December 3, 2016

Starters play entire first half; Pats handling Cards, 13-3

Starters on both sides of the ball played the first 30 minutes as the Patriots took a 13-3 halftime lead over the Arizona Cardinals tonight at Gillette.

Tom Brady – though being replaced briefly by Matt Cassel in a planned, ‘game-situation’ drill – led the team on three scoring drives, the last a 15 play, 86 yard drive that was capped by a 5 yard Corey Dillon touchdown run with 1:20 left in the first half.

Kevin Faulk has been the offensive star for the Pats, with four first downs to his credit. Twice he caught third down conversion passes to set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal to make the game 6-0, and on the team’s only touchdown drive of the half, Faulk took two third-and-long draw plays to set up Dillon’s score. He has yet to fumble this evening.

It hasn’t all been easy for the Pats offense; the Cards’ strong defensive front has pressured and knocked around Brady, and definitely gotten the better of the Pats’ first team o-line, parfticularly the closer they got to the Cardinals’ goal line. Brady drive the team twice inside the Arizona 20 but could not advance further, settling for field goals on both.

Ben Watson leads the Pats with 4 receptions, and Bam Childress has been a standout with two catches for nearly 50 yards. One was a difficult, twisting 29 yard grab of a Brady lob down the right sideline, after the Pats QB had executed a convincing pump fake. The second was a heady adjustment on a third and short pass play, which netted 20 yards on the Dillon TD drive. Is it that long of a shot that Childress could contribute? Laurence Maroney has once again been impressive in the backfield, cracking a 12 yard run on his first carry, but Dillon, despite his first rushing TD of the year, has sometimes struggled for room to run.

The defense forced two Arizona punts and ended another Cardinals drive when Asante Samuel intercepted a pass in his fifth straight game. It was a sweet play by Asante; matching Larry Fitzgerald stride for stride down the left sideline, he won position on a Kurt Warner lob and extended his consecutive game streak. The Pats almost had another pick on the Cards next play from scrimmage, but a Barry Gardner grab of a tipped ball was called back when Ellis Hobbs was nabbed for holding.

As Mike Reiss predicted before the game, Eugene Wilson is back at his safety spot next to Artrell Hawkins. Tully Banta-Cain, playing the right outside linebacker spot, has had a couple of impressive rushes on Warner. Disappointingly, Matt Leinart made his pro debut on Arizona’s last possession and drove the Cards 50 yards to set up Neil Rackers and break the Pats shutout.

Gostkowski is handling all the kicking tonight, either by plan or by circumstance (some have claimed competitor Martin Gramatica tweaked something this week), and has hit all three of his kicks and even knocked a kickoff in the end zone.

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