NFL Preview - Arizona (1-0) at New England (1-0)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Despite little time to prepare and a bit of a sting lingering from being named the backup quarterback, Kevin Kolb was still able to come off the bench and lead the Arizona Cardinals to a Week 1 victory.
He figures to have a tougher task ahead of him on Sunday, when he leads the Cardinals into Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots, who have yet to lose a home opener at Gillette Stadium.
Arizona paid a steep price to acquire Kolb from Philadelphia in July of 2011, dealing cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round pick to the Eagles in exchange for the quarterback.
Injuries limited Kolb to nine games in 2011 and he was beaten out for the starting job during the preseason by John Skelton, a 2010 fifth-round pick who started the other seven games for Arizona a season ago.
Skelton kept Arizona in last Sunday's meeting with Seattle, but the Seahawks led by three points with time winding down in the fourth quarter when he was forced out of the game due to an ankle injury.
Kolb came off the bench and finished off the drive that Skelton started, going 6-for-8 passing for 66 yards while capping the march with a six-yard touchdown pass to Andre Roberts with 4:59 remaining.
Seattle drove to the Arizona four-yard line with under 30 seconds to play, but quarterback Russell Wilson's pass attempt was dropped in the end zone by wide receiver Braylon Edwards.
Kolb was the big story after the game, drawing praise from his teammates and head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who pointed out that his quarterback was prepared and ready to play.
Strong safety Adrian Wilson agreed.
"I want to talk about Kevin Kolb. Let's talk about how poetic that was," Wilson said following the game. "The guy didn't get any reps in practice really, John (Skelton) got all the reps, and he came in there and led the game-winning drive. Defensively we just went out there and did our job. Kevin is really the one that should be talked about right now."
Whisenhunt said on Monday that Skelton suffered a less-serious low ankle sprain as opposed to the dreaded high ankle variety and didn't even rule Skelton out for this contest. However, Kolb seems the likely starter as Arizona tries to open a season with two straight wins for the first time since 2008.
"I've always said you can't get too high or too low in this game," Kolb noted on Monday. "Everybody wants to pat you on the back after something like (Sunday) and everyone wants to kick you when you're down. We'll have to go out and work just as hard this week and even harder to beat a team like the Patriots."
Skelton will not practice this week and rookie Ryan Lindley would back up Kolb if he is inactive.
Arizona is 8-2 over its last 10 games dating back to last season, while the Patriots are 9-1 in that same span, not including the playoffs. They won their ninth straight season opener last Sunday, besting the Tennessee Titans by a 34-13 score.
Tom Brady threw a pair of touchdown passes in the first half, one each to tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and running back Steven Ridley helped New England control the ball with his first career 100-yard rushing game.
"You always want to start out with a win, that's always a great way to start and the Tennessee Titans are a good team -- it was a good, hard-fought battle out there," said Gronkowski.
New England hopes to improve to 11-0 all-time at Gillette Stadium in home openers since the facility opened in 2002. The Pats have won 15 of their past 17 home openers overall.
Series tied, 6-6
Streak: Patriots have won last five meetings Last Meeting: Patriots 47, Cardinals 7 (Dec. 21, 2008 at New England)
Cardinals HC Ken Whisenhunt vs. Patriots: 0-1 Patriots HC Bill Belichick vs. Cardinals: 3-0 overall, 2-0 with New England Whisenhunt vs. Belichick Head-to-Head: Belichick leads, 1-0
Notes: Cardinals haven't beaten the Patriots since a 24-10 decision at Tempe's Sun Devil Stadium on Sept. 29, 1991 and are 0-2 in New England since a 33-10 victory on Dec. 2, 1984, when the franchise was still based in St. Louis. Patriots have outscored Arizona by an 88-7 margin in the last two games between the teams held in Foxborough. Belichick's first win over the Cardinals took place while at the helm of Cleveland in 1994.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
Arizona: 30th overall (253.0 ypg), 28th rushing (43.0 ypg), 22nd passing (210.0 ypg), 21st scoring (20.0 ppg)
New England: tied 8th overall (390.0 ypg), 3rd rushing (162.0 ypg), 20th passing (228.0 ypg), 6th scoring (34.0 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
Arizona: 4th overall (254.0 ypg), 20th rushing (115.0 ypg), 3rd passing (139.0 ypg), tied 6th scoring (16.0 ppg)
New England: tied 9th overall (284.0 ypg), 2nd rushing (20.0 ypg), 18th passing (264.0 ypg), tied 3rd scoring (13.0 ppg)
Arizona: 0 (2 takeaways, 2 giveaways) New England: +2 (2 takeaways, 0 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
Arizona: 50.0 percent (4 possessions, 2 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 14th overall New England: 50.0 percent (4 possessions, 2 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 14th overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
