Stop signs align for defense

Unit runs down Arizona offense

By Joe Burris
Globe Staff / September 20, 2004

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- There was much talk about the hot Arizona climate entering yesterday's Patriots-Cardinals game, and indeed the game-time temperature was 89 degrees. Yet it probably felt much hotter for the Cardinals' offense. For 60 minutes, the Patriots' defense turned Sun Devil Stadium into one big pressure cooker.

The heat was on the Cardinals from the outset. In the first half, they had just 49 yards of total offense on 27 plays. That included 3 yards on 14 plays in the second quarter. The Cardinals, after recovering a Tom Brady fumble and returning it to the New England 11, had to settle for a 51-yard field goal by Neil Rackers on their second drive of the second quarter. The summary of that scoring drive: 4 plays, minus-22 yards.

The defense was led by safety Rodney Harrison, who posted a team-high 7 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 pass defensed, and a forced fumble. Cornerback Ty Law had five tackles and a pass defensed, Willie McGinest had 4 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 passes defensed, and safety Eugene Wilson posted 3 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 3 passes defensed.

They led a unit that limited Emmitt Smith to 31 yards on 13 carries (down from 87 yards last week against St. Louis) and sacked quarterback Josh McCown five times while limiting him to 13 completions on 29 attempts for 160 yards and 2 interceptions. Factor in the 43 yards he lost attempting to pass and McCown had 117 net passing yards.

"We had a lot of pressure out there and [McCown] really didn't have a lot of time to set up and look for his receivers," said Wilson. "The defense, we were confident in what we were doing. The guys were doing their jobs and we weren't really worried [about the final margin], but at the same time, we still had to play. So we kept pushing each other and came out with a win."

The defense allowed the Cardinals' third first down of the game with less than two minutes remaining in the first half. They limited Arizona to 20 percent efficiency (2 of 10) on third down. More important, they limited the Cardinals to 167 yards of total offense, 50 yards less than New England quarterback Tom Brady amassed passing.

"We were able to put a little pressure on McCown. He's pretty active and athletic back there, so he scrambled around and got outside a few times," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "But I thought the guys rushed hard and fortunately we were able to get them in some passing situations. We played the run a little bit better and we were ahead, so that always helps the pass rush."

To give an idea of how dominant the defense was yesterday, consider the second quarter.

The defense began its first series of the quarter with 13:08 left, and 40 seconds later it forced Arizona to punt. With 10:02 left, the defense took the field again after Brady fumbled and Arizona defensive end Bertrand Berry recovered and returned the ball to the New England 11.

The defense drove Arizona back to the 33, and the Cardinals were able to get Rackers's 51-yard field goal, with 8:13 remaining. With 7:17 to go, the Patriots' defense had to take the field again; Brady had a pass intercepted by cornerback David Macklin and returned to the New England 42. That led to Rackers's second field goal, a 52-yarder.

That meant that less than eight minutes in, the Patriots' defense had taken the field three times in the second quarter. It also meant the Cardinals scored just 6 points in its three drives, including two that began in New England territory. Though the contest remained close, the period was one of the best indications that Arizona would finish with another loss.

"We anticipated them getting the ball early and they had some success early, especially in the early drive," said Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, alluding to Smith gaining 8 yards on each of his first two carries. "But we made a few sideline adjustments and we realize [Smith] is still a threat and we respect that."

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