No Tom Brady. No Rob Gronkowski. No room for error against one of the NFL’s best teams in one of the least hospitable stadiums.
No problem. Not for New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo.
The third-year quarterback, starting in place of the suspended Brady and playing without his full complement of offensive weapons, led the Patriots to a 23-21 upset of the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night before a packed house at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Showing uncommon poise for a player with relatively little experience, and playing against a stifling defense, Garoppolo threw for 264 yards and a touchdown — even completing a batted pass to himself — as the Patriots carved out some breathing room. They now have three consecutive home games — winnable matchups against Miami, Houston and Buffalo — before Brady returns.
“He did his job,” receiver Julian Edelman said of Garoppolo. “He went out there and took command of the huddle and made plays when he had to.”
Meanwhile, the Cardinals are kicking themselves. Trailing for most of the game, they saw a good chance to win flutter away with 41 seconds to play, when a 47-yard field-goal attempt by Chandler Catanzaro sailed wide left, in part the result of a low snap. That let the air out of the stadium.
“It’s on me,” Catanzaro said. “That falls on my shoulders.”
Said Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians, whose team was favored by six points: “Obviously a very disappointing loss. We didn’t really play well enough in any phase to win this game.”
The defeat spoiled an impressive performance by Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who had a game-high 10 catches for 81 yards, including a pair of short touchdowns, one of which should find a spot in his career highlight tape.
That was a go-ahead score with 9:46 remaining, when Arizona claimed its first lead of the game, 21-20. It was a one-yard touchdown, which might sound modest but had Fitzgerald making a contorted, over-the-shoulder catch with a defender glued to him. That was the 100th touchdown catch of Fitzgerald’s illustrious career.
New England got the ball back, and when Garoppolo was sacked on the first play, and the home crowd’s volume climbed ever higher, the Cardinals seemed to have the game well in hand.
But Garoppolo stayed composed and led his team on a 13-play, 62-yard march that consumed six minutes of clock and ended with a clinching 32-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. That drive included a seven-yard completion to James White on third and three, and a clutch 13-yard run by LeGarrette Blount on third and 11.
“When you have to win with a late field goal, you’re obviously behind the 8-ball,” Palmer said. “We were further behind the 8-ball than we expected to be.”
Arizona linebacker Chandler Jones, who came from the Patriots by way of trade, had a strong game, with five tackles, a sack, a pair of quarterback hits and a fumble recovery.
“He’s a playmaker,” teammate Deone Bucannon said. “He inspires me. Every time he makes a play, I want to make a play.”
That Garoppolo was able to orchestrate a road win over the Cardinals was impressive enough. But he did so without the services of Gronkowski (hamstring), and without starting left tackle Nate Solder (hamstring) and right guard Jonathan Cooper (foot).
“He’s got quiet confidence, and everybody on this team has confidence in him,” Patriots defensive end Chris Long said of Garoppolo. “We just knew if we stuck to our game plan, we’d have a chance to win it in the end. He made some really gutsy plays to help us win.”
Gostkowski made field goals of 47, 53 and 32 yards, in addition to a pair of extra points.
For the Patriots, the game took place on unforgettable ground. It was here that they lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants in early 2008, watching their bid for a perfect 19-0 season go poof. Then two years ago, the Patriots beat Seattle in the Super Bowl here, with Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll making the ill-fated decision to pass at the goal line at the end, as opposed to running Marshawn Lynch.
Garoppolo conceded he was nervous Sunday until he was hit for the first time, although he said if you’re not nervous, you probably don’t care enough. Before the game, he was spotted on camera waving smelling salts under his nose and recoiling. It’s something that Brady commonly does before games, cracking an ammonia capsule, apparently to sharpen his senses.
“I just always do that before a game, I guess,” he said. “Nothing really crazy. Just gets you going.”
Without question, the Patriots snapped to attention. So did the rest of the league.