Raekwon McMillan, a Patriots linebacker, was simply doing his job when he ran over to ensure that teammate Kyle Dugger made the tackle on a routine play.
He noticed a football on the ground.
McMillan scooped it up and ran 23 yards for the touchdown, giving the Patriots the lead in a 27-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, who lost starting quarterback Kyler Murray to a potentially serious knee injury in the first quarter.
“I looked back and saw it was just me and a lineman,” McMillan explained of his thoughts while scooping the fumble. “I told myself, ‘If I can’t beat a lineman, I don’t deserve to be out here.'”
New England trailed 13-10 at the half, but a short field goal early in the third quarter tied the game at 13. A few minutes later, McMillan scored his touchdown, snatching the loose ball off the grass and sprinting toward the end zone, giving the Patriots a 20-13 lead.
Kyle Dugger forced the turnover by stripping three-time All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins of the Cardinals after he had just caught a pass.
“I strive for perfection. “I failed myself,” Hopkins admitted. “I let coach down, and I let the guys down. I haven’t messed up all year. It’s a good reminder to keep the ball safe.”
The Patriots increased their lead to 27-13 early in the fourth quarter on a 3-yard run by Pierre Strong Jr., then relied on their defence to secure the much-needed victory. New England’s defence had six sacks, three of which came from linebacker Josh Uche.
Mac Jones threw for 235 yards and finished 24 for 35 with an interception to help New England (7-6) snap a two-game losing streak and improve their AFC playoff positioning.
“There will be a lot of change for everyone over the next four weeks, that’s just how it goes,” Andrews said. “When you start thinking about (playoffs), you’ll let something slip away.”
Arizona (4-9) has lost five of its last six games, including three straight.
Murray was injured on the third play of the game, which immediately changed the tone of the evening. When he tried to juke past a Patriots defender, the fourth-year quarterback was flushed out of the pocket and running to his right, but he fell to the grass in obvious pain.
Before being carted off the field with a towel draped over his head, players from both teams surrounded the quarterback.
Colt McCoy, 36, has proven to be a capable replacement for Murray over the last two seasons, coming into Monday’s game with a 3-2 record when Murray was injured. He performed his magic once more, leading the Cardinals to a 13-10 halftime lead.
“We’ve been dealing with injuries all year,” McCoy said. “The guys who are going in there are going to fight until the bitter end. I don’t think there’s anything else you could ask for, and I’ll be honoured to lead them.”
Matt Prater’s 33-yard field goal gave the Cardinals a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter. After Isaiah Simmons intercepted a pass from Jones, who was hit on the arm by rookie Cam Thomas while throwing, they had good field position for the drive.
Late in the second quarter, James Conner bulldozed his way forward for a 10-yard touchdown, breaking multiple tackles to give the Cardinals a 13-7 lead. Conner rushed for 85 yards, which led the team.
The Patriots’ lone touchdown of the first half came on a 14-yard run by rookie Kevin Harris.
KYLER MURRAY’S DIFFICULT YEAR
Arizona’s recent hopes have revolved around the development of Murray, who was drafted first overall out of Oklahoma in 2019.
The quarterback’s fourth season has been difficult. And that was before the injury on Monday.
Murray signed a $230.5 million contract extension with the team in the offseason, which could keep him with the team until 2028, but that’s when the unwanted headlines began.
The two-time Pro Bowler was mocked after it was revealed that his new contract required at least four hours of “independent study” during game weeks, which was unusual for an NFL quarterback. The clause was later removed, but the damage had been done to his reputation.
Murray also battled COVID-19 during training camp, which kept him out for about a week, and was recently chastised by former teammate Patrick Peterson, who stated on his “All Things Covered” podcast that “Kyler Murray don’t care about nobody but Kyler Murray.”
He now faces what could be the most serious injury of his professional career. Prior to his injury on Monday, he had thrown for 2,359 yards, 14 touchdowns, and seven interceptions in 10 games.
INJURIES: CB Jack Jones (knee), RB Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle), and WR DeVante Parker (head) all suffered injuries in the first quarter for the Patriots. Stevenson returned later in the first half but was ruled out after the break.
Cardinals: WR Rondale Moore (groyne) and CB Byron Murphy Jr. (back) were among the six players who did not play. CB Marco Wilson Jr. (stinger) left the game early in the second quarter and did not return. DE Zach Allen (hand) left the game late in the second half and did not return.