In Bill Belichick’s eyes, the most important play of the New England Patriots’ dramatic win over the Arizona Cardinals wasn’t a touchdown, a key third-down stop or even Chandler Catanzaro’s game-sealing missed field goal.
It was a kickoff.
After nailing a 32-yard field goal to give the Patriots a two-point lead with less than four minutes to play, Stephen Gostkowski placed the ensuing kickoff inside Arizona’s 5-yard line. Andre Ellington fielded the ball, took off upfield before New England safeties Nate Ebner and Patrick Chung dropped him at the 17-yard line.
But instead of beginning what they hoped would be a game-winning drive from just inside their own 20-yard line, the Cardinals had to start at their own 8 after Tyvon Branch was called for holding on Jonathan Jones, who’d come roaring down the middle of the field to apply pressure on Ellington.
Arizona quickly escaped from the shadow of its own goal line and advanced all the way the New England 29, but Catanzaro’s field-goal bid with 41 seconds remaining sailed wide left, allowing the Patriots to escape University of Phoenix Stadium with a season-opening 23-21 victory.
“Obviously, the big play in the game was the kickoff,” Belichick told reporters in his postgame news conference. “Making the tackle down there at the 15, getting the penalty. That field position ended up being a real big factor there, I’m sure, on final kick. Really good plays in special teams.”
Earning specific praise from the Patriots head coach was Jones, an undrafted rookie cornerback who earned a roster spot in part because of his ability to contribute on special teams.
“Jones, as he did all night, was a big factor on coverage,” Belichick told reporters. “I think he was the one who got the holding call. That was a great situational play we needed at the time, and in the end, those yards showed up at the other end of the field.”
The Patriots held Ellington to 61 total yards on four kick returns, and Patrick Peterson managed just eight yards on Arizona’s lone punt return.
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