The New England Patriots have managed to even surprise head coach Bill Belichick this season.
And that’s saying something since Belichick has 45 years of NFL coaching experience.
The Patriots received key contributions Sunday in their 20-17 upset win over the Arizona Cardinals from players who weren’t even on the team at the start of this month.
Wide receiver Donte Moncrief and defensive tackle Akeem Spence, both NFL veterans, were temporarily elevated to the Patriots’ active roster Saturday. Moncrief originally signed to New England’s practice squad Nov. 4, while Spence signed to the Patriots’ practice squad just over a week ago on Nov. 21.
They’ll revert back Monday unless the Patriots elect to sign them permanently to the 53-man roster.
Moncrief put the Patriots in great field position after a 53-yard kick return. The Patriots scored one of their two touchdowns on the ensuing drive. Moncrief was disappointed he wasn’t the one to put points on the board with the return.
“I was so mad,” Moncrief said. “I knew I was going. I saw nothing but green grass. My eyes lit up and then I just felt somebody come from behind me, and I’m like, ‘Gosh.'”
Spence contributed four tackles and was in on the Patriots’ goal-line stand to finish off the first half.
“I felt like I performed well,” Spence said. “Just being eight years in, as soon as you come in, you just got to grind, learn everything that you can learn and then just take it out Sunday and just perform to the best of your ability and just execute more so than anything. And I feel like I did that to a good level today but still got more to learn and to help the team win.”
Belichick was asked about contributions from players who were signed recently after Sunday’s win.
“Yeah, I’d say a little bit surprising to tell you the truth,” Belichick said. “Some of the players that have come in, how they’ve kind of been thrust into some roles. They’ve worked really hard to try to pick things up, be ready to go.
“Certainly Donte has taken advantage of some of the opportunities that he’s had. Akeem, got some opportunities as well. Other guys that fall into that category, too.”
Belichick also credited offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, special teams coordinator Cam Achord, outside linebackers coach and defensive play-caller Steve Belichick and defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington for getting them up to speed.
Moncrief and Spence weren’t the only unheralded players that contributed Sunday. Defensive tackle Adam Butler had the best game of his career with a sack, five total tackles, three total quarterback hits, two total tackles for loss and a pass breakup that resulted in an interception by safety Adrian Phillips.
“Just going into this game, I felt like it was important to get vertical in the pocket and make (Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray) feel uncomfortable,” Butler said. “My goal the entire game was to affect him.”
Punt returner Gunner Olszewski was credited for a 58-yard punt return. He actually ran 82 yards for a touchdown but the last 24 yards were negated by an illegal blindside block penalty on linebacker Anfernee Jennings.
Kicker Nick Folk, who was still competing with rookie Justin Rohrwasser at the start of the 2020 NFL season, hit the game-winning 50-yard field goal in the final seconds of Sunday’s contest. He’s now 19-of-21 on field goals and 20-of-22 on extra points this season and has missed a kick just once since Week 3.
“I think you guys are going to jinx me at some point,” Folk joked after the game. “Jake (Bailey) and Joe (Cardona) do a great job. One-hundred percent confident in them that they’re going to do their part. The line’s been protecting really well. I just have to do my part to help put them through and we put a couple through today.”
Jermaine Eluemunor, who came to the Patriots as a guard but started the season as a right tackle, and rookie Justin Herron swapped snaps at left tackle with starter Isaiah Wynn out. Eluemunor said it was “pretty dope” to start at left tackle for the first time since 2018.
The Patriots are either exceeding expectations or underperforming depending on how you look at their 2020 season as they stand at 5-6 after tough wins over the Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens and even tougher losses to the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans.
Belichick opened Sunday’s news conference expressing how proud he was of his Patriots for winning Sunday. Looking at their roster and judging by the fact that players like Moncrief and Spence are being asked to play key roles, the Patriots are probably lucky to be 5-6.