Zimmer: The Defense Shows Up, and So Does Nick Folk - Patriots Week 12 Recap

Just two weeks ago, I made a plea for your consideration: the New England Patriots had a chance to beat the Baltimore Ravens, who were 6-2 at the time. They’d have to do nearly everything right, but the request was simple...don’t count out the Pats. Sure enough, it was enough for a Week 10 win against Baltimore.


The very next week, any sign of momentum we saw was erased against the Houston Texans. The defense was abysmal, the backfield was essentially a non-threat, and Cam Newton didn’t have enough big plays in him to get through it.


Surely the Pats couldn’t rebound against a 6-4 juggernaut in the Arizona Cardinals, right?


Wrong.


The +1.5 home underdog New England Patriots (mind you, for the second week in a row) walked off the Cards after another uncharacteristically above-average performance.

In a game that would be largely dictated by the performance of its defense, the Pats were able to slow down MVP hopeful Kyler Murray to 201 total yards - 170 by air and 31 by ground - a far cry off his routine offensive efforts we’ve seen him exhibit over the past few weeks. We’ve seen this movie before - the Patriots have had historic troubles with stopping run & gun quarterbacks - but knocking off Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray in 3 weeks may have proven to end the narrative.


It certainly wasn’t pretty, but we saw a return of the scrappy, grinding defense that showed up against the Ravens just two weeks ago. As I suggested before the game, the Patriots have a wonderful knack for motivating their edge rushers to contain their subjects against teams that are better than them, and we saw a reprise of it against Kyler Murray this week. It’s been quite evident that against scrambling quarterbacks, the Patriots game plan had been to dictate the run lanes of both Jackson and Murray. Today, Kyler only rushed for 31 - the proof is in the pudding.


Add it in with a pair of clutch field goals from Nick Folk, who I’ve unfairly disrespected this entire year, and you’ve got yourself a nice win in Foxboro.


Sure, the theme of this game seemed to be “missed opportunities.” Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez had the opportunity to give his team a late lead, but shanked the go-ahead field goal. That miss would be the turning point in the game, giving Cam Newton one last shot to lead his team into field goal range; a shot that would prove to be successful.


As usual, here’s your good & bad takeaways from the Week 12 win over the Arizona Cardinals.


GOOD


Yet another elite performance from the front seven. Patriots fans have the most love-hate relationship with their defense in all of football. This year’s opt-outs certainly didn’t aid the cause; with defensive captain linebacker Dont’a Hightower and veteran safety Patrick Chung both electing to sit out the 2020 season, it appeared we’d get a less-than-ideal defensive effort in New England this year. While it’s been relatively inconsistent in results so far this year, you have no choice but to be optimistic at the efforts of the Pats’ front seven against the Cardinals (and against the Ravens two weeks ago), especially containing the run. We’ve been longing for the second-year Michigan outside linebacker/defensive end-hybrid Chase Winovich to break out, and his big-time sack & five solo tackles suggest they’re utilizing him well. We were also impressed by the efforts of Adam Butler, who tallied a sack and two tackles-for-losses after missing his first career game last week against Houston. He certainly didn’t want folks to forget about him - honestly, I think it took that big performance for me to remember he was even on the team in the first place. Look for Butler and Winovich to come up big over the next few weeks if the Patriots have a prayer of a long-shot playoff spot.


Nick Folk, I owe you an apology. Over his entire career, something about Nick Folk has rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was the fact that he wore the uniforms of some of my least favorite teams in the NFL (shoutout Cowboys and Jets!), or maybe it’s the fact that he walked-off the Pats in this Week 7 overtime thriller back in 2013 (if you want to feel bad about yourself, click here for the game recap). Regardless, I’ve been amazed at Folk putting aside his historic misfortunes and being a solid & reliable contributor to the special teams force this year. Today, he proved his worth once more, as his walk-off 51-yarder cemented the win.


So, Nick Folk, here’s to you: you’ve earned my trust. Don’t lose it.


We’re loving Donte Moncrief so far! In a desperate attempt to garner more offensive weaponry for Cam Newton, the most under-the-radar asset that the Patriots acquired in recent weeks is shaping out to be Donte Moncrief. The twenty-seven-year-old Ole Miss product started his career with the Colts, where he played his first four seasons. He then took brief tours in Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Carolina, and even started this year on the Jets, but Bill Belichick thought he might stand a chance to compete for targets in an offensive system that has produced so few of them this year. But against the Cardinals, Donte Moncrief actually proved his worth on the special teams side of the ball. He was charged with returning the kicks (of which there were very few to return), but broke out for a 53-yard return that put the Patriots in prime field position.


The best part? Look at how humble Donte Moncrief is, and how willing he is to help the team.

BAD


While the secondary played well, they gave away penalties in key situations. Remember the love-hate relationship from the “good” section? There’s a reason I’m reprising it here.


Despite the Patriots taking a 17-10 lead into the 4th quarter, the Cardinals marched down the field on their first possession, eating up the sweet ever-ticking clock as they moved. If you’re searching for answers on how exactly the Cardinals managed to kill the first seven minutes of the quarter and convert it into a score, you don’t have to look further than our beloved - yet vehemently inconsistent - secondary. Chalk it up to Jason McCourty and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore (are we still sure it’s him playing this year?), who were rung up for two separate pass interference penalties in the red zone on the same drive. While not necessarily an issue in the grand scheme of the game, it’s never wise to give any team - let alone the Arizona Cardinals - more opportunities to score. Kenyan Drake ended up punching in a touchdown a few plays later, but you’d have to think the game could’ve deviated a few different ways had the secondary sharpened up a bit down the stretch.


Cam Newton played well enough for a win, but was awful. A win is a win, but - good lord - you surely wouldn’t recognize it from Cam Newton’s stat line. Newton completed a dismal 9 of his 18 passes for a total of 84 yards, and added in two interceptions. He was sacked three times for 15 yards, and rushed for 46. Newton’s 23.6 passer rating (RTG) was by far the worst performance of his career, while his 6.6 quarterback rating (QBR) was second only to his atrocious outing in which he was pulled just after halftime in the 33-6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 7. While he made enough plays to get in the win column, this is bad news for Cam Newton’s stock. Judging by this clip of him saying “I’m sorry” to Josh McDaniels, he knew it.


NEXT WEEK: The Pats will head west for three straight road matches - they’ll begin against the Los Angeles Chargers, who are favored by nearly 2 points as of today. The Chargers have quite a different team than the Ravens and Cardinals, and as much as I hate to admit it, are more akin to an offensive scheme like the Houston Texans or the Buffalo Bills - both of whom the Pats suffered losses to earlier this year. New England's secondary needs to be nothing short of incredible on Sunday, while the front seven holds it down in an elite manner for its third time in four weeks. If the Patriots can cut off Justin Herbert's passing lanes, this could get very interesting, and put them in a prime spot to walk out of Los Angeles with its first win of the three-game road trip.

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