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A hotly contested game saw the Patriots receive unexpected hope only to see that hope disappear with one errant kick to seal a 20-18 upset for the Arizona Cardinals. The game was a big defensive battle, with only field goals now and then until the middle of the 3rd quarter. Even when the Cardinals made it a two-possession game, New England stayed in it and got key stops, even forcing a late fumble to control the game’s final before kicking the victory wide.
Arizona took the opening kickoff and marched methodically down the field. A timely stop limited them to a field goal before New England took over. As it turned out, New England couldn’t take over, as their first play of the game was an interception tipped at the line and grabbed by Patrick Peterson. Fortunately, New England limited Arizona to another field goal.
On the Patriots’ next drive, things continued to go downhill. Two plays in, Julian Edelman caught a pass, but rolled over Aaron Hernandez when he was tackled. Hernandez left the game and did not return. New England ended up with a field goal on the play to cut the deficit to 6-3.
Arizona’s first drive of the quarter saw them deep in their own territory, but they converted on a 3rd and 8. At least they would have if offensive holding hadn’t been called, causing a punt and a Patriots possession starting at the Cardinals’ 46. Stevan Ridley ran for 27 yards during the next four plays, but New England was soon stopped and settled for a tie game.
New England later had a golden chance when Kevin Kolb fumbled while scrambling. New England recovered at their own 48, but got careless. New England, in succession, followed the recovery with a ten-yard sack, false start and seven-yard sack, and soon punted.
New England held the ball to begin the second half. They used some big passes to move the ball down the field. Arizona caught up to this strategy eventually, but Stephen Gostkowski was able to hit a 51-yard field goal to give New England their only lead of the day, 9-6.
Later, New England got the ball back after forcing a punt, but were kept deep in their own end. In a move that triggered New England’s worst stretch of the game, Zoltan Mesko’s punt was blocked. The ball bounced around, moving out of bounds at New England’s 2-yard line. New England appeared to be doing well stopping Arizona, but gave up a touchdown pass on third down.
After more defensive jostling, Arizona ended up with the ball to start the quarter. Three plays later, Kolb took the ball up the middle himself for a five-yard touchdown run to put Arizona up 20-9. Two New England possessions later, Gostkowski hit his fourth field goal of the game, this one from 53 yards out, to make it a one-possession game again, 20-12.
On their next possession, the Cardinals found themselves with a 3rd and 8 from their own 22. A pass to Larry Fitzgerald that would have been very close to a first down was ruled incomplete as Fitzgerald went to the ground. Arizona lost a challenge on the play, and was forced to give New England a chance to tie the game.
In the red zone, Tom Brady took a sack on second down despite having some decent room to run ahead and to the right. It could have been more damaging, but Julian Edelman then caught a first down pass, which was followed by New England’s best weapon Rob Gronkowski catching a five-yard touchdown pass. Brady went to Gronk again on the two-point conversion attempt, but this time he was more closely guarded, and the attempt failed, leaving the score at 20-18.
Just before the two-minute warning now, New England kicked deep, on which Arizona took a touch-back instead of running out of the end zone. By doing so, they had to run a play before the two-minute warning, which saved New England a timeout as opposed to Arizona running around on the kickoff and running off those few seconds then and there. Still, New England needed to get a three-and-out, or the clock would be sure to run out.
Arizona ended up converting on 2nd-and-5, which would allow the Pats a few seconds after using their last timeout and getting a punt to attempt to charge up the field and try something. But on third down, running back Ryan Williams couldn’t control the ball. Brandon Spikes forced the fumble on a pitch play, which was then recovered by big Vince Wilfork with 1:01 left on the Arizona 30.
All New England needed now was to squeak out a few yards, bleed the clock and let Gostkowski do his thing to pull out a victory that should have been lost. After an incompletion (which didn’t bleed the clock), Danny Woodhead ran through the hole for 30 yards and a touchdown, giving the Patriots the lead. At least it would have, but Rob Gronkowski was called for offensive holding on the play, one of the rare times when New Englanders don’t care much for Gronk. Wes Welker managed to pick up a first down on the next play anyway, running out of bounds at Arizona’s 18 to seemingly solidify New England’s win.
Gronk then did even more to hurt New England, getting called for a false start this time. In the end, it led to a 42-yard field goal attempt at the buzzer, seemingly not a problem considering Gostkowski’s impressive scores from 51 and 53 yards earlier. Instead, Gostkowski did his best impression of Billy Cundiff’s booted field goal to end the 2012 AFC title game, missing wide left to finish off the hard-fought but lost contest.
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