Arizona: 25.0 percent (4 possessions, 1 TD, 2 FG) -- 7th overall New England: 0.0 percent (2 possessions, 0 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 1st overall
WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL
Skelton was 14-of-28 passing for 149 yards with an interception before his injury, attempting to guide an offense that was getting little on the ground against Seattle. Though running back LaRod Stephens-Howling punched in a one- yard touchdown run in the second quarter, Arizona managed just 43 yards on 20 carries in the game. Beanie Wells had 14 yards on seven carries, while Ryan Williams carried the ball eight times for nine yards and had a fumble that led to a Seattle field goal. Roberts led the Cardinals with five receptions that totaled 54 yards, and he was one of nine receivers who had a pass fired in his direction. The bulk went to wideout Larry Fitzgerald, who had 11 targets and made four receptions for 63 yards. He is three catches shy of becoming the youngest player to reach 700 in his career and had a personal-best 78-yard scoring catch in the Cardinals' last meeting with New England. New England will have its eye on Fitzgerald, so contributors like wide receiver Early Doucet and tight ends Jeff King and Todd Heap will need to step up.
Kolb may see plenty of action if New England shuts down the run game like it did versus Tennessee. The Patriots limited the Titans to just 20 yards on the ground on 16 carries, with former Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson logging just four yards on 11 attempts. Playing with a lead helped the defense, as did some hard hits from rookie safety Tavon Wilson and linebacker Jerod Mayo. The Patriots also saw the rookie tandem of defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont'a Hightower hook up for a score after the former forced a fumble that Hightower returned six yards for a touchdown. Jones and fellow end Jermaine Cunningham came up with sacks in the win, while Tavon Wilson picked off Titans quarterback Jake Locker. Mayo, meanwhile, led the way with 13 tackles and cornerback Devin McCourty had seven. The latter will look to contain Fitzgerald this weekend with help from safeties Wilson, Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
New England didn't need big numbers out of Brady thanks to a 21-3 lead at halftime, and the former league MVP ended with 236 passing yards on 23-of-31 throwing. Continuing last season's theme, Brady targeted the duo of Gronkowski and Hernandez a combined 13 times, with the two making 12 catches for 119 yards with the two scores. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd also had a solid came in his Pats debut, with the free-agent pickup making five catches for 69 yards to help Brady become the 14th player in NFL history to reach 40,000 career passing yards. Wide receiver Wes Welker also matched Troy Brown's club record of 557 career receptions in the win, but did so on just three catches for 14 yards. Though Welker is usually one to rack up the receptions, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said that the use of some three tight end sets as well as some other personnel groupings limited his slot receiver's chances and that Welker's role remains the same, not diminished. Ridley, though, picked up a big role by running for 125 yards on 21 carries. He also scored from a yard out in the third quarter.
Arizona was able to make some plays on the defensive side of things last week, logging three sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery versus Seattle. The Cardinals recorded their seventh straight game with multiple sacks, getting two from linebacker Paris Lenon and one by inside counterpart Daryl Washington, while Adrian Wilson added a pick to his two tackles. It was an impressive effort from the unit, which allowed a touchdown and three field goals on four drives that all began in Arizona territory. Washington and Lenon also combined to make 19 stops and cornerback William Gay had seven tackles. Defensive end Calais Campbell blocked the sixth field goal attempt of his career as well, giving Arizona a league-high 13 since the 2008 season. The Cardinals hope to pressure Brady this weekend and have youthful speed on the outside in linebackers Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield, while second-year corner Patrick Peterson figures to be put to the test.
Arizona has to feeling good having survived its meeting against Seattle with a win, but the fun times are likely to come to an end in New England. After allowing a team with a rookie quarterback to put itself in position for a victory, Brady figures to have a field day with the Cardinals' secondary. The Patriots offensive line did a decent job keeping Brady upright, though he did suffer a minor nose injury versus the Titans, and the Pats showed their willingness to go to the run at times to balance things out. While Skelton could return as the starter at some point, Kolb will get a chance to make it a quarterback race once again. However, a possible shootout in Foxborough could lead to a long day of happy feet for the signal-caller.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Patriots 34, Cardinals 16
09/13 17:39:35 ET