Mike Tanier's Monday Morning Digest, Week 1

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For once, the odds actually were stacked against the Patriots.

They were 9.5-point underdogs against the Cardinals, according to Odds Shark, with good reason. Tom Brady is suspended. Rob Gronkowski (hamstring) didn't even travel with the team. Nate Solder was also out. You know a team is shorthanded when the veteran left tackle gets third billing on the inactive list. Also, the Cardinals were at home and are really, really good.

So the Patriots were legitimate underdogs, not just everyone-is-rooting-against-us underdogs.

That's not going to happen again anytime soon. The Patriots beat the Cardinals 23-21 in a Sunday night thriller. They did it by morphing their offense to accommodate Jimmy Garoppolo, who did his part by running the offense with reasonable efficiency and throwing for 264 yards.

LeGarrette Blount ran 22 times for 70 yards and one bruising eight-yard touchdown. His 13-yard run on 3rd-and-11 extended the Patriots' game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Patriots running backs usually only get 20-plus carries by killing the clock in blowouts, but Blount was actually featured in the game plan.

With Blount leading a very conventional (very unconventional for the Patriots) power running game, Julian Edelman acted more like a typical No. 1 wide receiver and less like a changeup from the slot. Edelman caught seven passes for 66 yards while rushing three times for 16 yards, the runs adding a misdirection threat that Brady rarely needs.

The Patriots even slowed the pace of the game, mothballing the uptempo tactics, controlling the ball for nearly 34 minutes and holding the teams to 10 possessions each. This was not your typical Patriots drag race, which helped the defense contain a tough opponent. By the second half, David Johnson was stringing together spin-and-cut moves that would give a video gamer sprained knuckles, while Larry Fitzgerald hauled in footballs like he had the gravitational pull of a dwarf star. The Garoppolo Patriots would not have won a shootout with the full-strength Cardinals. So Bill Belichick made sure that didn't happen.

The Patriots' upset victory came after an afternoon of losses by the Jets, Bills and Dolphins. So ends the best opportunity to get a leg up on the Patriots that the also-rans have had in years. The Jets and Dolphins blew fourth-quarter comebacks. The Bills just hung around and let the Ravens beat them.

Maybe the Patriots caught a break from a bad snap on what would have been a game-winning Cardinals field goal—but they put themselves in position to catch a break on the road against a contender without their two best players while the rest of the division was given a potential four-game head start and tripped over their collective shoelaces.

The Patriots have figured out how to beat good opponents with running and ball control again, a tactic they abandoned many years ago. They only need to rely on it for a few more weeks. But even without Brady, they are back in their familiar role: favorites.

Source : https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2663031-mike-taniers-monday-morning-digest-week-1

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