Conditioned for success

Defense did its part in victory

By Jennifer Toland
Worcester Telegram &Amp; Gazette / December 22, 2008
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FOXBOROUGH - It was an afternoon for snow balls, Santa hats, and slaying the Cardinals.

While the Patriots were busy rolling up more than 500 total yards, New England's defense did its part against a listless Arizona squad in a 47-7 annihilation yesterday at Gillette Stadium.

The Cardinals, who entered the game ranked second in the league in both passing and scoring offense, managed just 186 yards, 78 on Larry Fitzgerald's fourth-quarter touchdown reception.

Arizona had zero net yards and no first downs in the first quarter and 45 net yards through three quarters. The Patriots led, 31-0, at the half.

"We definitely wanted to come out and lay it down on them real quick," cornerback Ellis Hobbs said.

The Cardinals throw the ball 65 percent of the time, but that method didn't work in yesterday's elements. A steady snow turned to rain by the second half, and the game was essentially over after 30 minutes.

Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart combined to complete 12 of 32 passes for 168 yards. Arizona's backs totaled 44 yards on 15 carries. The Cardinals ran the ball on eight of their first nine plays but with little success. Linebacker Mike Vrabel stopped running back Tim Hightower for a 3-yard loss on third down on Arizona's first possession to set the tone. Wes Welker brought the ensuing punt 28 yards to the Arizona 33 and the Patriots were soon on their way to the end zone.

"Any time the defense is really stopping them like that we want to make sure we go out there and execute," Welker said, "and we were able to do that."

Warner, who earned his fourth career Pro Bowl selection this week, was 6 for 18 for 30 yards, his lowest total in a start in which he attempted at least 10 passes. He was sacked once. Warner entered the game first in the league in attempts, completions, and completion percentage (68 percent), second in yards (4,290), and third in touchdowns (26).

The Cardinals clinched the NFC West two weeks ago but haven't looked like a playoff-caliber team since. They scored 30 or more points six times in their first 13 games but have averaged just 10.5 in their last two. Turnovers contributed to a 35-14 setback against the Vikings last week.

"It's tough to shake anything," Warner said. "I don't know. We just have to figure some things out and get back to playing some good football again, because we're not doing it right now."

Warner was without Anquan Boldin, one of his 1,000-yard receivers, who sat out with a shoulder injury. Fitzgerald had three catches for 101 yards to improve his season total to 1,301. Leinart, who relieved Warner in the third quarter, connected with Fitzgerald for the TD with 6:17 to play. It was the longest completion allowed by the Patriots this season.

The Cardinals had seven three-and-outs in the game and negative-10 net yards in the third quarter.

"I just think our players did a good job all the way around," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We had good, tight coverage. I thought the corners got up and challenged the receivers. We had a good pass rush. Warner didn't have a lot of time to throw the ball. We hit him a few times. They tried to screen us and we were on those competitively. I just think it was good team defense."

The Patriots improved to 10-0 in snowy games in Foxborough. In their nine snow-game wins under Belichick, the Patriots have allowed an average of 8.5 points.

"The weather wasn't going to win the game for us," said linebacker Junior Seau, who started inside next to rookie Jerod Mayo, "but going out there and getting our offense and defense and special teams clicking early we knew that we'd have a chance."

The Cardinals are 0-5 on the East Coast this season and it was evident that yesterday's storm was uncomfortable to say the least.

"I always say when you go to other cities, you can always simulate the heat, but it's hard to simulate that cold," Hobbs said. "The ball conditions, the weather conditions, stuff hitting you in your face - it's hard. We definitely used that to our advantage."

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