Linebacker Quentin Groves (left), Kerry Rhodes and the Cardinals celebrate Sunday's 20-18 win in New England after a missed field goal with one second left.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The field-goal sailed wide left – much to the chagrin of the Gillette Stadium crowd who had never seen such a result – and the Arizona Cardinals had clearly decided to take their heart-stopping ways on the road.
A win in New England against the Patriots was unexpected by many beforehand, and the way the 20-18 Cards' victory came about – when Stephen Gostkowski missed his final 42-yarder, after running back Ryan Williams seemed to have surely fumbled away the Cards' hopes – may have been even more unexpected.
This team, though, likes its dramatics.
"If it is close," cornerback Patrick Peterson said, "we have a pretty good chance to pull it out."
In the opener, the Cards needed a defensive stand inside their own 10-yard line. Sunday, in order to hand the Patriots (1-1) their first loss in a home opener since the team moved into their new building in 2002, they had to withstand New England's two-point conversion attempt that would have tied with just over two minutes left, Williams' turnover and Gostskowski's normally sure attempt.
"That's how we like to do it," quarterback Kevin Kolb said.
There was talk in the locker room, Peterson said, about the Cardinals making a statement with the win, but coach Ken Whisenhunt wanted nothing to do with the idea. "Nah, we don't want to talk about that," Whisenhunt quickly said. "It's just two games." And Kolb made the point that it was an "ugly" game on both sides, so the Cardinals (2-0) have plenty to work on.
But that wasn't a thought with one second left and the Cards knowing they had an impressive road win. When Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald can be held to one catch (for four yards) yet bounce up and down and smile in celebration when the kick was missed, the importance of the victory can't be understated.
With Kolb starting in place of the injured John Skelton, the Cards had their offensive inconsistencies. They could only average 3.2 yards a carry running, and Kolb threw for just 140 yards as the Patriots held Fitzgerald in check.
But the Cards opened with a 13-play drive to score a field goal on the opening kickoff, setting a crucial tone. The offense also cranked out a 75-yard drive for a touchdown that ended early in the fourth quarter for a 20-9 lead that put the Cards in a great position in the first place.
"We knew we had to do (a drive like that) at least one time," Kolb said.
In the meantime, the defense played a great game against the Tom Brady-led Patriots.
"We executed flawlessly," defensive coordinator Ray Horton said.
New England lost a key piece early in the game when tight end Aaron Hernandez went down with what looked like a serious ankle injury. But until the very end of the game, Brady was held in check, with a passing rating of just 79.6 and the Cards collecting four sacks.
Yet there the Patriots were, scoring a touchdown with 2:06 left to pull within 20-18. On the two-point conversion, Brady – who had just hit tight end Rob Gronkowski with a five-yard touchdown pass – tried to go back to Gronkowski for the game-tying points. Safety Kerry Rhodes broke it up.
"I always tell the coaches, put me on the best guy," Rhodes said. "He called a man coverage for me and I was able to be physical and make a play. A lot of guys made plays today. I just wanted to make mine."
All the Cards needed to do was run the clock. When Williams scampered upfield for 13 yards on second-and-5 coming out of the two-minute warning, it looked like the closing scene. The Patriots, even if they held, weren't going to have more than 15 seconds or so even if the Cards needed to punt.
But on the ensuing third down, Williams took a pitch, turned upfield and was met by linebacker Brandon Spikes, who put helmet on the ball forcing a fumble that popped right to the Patriots at the Arizona 30-yard line.
"It was unfortunate, but this game is crazy," Rhodes said.
The Cardinals got another couple of breaks. A Danny Woodhead touchdown run was nullified by a Gronkowski hold. A false start cost New England five yards. Still, Gostkowski had been perfect on the day – including field goals of 51 and 53 yards – and a 42-yarder seemed automatic.
The Cardinals have made a living blocking field goals, however. From Whisenhunt to the players, every one said they thought of that after Williams' fumble.
No one blocked it, but Whisenhunt said he couldn't help but think it was on Gostkowski's mind when the kick sailed left, never really close.
"We put a lot of pressure on a lot of teams," Peterson said. "We create a lot of havoc so things can happen."
Sunday, what happened was a big road win, in a place where the Cards haven't had too many fond memories.
"It's not easy to come in here," Whisenhunt said. "Nobody really gave us a chance."