(Reuters) - Even without their stars and other starters as well, the New England Patriots proved they are no pushovers when playing short-handed.
Just ask the Arizona Cardinals, who fell 23-21 Sunday night in the season-opener for both teams at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“I‘m happy to win, fortunate to win,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “We’re going to need to play better next week and succeeding weeks.”
It was good enough, though, to earn a road victory over a team that went 13-3 a year ago and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.
Playing without suspended quarterback Tom Brady, All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, suspended defensive end Rob Ninkovich and two starting offensive linemen, the Patriots rode the arm of Jimmy Garoppolo and the leg of kicker Stephen Gostkowski to deal Arizona its first home loss in September since 2009.
The Cardinals rallied from a 10-0 first-quarter deficit and eventually took the lead with 9:46 left to play when Carson Palmer threw a 1-yard fade pass to Larry Fitzgerald in the corner of the end zone. Chandler Catanzaro’s extra point made it 21-20, Arizona.
However, Garoppolo, charged with replacing Brady during the future Hall of Famer’s four-game suspension for his alleged role in the Deflategate controversy, brought his team back and proved the Las Vegas oddsmakers, who listed New England as 9-point underdogs, to be dead wrong.
He guided the Patriots on a 13-play, 61-yard drive that was capped by Gostkowski’s third field goal of the game, a 32-yarder, with 3:44 remaining. Gostkowski also connected from 47 and 53 yards.
”He’s incredible,“ Patriots safety Devin McCourty said of Garoppolo. ”All game he went out there and made the plays he was supposed to make. We knew as a team. We believed in him.“ There was no doubt in this locker room that Jimmy could go out there and play.”
The Cardinals had a chance to win it, driving to the Patriots’ 29-yard line in the final minute of play. However, Catanzaro was wide left on a 47-yard field-goal attempt. The snap from rookie Kameron Canaday was low to holder Drew Butler, which threw Catanzaro off.
“I wish I could take it back, but I can‘t,” Canaday said. “I am just going to have to move forward and focus on next week and improving.”
The Patriots took over with 41 seconds remaining and ran out the clock to seal the win.