FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots surprised prognosticators Sunday night when they, as 9 1/2-point underdogs, upended the Arizona Cardinals on the road to cap a wild day of NFL action.
But they did not surprise themselves.
“I don’t think we’re shocked by the way we performed,” Patriots special teamer Matthew Slater said Monday, one day after New England handed Arizona a 23-21 loss at University of Phoenix Stadium. “I think that we put a lot of time and effort into our preparation, and we were really attentive to the details. We put a lot of time and effort into our conditioning, and I think all those things showed up (Sunday).
“It was a great football team. As I said (Sunday) evening, that’s not the last that you’re going to hear of the Arizona Cardinals. They’re going to, I’m sure, have a great season. But it was a good way for us to start our season.”
More from a relatively quiet Monday at Gillette Stadium:
— Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo proved to be a more-than-serviceable fill-in for Tom Brady in his first NFL start, completing 24 of 33 passes for 264 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.
“There was no panic to him,” Slater said. “He really was poised. The game wasn’t too big for him. It’s obviously difficult when you’re going against a good defense in a hostile environment, but he didn’t panic. He trusted his preparation, and I think that he did a great job.”
Garoppolo was the first Patriots QB other than Brady to start a regular-season game since Brady’s torn ACL in 2008 thrust Matt Cassel into the spotlight. Cassel also won his first start — 19-10 over the New York Jets — en route to an 11-5 finish.
“I think that the credit goes to a lot of different people, but obviously, it’s no mystery that we have a great coaching staff, and they do a good job of preparing guys,” said Slater, who was a rookie on that 2008 Patriots team. “That ‘next man up’ motto has been big around here in my time here, and I’ve seen it time and time again. Obviously, I’ve seen it in a couple of quarterbacks in my time here.
“But Jimmy has been a professional his whole time here and has really tried to learn from Tom and learn from (offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels). He put himself in a position to have success (Sunday night), and I think it was a group effort.”
— Terrance Knighton, who was cut by the Patriots last month, also seemed to like what he saw from Garoppolo.
— As was the case after the game, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was highly complimentary of New England’s special-teams units in his Monday conference call with reporters.
He singled out core special teamers Slater, Stephen Gostkowski, Brandon Bolden, Nate Ebner and Jonathan Freeny and also mentioned safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, both of whom made important tackles in the kicking game against the Cardinals.
Belichick also said Chung might have been in a position to block Chandler Catanzaro’s potential game-winning field goal had the kick not sailed wide left.
“I mean, we were close on that last field goal, too,” the coach said. “I’m not sure if it had been kicked down the middle if Chung wouldn’t have had it, because it seemed like the ball missed him just a little bit to the side. But that was kind of where the ball was being kicked. Had it gone straight, Chung might’ve had it. In any case, I think our effort and our overall play in all the units last night was a big contributor to our success.”
Belichick on Sunday called the kickoff that preceded Catanzaro’s shank the biggest play of the game.
— Patriots.com has a look inside the New England locker room following the win. It’s safe to say the Pats were a pretty happy bunch.
Thumbnail photo via Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports Images