The New England Patriots won in an ugly one last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 20-17.
Of course, as we all have heard this week, ugly wins are far preferred over pretty losses. That's especially as the Patriots will now move on to 5-6 with an ever so slim margin for error to make the playoffs at this point.
Let's dive into what was so ugly about the win over Arizona and look at where the Patriots actually had some strong points.
If there is one thing we have learned about Cam Newton this season, it's that consistency is not a strength of his. The narratives on Newton have shifted back and forth with his up and down play. The narratives have flip-flopped so much to the point that figuring out what kind of quarterback this team has is a nearly impossible task right now.
This defensive matchup was not an ideal one for Newton. Even with that, Newton wasn't bound for success. The quarterback found a way to not only lose the X's and O's matchup, the offensive-defensive chess match, but also failed to even so much as see the field properly on Sunday. In a putrid performance by the Patriots' quarterback, Newton's mechanics, vision, timing, accuracy, you name it, wasn't going for him against the Cardinals.
New England is in a situation where their quarterback's play-style and strengths can only be fully taken advantage of against certain defenses. Those defenses are the ones that don't blitz a lot. Unfortunately, Arizona is a team that blitzes a lot. The Cardinals blitz more than any other team the Patriots will see this season.
With pressure and loaded boxes, the run game goes out the window for New England, leaving them to pass and pass quickly. But quick releases and quick passes are not Newton's thing, as we have seen this season. Newton thrives with time, pushing the ball downfield, like we saw against the Houston Texans in week 11. That's Newton's play-style, however, once the blitz is coming, Newton can't wait for those deeper plays to develop and he seemingly gets brought down from behind, trying to dash towards the line of scrimmage.
The Texans also loaded the box in Week 11 and were dead-set (just like Arizona) on stopping the run and pressuring Newton. Obviously, when comparing this game to the Cardinals' game, you'll find two very different statistical outcomes for the Patriots' quarterback. While not only was this a better, more effective defense on all three levels, Newton's day was also fundamentally one of his worst as a pro quarterback. His rushing totals saved him from receiving an F on this report card.
Only more film can really get to the bottom of what in the world is up with Cam Newton and his no good, very bad day.
Running Back: B-
Newton did add value as a rusher, which opened up different run schemes for New England with their backs. While the rushing game stood at a standstill in the early goings, some read option with Newton got the guessing game going for the loaded boxes Arizona was deploying.
It really wasn't a successful rushing day, as lead back Damien Harris rushed for only 47 yards on his 14 carries. However, the Patriots got good yardage from their backs on key downs. Newton, Harris and James White all had key pickups in this game. White accounted for all New England touchdowns on Sunday. Despite a bad matchup, this unit deserves their due for still getting things done when they needed to.
Wide Receiver: C
Both Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd had quiet days, given the circumstances with Newton. They were the only two players to haul in a catch for positive yardage. Meyers finished his day with five catches for 52 yards on six targets. Byrd hauled in three of his seven targets for 33 yards. Again, they were both fine given an inaccurate quarterback who wasn't seeing the field right. However, Newton targeted one other receiver in the game a few times, but that receiver's game doesn't hold the same sentiment. Do we all know who I am referring to here?
As much as this pains me to write, N'Keal Harry's play is proliferating the chances he never sees the end of his rookie contract with the Patriots. The fact that Harry has yet to play one full season of football should not be a reason to deter from the fact that he is reaching a critical point here. Forget that Harry was a first-round pick for a split-second. With that, you're left wondering what other justification there is for having Harry on the field.
Tight End: C
Ryan Izzo outsnapped every other skill position player on the field on Sunday. Making up 96.2 percent of New England's offensive snap count against the Cardinals. However, he is being ignored by Newton in the flat. He has been getting open at times, but he isn't a priority in this offense.
Bottom line: Izzo is open, however, it's tough to argue that more Izzo targets would translate to a more efficient offense.
Offensive Line: B
It was mostly a clean sheet for these folks. The offensive line still did well despite heavy loaded boxes and heavy blitzes from the Arizona defense. A missed blocking assignment by White on a blitz was the result of the first Newton interception. The original thought was Michael Onwenu being responsible for this pressure, yet he picked up his man.
