Stephen Gostkowski takes four steps back, then swings his right arm robotically to line himself up. Then he takes two steps to his left and pauses for about four seconds, waiting for the ball to be snapped.
Zoltan Mesko catches the snap and puts the ball down, laces out and tilted slightly to the right, and Gostkowski kicks the lower half of the pigskin with the inside of his right foot, simultaneously lifting the ball with a forward and right motion of his kicking leg.
Then Gillette Stadium watched what would have been a game-winning 42-yard field goal sail wide left (way wide left) of the uprights, and the Arizona Cardinals defeated the New England Patriots 20-18.
In the coming days, some of the blame for the Patriots loss will probably focus on Stephen Gostkowski’s last-second miss. Of course, Gostkowski, who was 6 for 6 on the season in field goal opportunities before botching the game-winner, couldn’t have missed at a worse time, since converting the kick obviously would have notched a victory for New England.
But the Patriots made one other key mistake that helped Arizona drop them to 10-1-0 in home-opening games during the Bill Belichick era.
Early in the third quarter, Arizona’s Quintin Groves came off the edge almost untouched to block a Mesko punt. The ball bounced out-of-bounds at the New England 2-yard line, and Kevin Kolb found Andre Roberts three plays later for the go-ahead touchdown.
Without the blocked punt, New England wins 18-13.
But give Arizona’s defense credit too. Even though Tom Brady went 28 for 46 for 318 yards, the entire Patriots offense had just 100 yards rushing.
And the Cardinals never really let New England get into a rhythm either. They intercepted a Tom Brady pass on New England’s very first offensive play from scrimmage. They stopped the Pats from getting in the end zone even after a Julian Edelman punt return gave New England the ball at the Arizona 46-yard line. Even when the Patriots ran the no-huddle in the fourth quarter, a drive that started with two first downs through the air ended with a Gostkowski field goal of 53 yards.
If there’s one positive to New England’s loss, it’s the defense. Kevin Kolb had just 140 yards passing. The Cardinals as a team had just 33 carries and 105 yards rushing. Linebacker Brandon Spikes forced Cardinals running back Ryan Williams to fumble with just over a minute left in the game, giving New England its chance at a last-second victory.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s only one game. They’ve still got a great coach, a great quarterback, and a chance to do good things this season. Add a good defense to the mix, and this is a team that’ll be sniffing the playoffs once again come the end of the season.