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Kicked to the curb - The Sun Chronicle : Patriots

Kicked to the curb

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Posted: Monday, September 17, 2012 12:15 am

FOXBORO - Well, at least the Krafts won't have to spend money on another "16-0" banner.

The Patriots bumbled and stumbled their way to a 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Sunday's home opener at Gillette Stadium, the only one they've lost there since the building opened in 2002. Coupled with the Baltimore Ravens' 24-23 loss in Philadelphia, that means both of the supposed best teams in the AFC will be playing in the "All-Overrated Bowl" next Sunday night in Baltimore.

Or at least that's the way if felt after the Patriots' Stephen Gostkowski pulled a Billy Cundiff at the end of Sunday's game.

The last two meaningful games at Gillette Stadium can now be described by just two words - "wide left" - after Gostkowski pulled a potential game-winning 42-yard kick in the general direction of Sharon with one second remaining. Back in January, Cundiff (now the Ravens' former kicker) went extremely wide left from 32 yards out with a potential game-tying kick in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots.

"I can't take it back now," Gostkowski said. "I went out there and felt good about the kick, and just didn't execute."

And that was a shame, before, for most of the game, he was the only reliable offense the Patriots had. Gostkowski's four field goals (including kicks from 51 and 53 yards, the first time in seven pro seasons he has hit two plus-50s in a game) were the only things keeping a majority of the Foxboro faithful in their seats.

But after the Patriots trimmed the Arizona lead from a high of 20-9 to 20-18 following their only truly Patriot-esque drive of the day, the buzz started being felt in the stadium. And that buzz turned into a roar when, on a third-and-13 play from the Cardinals' 35 with 1:10 left to play, Brandon Spikes knocked the ball out of the hands of running back Ryan Williams. Vince Wilfork pounced on it at the Arizona 30 and a victory was all-but assured.

On the second play, it seemed certified when Danny Woodhead, held to 8 yards on seven carries to that point, broke through the line for a 30-yard gallop to the end zone. But 10 yards into the run, Rob Gronkowski was flagged for holding, and the ball was brought back to the original line of scrimmage.

After a 12-yard pass from Tom Brady to Wes Welker, Gronkowski was called for his second penalty of the drive, a false start - but even more damning was the fact that with 46 seconds left, the Patriots had already started playing it safe, with Brady keeping the ball and falling down in the center of the field to assure a straight-line kick for Gostkowski. He did that one more time and then spiked the ball to stop the clock with five seconds left.

Asked why he didn't opt for a throw into the end zone or at least some means of drawing a little closer than the 42-yard attempt that would follow, Patriots' coach Bill Belichick embraced a negative as if it was a positive.

"We scored a touchdown; got it called back," Belichick said. "We had a touchdown called back."

Yes, and plenty of people have had MegaMillions tickets just one number shy of the jackpot. But that's still good for only second place.

Belichick also stated his usual post-defeat mantra - "Hopefully we can play better, coach better next week, do a better job. (We) just didn't do well enough today, it's as simple as that." Presumably that would include the questionable play-calling of new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who seemed determined to stick with a newly-discovered running game long after the Cardinals had already sniffed out what was coming and did a good job of shutting it down in the middle two quarters.

"Usually, when you line up the correct way and line up the correct defense, and make plays, that helps. That's pretty much what we did," Cardinals' coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

Stevan Ridley had 54 of his 71 yards by halftime, but the Patriots often sidetracked productive drives by having a run (most often to the outside) detected and stopped by the Cardinals' defense. So while the Patriots were setting for difficult threes from Gostkowski, the Cardinals were building their lead as the result of the home team's errors.

Jay Feely's first-possession 38-yard field goal put Arizona (2-0) into an early lead. Immediately following that, Brady's first pass of the game was tipped up and intercepted by Patrick Peterson at the New England 36, and Feely added a 47-yarder for a 6-0 lead with 7:42 left.

Two plays later came a game-changing moment for the Patriots, and possibly season-changing. On a 6-yard pass to Julian Edelman, tight end Aaron Hernandez went down with a presumably severely sprained right ankle and was lost for the game.

You'd get two differing opinions from the Patriots regarding how devastating a loss that was for the offensive game plan.

"I don't know," Belichick deadpanned. "You can't go into the game just counting on one guy, any guy. Everybody has to be ready to adjust. It's not the first time a player has been injured in a game."

"Aaron is in there almost every play, so it changes quite a bit," countered Welker, who didn't start the game. "You have to go to a different attack and go out there and play the way we need to and execute the way we need to and today just wasn't enough."

Be that as it may, Brady was able to engineer an 11-play drive ending in Gostkowski's 46-yard field goal to get on the board. Gostkowski added a 34-yarder with 9:08 left in the half for a 6-6 tie.

A 36-yard pass to Welker, who had already broken Troy Brown's franchise-record for receptions late in the second quarter, was the most positive offensive thrust leading to Gostkowski's tie-breaking 51-yard field goal 2:07 into the second half. But a special-teams breakdown - Nate Ebner being overpowered on the left blocking edge - allowed Quentin Groves to get a hand on Zoltan Mesko's punt out of the end zone with 9:41 left, and with the ball at the Patriots' 2, Kevin Kolb (15-27, 140 yards) threw to Andre Roberts for a 13-9 lead with 8:52 left in the quarter.

Kolb also marched the Cardinals 75 yards on nine plays to his own 5-yard sneak for a 20-9 lead with 14 minutes left to play - the drive getting a big boost midway through on a 15-yard late-hit penalty against safety Steve Gregory.

Gostkowski added his career-best 53-yarder with 6:45 left, and then the Patriots executed a perfect no-huddle drive. Brady was 8-for-10 for 84 yards on the march including a 5-yard TD pass to Gronkowski, but Kerry Rhodes stopped the two-point conversion pass intended for the big tight end, and the Patriots were left to their own designs to find a way to win the game.

They found the way, but couldn't get it done.

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