Jermaine Eluemunor had a fine game as a replacement for Isaiah Wynn. A few hiccups here and there are to be expected of a rookie, backup, hybrid offensive tackle.
Overall, if Wynn is to miss anymore time, Eluemunor should be serviceable enough to get them by.
Defensive Line: A
The defensive line allowed a good chunk of yards on the ground to Cardinals' running backs. But that was part of the plan. The game plan was to shut down Kyler Murray's rushing ability, something that opens up so much for the Arizona offense. If the defensive line could contain Murray within the hashes and the secondary could hold up in man coverage, the only thing left is the running game.
This defensive line was begging for the Cardinals to hand the ball off inside and have some of their run stuffers like Adam Butler, Lawerence Guy and now Akeem Spence barrel toward the ball carrier.
While Arizona moved the ball well in the early goings on the ground, the defensive line shaped up later on and ended up being a focal point to this win. By keeping the edges contained, Murray in the pocket (which also happened with big help from the linebackers), the big-play dial was cranked all the way down for a Cardinals' offense that went rather stagnant in the second half. The defensive line sured up against the run, allowing Arizona to 4.1 yards per carry, a mark almost a whole yard lower than the Cardinals traditional 5.0+ week in and week out the last two seasons.
Along with that, Butler, Guy, Spence and Deatrich Wise all pressured the quarterback well. Butler and Guy had monster games, especially Butler who was filling out the stat sheet with a sack, pressures, run stops, QB hits, and even assisted Adrian Phillips in his key second half interception by batting Murray's pass in the air.
The whole front seven gets their dues here. Some guys who stood out on this group were Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, Terez Hall and even Ja'Whaun Bentley. All of them made great plays on Murray or in the run game. Bentley was an instrumental piece to the goal-line stuff to end the first half and played a phenomenal game against both the run and pass. Hall was also in on some key run stuffs, just like Bentley on Sunday.
As for Winovich and Uche, their athleticism really benefited them when on their way to pressure maybe one of the most athletic quarterbacks this league has seen. Here's a play here to showcase the athleticism and the job of contain by this defense on Murray, specifically by these two.
Both Winovich and Uche hurried Murray on Sunday. Winovich gets credit for a sack here and also had some stops in the run game. Good display from these youngsters.
Sunday was a strong performance by Stephon Gilmore. He held one of the best receivers (DeAndre Hopkins) in football to only three catches for 26 yards in coverage. He had two flags in coverage that one can argue over the legitimacy of the calls. Overall, a very strong day for Gilmore, on an island, with Hopkins, who even after this performance is still the number four receiver in the league in terms of yardage, along with third in catches (according to ESPN).
Hopkins would go on to nab two more footballs outside of Gilmore's man coverage. Finishing the day at five catches for 55 yards. However, an ailing throwing arm from Murray and all the pressure in the face of the Cardinals' quarterback may have deflated some of these stats through the air.
Even with that, the secondary still had a strong showing. J.C. Jackson was also phenomenal in coverage yesterday. He only allowed two catches throughout the game, spending most of his time on Christian Kirk. A great matchup for him.
Lastly, the hybrid safety linebackers in Phillips and Kyle Dugger are also worth mentioning as they both had phenomenal games in both the run and passing facets of the game.
Special teams: A+
Jake Bailey, Gunner Olszewski and Donte Moncrief all impressed on special teams on Sunday. Bailey had an impressive punt that pealed back from the edge of the goal-line to the 3-yard line early in the game. Olszewski had an impressive punt return for a touchdown that was called back on a Anfernee Jennings blindside block. Moncrief also had a nice first-half kick return for 53 yards.
However, the star of the show has to go to Nick Folk. He made both extra point attempts and nailed both field goals. His second and final field goal of the day was a 50-yarder to win the game as time expired. That marked his second-longest field goal of the year of the season.
Bravo for Folk, bravo for this unit. The third phase of the game ended up impacting this game in dramatic ways.