Cardinals running back David Johnson breaks off a 45-yard run during Sunday night's 23-21 loss to New England.
The lesson of overconfidence had been learned, the Cardinals said, after the way they dropped a winnable game last year in Pittsburgh to third-string quarterback Landry Jones.
So facing a Patriots team without Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski and a handful of other key players Sunday night in the season opener did nothing but ready them to play against the perennially successful AFC team.
It just didn't work out that way.
"We were ready," coach Bruce Arians said, after the disheartening 23-21 loss at University of Phoenix Stadium on "Sunday Night
Football." "We just didn't play."
It was a painful way to start the season, with many choosing the Cardinals as their Super Bowl favorites and the Patriots, as noted, severely shorthanded. The Cards almost sidestepped the upset – it was the first time since 2003 the Patriots were not favored in the first game of the season – but kicker Chandler Catanzaro pulled his 47-yard field goal attempt left with 36 seconds left.
The snap, from rookie long snapper Kam Canaday, was low. Holder Drew Butler had to trap it and then get it ready to kick.
"It was a little low," a quiet Canaday said. "I wish that I could take it back but I can't. I'm just going to have to move forward."
Catanzaro wouldn't let the rookie take the blame. "I've got to make the kick. That's not on Kam at all. That's on me."
But on a night when Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo played Cardinals QB Carson Palmer even statistically, there was blame to go around.
The offense never got into a regular groove, and the defense allowed far too many third-down conversions – including three on the Patriots' game-winning field goal drive, two of which needed 15 and 11 yards for a new set of downs.
"At the end of the day, it's the Patriots," linebacker Kevin Minter said. "The proof is in the pudding. Regardless of who is in there, they
are going to find a way to do whatever they can to win. All credit goes to them. They got us."
If it weren't for two lost fumbles that set up short fields and eventually touchdowns – one on a sack of Garoppolo – the Cardinals might not have been in the game at all. Palmer didn't turn the ball over but his numbers (24-for-37, 271 yards, two touchdowns) were matched by Garoppolo (24-of-33, 264 yards, one touchdown.)
"It's a loud stadium, on the road, a good team," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "A Super Bowl-caliber team, at least that's what they're talking about."
The best two players for the Cardinals were who you'd expect. Running back David Johnson had 132 total yards and a spectacular 45-yard run to set up what would eventually be the Cards' go-ahead touchdown. That score came on a pass to Larry Fitzgerald, whose two touchdowns gave him 100 in his career and most of whose 81 yards (on eight catches) came on what looked like the game-winning field goal drive.
Fitzgerald's amazing one-yard TD catch early in the fourth quarter could have been a game-winner, until the Patriots made their field-goal march.
"We understand we can't just roll the ball on the field and come out there and expect to win, against anybody," Fitzgerald said. "Backup quarterback, no Rob Gronkowski, no (DE Rob)Ninkovich. They're playing at half-mast and they came out here and took it to us at home. It's a prime example of what you're dealing with in the National Football League.
"You have to come and you have to come for 60 minutes against whoever you play, or you're not going to come out victorious. It's that simple. But it's Week 1. We have 15 regular season games to go. We've got to stay with the process. It's a recipe that's proven for success."
It's a hard lesson, and one the Cardinals hope doesn't ultimately pinch them in their quest to acquire home games in the postseason.
"It's a long season," safety Tony Jefferson said. "This one obviously hurts. We have to correct our mistakes, of which there were plenty in this game."
Images from the Cardinals' 23-21 loss to the New England Patriots in the regular season home opener