The Patriots have had several moments this season when they haven’t been able to make a big play when they’ve needed to in close games.
If they qualify for the playoffs, they may look back on their goal-line stand at the end of the first half of Sunday’s 20-17 win over the Cardinals as one of the plays that got them there.
Leading 10-7, Arizona appeared to add to its lead just before halftime when Kyler Murray connected with KeeSean Johnson for an apparent 8-yard touchdown. But a review showed Jason McCourty and Adam Butler dragged Johnson down before the ball crossed the goal line.
It set up a fourth-and-1 with 16 seconds left, leaving the Cardinals with a decision to make.
Arizona ran the clock down to 3 seconds and called timeout to think about it. The Cardinals returned their offense to the field with Murray lined up in the shotgun with running back Kenyan Drake to his left. The Patriots then called a timeout.
“There were a couple things that we were alert for down there,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “There were several things that, depending on how they aligned, several things we were ready for. Once they aligned, thought we could eliminate a couple of them. Just wanted to make sure we had everyone straight.”
It turns out they did.
Murray took the snap and handed to Drake on a zone-read run. Drake had a path to the goal line, but was stopped short by Akeem Spence and Ja’Whaun Bentley as time expired.
“Thought we got in but obviously his knee was down,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We couldn’t see if he got in or not. Got to give them credit for that stop.”
The play caused the Patriots’ sideline to erupt and safety Adrian Phillips said the celebration continued into the locker room.
The Patriots scored the first 10 points of the second half to take a 17-10 lead. Arizona tied the game in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard TD run by Drake and had a chance to take the lead. But Zane Gonzalez missed wide right on 45-yard field-goal attempt with 1:47 left.
New England took over and drove to the Arizona 32, setting up Nick Folk’s 50-yard game-winner.
“I just know keeping points off the board is big going into half,” said Spence, who was elevated from the practice squad on Saturday. “Keeping three or six off the board is very important. And it also helped us win the game in the end. You guys can say it’s a turning factor, I just call it doing my job.”
Arizona left guard Justin Pugh said he felt like the play had a lasting effect on the rest of the game.
“We have to convert that. That is one that is going to haunt us,” he said. “They made plays at the biggest moments and we did not. That is the difference in that game. We convert that one and it is a totally different ballgame."
Kingsbury said he never considered putting the ball in Murray’s hands instead of Drake's and will live with the result.
“They had a good plan on almost all of our running plays, really keying on him. I like what K.D. brings in those situations," he said. "He usually has a nose for the end zone and unfortunately it didn’t work out for us that time.”
Phillips said the goal-line stop was the first emotional moment in a game chocked full of them.
“These types of games are the games you really have to hone in on your emotions and make sure you’re focused on what you need to do because any little mistake that you have could be game-ending,” he said. “It could give you the loss. So just being able to focus and stay in tune with the game plan and just make your play when it’s time to make your play and don’t try to go off the rails and do somebody else’s job — it was big. We did that and we came out with the win.”
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