FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) _ The New England Patriots lost for the
first time in 11 home openers at Gillette Stadium. They may have
also lost one of their most dynamic and dangerous offensive weapons
for a while.
Tight end Aaron Hernandez injured his right ankle midway through
the first quarter of New England’s 20-18 loss to the Arizona
Cardinals on Sunday and did not return.
He left the stadium after the game wearing a walking boot.
“Hopefully, he’s fine,” said fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski,
who caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady with 2:06
remaining before the Patriots failed on the 2-point conversion pass
to Gronkowski that would have tied the game. “He’s a great player
and we need him.”
After a sluggish start, New England (1-1) made it 20-12 on
Stephen Gostkowski’s fourth field goal of the game, a 53-yarder,
with 6:45 to play. Following a punt by Arizona (2-0), Brady capped
an 11-play, 82-yard drive with the touchdown pass to Gronkowski.
The Patriots got the ball back with 1:01 to play, though, after
Arizona running back Ryan Williams fumbled and Vince Wilfork
recovered. But Gronkowski stalled any momentum New England may have
mounted when he was whistled for holding, a call that nullified a
30-yard run into the end zone by Danny Woodhead, and a false start
two plays later.
“It felt like it was a clean block, like my hands were
inside,” Gronkowski said of the holding call. “The penalty (flag)
was thrown, you guys saw it too. You probably saw the replay, so
you can tell me if my hands were outside or not.”
Instead of trying to move closer, New England was content to try
and win the game on a 42-yard field goal with 6 seconds left, but
Gostkowski missed it wide left.
“You get opportunities like that not very often and I have to
do a lot better job of coming through for the team,” said
Gostowski, who had been 3 for 3 in his career on field goals that
would have tied or won the game in the final two minutes. “I had a
chance to win it and it came down to me and I didn’t pull through
and it stinks.”
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak against Arizona and
was New England’s first in a home opener since Gillette Stadium
opened in 2002.
On the Patriots’ third offensive play of the game, wide receiver
Julian Edelman caught a short screen pass from Brady and followed
Hernandez’s block up the left side before landing awkwardly on the
tight end’s right leg.
Hernandez, who recently signed a long-term contract extension,
was writhing in pain on the field for a few minutes before being
helped to the locker room.
With Hernandez sidelined, New England’s wasn’t its usual
explosive self. Brady was just 14 of 25 for 150 yards through three
quarters before leading a fourth-quarter charge.
“Aaron is in there almost every play, so it changes quite a
bit,” Patriots receiver Wes Welker said of their game plan. “You
have to go to a different attack and go out there and play the way
we need to and execute the way we need to and today just wasn’t
The game was tied at 6 at halftime on two field goals each by
Gostkowski and Jay Feely.
The Patriots took their only lead on Gostkowski’s 51-yarder 2
minutes into the third quarter. But the Cardinals responded with
consecutive touchdowns to go ahead 20-9 on Kevin Kolb’s 2-yard pass
to Andre Roberts, after they got the ball at the 2-yard line on a
blocked punt, and a 5-yard run by Kolb.
“Nobody really gave us a chance,” said Arizona coach Ken
Whisenhunt, whose team was a two-touchdown underdog, “but our guys
believed they could do it and it’s great to see them operate that
Kolb filled in for John Skelton, who sat out with a sprained
right ankle, and completed 15 of 27 passes for 140 yards with one
sack and no interceptions.
Brady was 28 for 46 for 316 yards and extended his streak to 34
games with at least one touchdown pass, fourth-best in NFL history.
But the Patriots didn’t try to move the ball into better position
for the final field goal attempt.
“It’s just a decision that Coach (Bill Belichick) makes,”
Brady said. “We shouldn’t have been leaving it up to that
particular situation. We were fortunate to get that defensive
turnover there late. We just came up short.”
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(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)