- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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What it means: Coach Ken Whisenhunt was right when he flatly rejected comparisons between this team and the 2010 version that finished with a 5-11 record amid question marks at quarterback. Beating the Patriots in New England one week after defeating Seattle showed the Cardinals are much better than widely anticipated. It’s looking like a dominant defense will keep the Cardinals competitive despite deficiencies at offensive tackle and unanswered questions at quarterback. This was a signature victory for Arizona in the post-Kurt Warner era. The Cardinals now have a new identity -- on defense.
Off the hook: The field goal Stephen Gostkowski missed in the final seconds spared Cardinals running back Ryan Williams from a horrible fate. Williams would have had a hard time living down the fumble he lost while the Cardinals were protecting a 20-18 lead in the late going. This was his second lost fumble in as many weeks and would have gone down as one of the more notorious blunders in the team's Arizona history.
Milestone victory: The Patriots had won all 10 previous home openers at Gillette Stadium. They entered this game with a 35-1 record in their past 36 regular-season home games with Tom Brady at quarterback. Those streaks died and there wasn't much fluke to the outcome, even in light of the wild finish. Arizona's defense controlled the game.
Toughing it out: Cornerback Patrick Peterson, added to the Cardinals’ injury report (groin) Friday, started and appeared to play his usual reps. Peterson picked off Brady and helped limit the Patriots’ offense. He’s been reliable to this point in his career, even when injured. He played through an Achilles issue last season. His interception off Brady was only the third against New England’s quarterback since Week 13 last season, a string of 240 drop backs. Arizona generally had terrific coverage when the pass rush did not get to Brady. Other times, the pass rush found its target, throwing off the Patriots' offensive rhythm.
Putting it away: Before his fumble, Williams had seemed to all but put away the game with a run up the middle for a first down when the Cardinals needed to run out the clock. Beanie Wells had left the game with an injury at that point. Arizona couldn’t risk giving the ball back to Brady with enough time to mount a drive to the winning field goal. Williams' first-down run was important, even though it was ultimately overshadowed.
Defensive stars shine: Beyond the tone-setting pick from Peterson, the Cardinals got dominant play from defensive end Calais Campbell, a constant force behind the line of scrimmage. Linebacker Daryl Washington also impressed. Campbell sacked Brady during the Patriots' final drive after teammate Sam Acho got pressure initially. Washington nearly picked off a pass for Rob Gronkowski. Arizona got sacks from Acho and even Quentin Groves, who hadn't had one since 2008, his rookie season. Groves also blocked a punt deep in Patriots territory, setting up a Cardinals touchdown.
Clutch two-point stop: The Patriots needed a two-point conversion to tie the game at 20. Safety Kerry Rhodes broke up Brady's pass for Gronkowski, a fitting play given how well the Cardinals' defense played overall. This felt like a game Arizona deserved to win based on how its defense played. Rhodes' pass defensed made it hold up.
Kolb's contributions: Kevin Kolb started at quarterback for the injured John Skelton and did enough -- just enough -- for his team to win a defensive battle. Kolb found Andre Roberts for a touchdown, the second connection between the two in as many weeks. Kolb also scored on a keeper. New England did a good job taking away Larry Fitzgerald. Kolb needed to find other receivers and he did so -- again, not all that well, but well enough given how the game was playing out.
What’s next: The Cardinals return home to face the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3 at University of Phoenix Stadium.