FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals block field goal attempts better than any other team. Just the threat of that happening could make even the most reliable kickers nervous.
That may have affected Stephen Gostkowski when his 42-yard shot at a winning field goal sailed wide to the left, clinching the Cardinals’ 20-18 upset of the heavily favored New England Patriots on Sunday.
“We put a lot of pressure on a lot of field goal teams,” cornerback and special-team star Patrick Peterson said. “I think he was a little scared of us, honestly. That is why he pushed it left.”
Arizona led the league in blocked field goals in each of the past three seasons, then got a block in the season opener a week earlier. On Sunday, the Cardinals even got to a punt by Zoltan Mesko, the first time he’s had one blocked in the 122 kicks of his pro career.
Sure, Gostkowski is the most accurate kicker in Patriots history. And he had made all four of his field goal attempts — three of them longer than 42 yards — before Sunday’s miss on the next to last play.
“Each kick is different and, of course, you can develop a good rhythm and get in the zone,” he said. “I had a chance to make a big impact on the game and it turned south.”
The Cardinals (2-0) also played well on defense, holding the high-scoring Patriots (1-1) to one touchdown and four field goals and sacking Tom Brady four times. They also did enough on offense — touchdowns on Kevin Kolb’s 2-yard pass to Andre Roberts and Kolb’s 5-yard run and two field goals by Jay Feely — to win for the ninth time in 11 games.
None of those wins was by more than six points, so coach Ken Whisenhunt figures his players know how close they’ve come to losing and won’t get carried away with their success.
“They understand,” he said. “We have been in enough close games over the last 10 or so.”
Yet the Cardinals are off to a surprisingly good start.
They beat Seattle 20-16 in the opener when they forced Russell Wilson to throw three incompletions from the Arizona 4 in the final minute. Then they handed the Patriots their first loss in their 11 home openers at Gillette Stadium and ended a five-game losing streak against New England.
“Nobody really gave us a chance,” Whisenhunt said, “but our guys believed they could do it and it’s great to see them operate that way.”
The Patriots suffered a big loss when tight end Aaron Hernandez, their most versatile offensive player, hurt his right ankle in the first quarter. He left Gillette Stadium wearing a walking boot and carrying crutches. The Patriots gave no update on the injury or how much time he might miss.
“Aaron’s in there almost every play,” wide receiver Wes Welker said, “so it changes (play calling) quite a bit.”
Coach Bill Belichick added: “You can’t go into the game just counting on one guy, any guy. Everybody has to be ready to adjust. It’s not the first time a player has been injured in a game.”
Kolb started in place of John Skelton, who missed the game with a sprained right ankle. His numbers were hardly spectacular — 15 completions in 27 attempts for 140 yards. But he kept plays alive by rolling out.
“You can tell he is a veteran quarterback,” Whisenhunt said. “He understands what we are trying to do and he did a nice job today of moving in the pocket, being smart with the ball.”
The only New England possession that gained more than 47 yards came on its next to last series. Brady completed eight of 10 passes for 82 yards, capped by a 5-yard touchdown throw to Rob Gronkowski, making it 20-18. But the 2-point conversion attempt, a pass to Gronkowski, was broken up by Kerry Rhodes.
The Patriots got the ball back with 1:01 left when Vince Wilfork recovered a fumble by Ryan Williams at the Cardinals 30 with 1:01 left. A 30-yard run into the end zone by Danny Woodhead was nullified by a holding penalty against Gronkowski. New England then moved to the 24 before Brady spiked the ball to stop the clock with 6 seconds remaining.
That’s when Gostkowski took the field. So did the Cardinals trying to stop him.
“We put a lot of pressure on a lot of teams with our field-goal block team with me coming off the edge and collapsing the middle,” Peterson said. “We just want to continue putting pressure on field-goal teams so things like that can happen, so we can push it left.”
NOTES: The Cardinals beat the Patriots for the first time since Sept. 29, 1991. … The Patriots held Larry Fitzgerald to one catch for 4 yards. … Welker became the Patriots all-time leading receiver with 562 catches after making five on Sunday. He began the day tied with Troy Brown at 557. … Brady completed 28 of 46 passes for 316 yards and extended his streak to 34 games with at least one touchdown pass, fourth-best in NFL history. … Stevan Ridley led the Patriots with 71 yards rushing after running for 125 in the opener.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL