this time a holding call while blocking that wiped out a Newton first-down run.
He later had an ugly drop on an in-cut. Harry also had a 2-yard loss on an early run. He finished the win with no catches on three targets.

NFL officiating – The refs stole a punt return touchdown from Gunner Olszewski on a hideous illegal blindside block on Anfernee Jennings that was neither illegal nor blindside. It was one of the worst calls that you may ever see on an NFL field to overturn what should have been a fun, exciting play for the Patriots. Instead of a touchdown it resulted in the Patriots taking possession at the Cardinals 40 and settling for a short field goal attempt. But it still cost New England four points and a huge, fun play. Shame on the NFL and referee Bill Vinovich.