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Sunday, September 16, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Cardinals 20, Patriots 18

By Mike Reiss

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 20-18 loss to the Cardinals:

CardinalsPatriotsWhat it means: Stunning. The Patriots’ home-opening win streak, the longest in the NFL, is surprisingly snapped at 10 games. Stephen Gostkowski's 42-yard field goal was hooked to the left with seconds remaining. It is the first home-opening loss for the Patriots since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002. The Cardinals entered as heavy underdogs, but generally outplayed the Patriots despite giving them a last-second chance to win on a Ryan Williams fumble as they were attempting to run out the clock.

Hernandez injury a top storyline: Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez suffered a right ankle injury on the team’s third offensive play, and he needed help coming off the field. He went right to the locker room and didn’t return. It looked painful. Multiple in-game media reports indicated that Hernandez did not break the ankle. From a strategy perspective, this forced the Patriots out of their base two-TE offense into more three-WR packages. The offense, which looked so potent in the season opener at Tennessee, wasn’t on the field today. While part of that can be attributed to the Patriots and coaching/play-calling, credit should also go to the Cardinals for their performance.

Edelman over Welker: In a surprise, receiver Wes Welker was utilized as the No. 3 receiver, playing behind Julian Edelman in the majority of the team’s two-WR sets. Edelman started the game over Welker. This adds another layer to a storyline that was followed closely after the season opener, when Welker’s playing time (43 of 67 snaps versus Tennessee) was scaled back compared to his 2011 workload (89.2 percent of the snaps). Had Hernandez not been knocked out with an injured ankle in the first quarter, forcing the Patriots into their three-WR package, it could have affected Welker’s playing time more. Including penalties and a two-point conversion, Edelman was on for 75 snaps against the Cardinals, while Welker was on for 63.

Blocked punt a key play: In the days leading up to this game, Bill Belichick stressed the Cardinals’ ability to make game-changing plays on special teams, and his concern in this area proved to be well-founded. Quentin Groves’ blocked punt in the third quarter -- he overpowered rookie Nate Ebner on the play -- went out of bounds at the Patriots’ 2-yard line. Three plays later, the Cardinals were in for a touchdown that gave them a 13-9 lead and control of most of the second half.

What’s next: The Patriots visit the Ravens next Sunday (NBC, 8:20 p.m.) in a matchup of two teams that many analysts projected as two of the AFC’s elite. The Patriots, to the surprise of many, enter the game with a loss.