The New England Patriots are no strangers to University of Phoenix Stadium.
Bill Belichick’s team has visited the Glendale stadium twice — both for Super Bowls. Their quest for a perfect season was squelched by the New York Giants at UOP in Super Bowl XLII.
Seven years later, it was New England’s turn to score a dramatic victory, beating the Seattle Seahawks on Malcolm Butler’s goal-line interception in Super Bowl XLIX.
But the Patriots have never played a regular-season game against the Cardinals in their home nest. That will change Sunday night when the two teams meet in front of a sold-out building and millions on NBC’s “Football Night in America.”
Both teams are among the favorites to represent their conferences in Super Bowl LI in Houston in February, and Belichick is expecting a big challenge.
“They’re really good,” Belichick told Doug and Wolf Thursday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “They scored 500 points last year, great quarterback, really good skill players, well-coached, good offensive scheme. They have good balance between the running game, play-action passes and the passing game. They have a lot of different guys that can hurt you: running backs, tight ends, receivers. Solid offensive line.
“You’ve got more than one guy to stop and you have more than one guy to stop at every position. I thought they got a lot of production out of their tight ends this year in training camp and preseason. Same thing with the backs and obviously the receivers.”
Belichick’s acknowledgement of the Cardinals’ offensive prowess puts the onus on his players on defense.
“Everybody has to do their job. You can’t double everybody, you just don’t have enough guys,” he said. “Everybody has to do their job and hold up in gaps or coverage, whatever it happens to be, or they’ve got enough guys that will kill you.
“Coach Arians does a great job of keeping you off-balance. He’s got a good group of complementary plays, so if you’re stopping one thing, you’re going to have a hard time stopping the play that goes with it and vice versa. Obviously, they can attack every inch of the field. They can throw the ball down the field very well and they have great speed on the outside in the running game, so you have to defend sideline-to-sideline and from the line of scrimmage to the goal line on every play and it really spreads you out and opens up a lot of space for their great skill players and quarterback.”
This is the first regular-season meeting between the two teams since 2012, when the Cardinals scored a surprising 20-18 win at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. Only five Cardinals who saw the field that day — Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Patrick Peterson, Calais Campbell and Justin Bethel — will play Sunday night.
The game kicks off at 5:30 and can be heard on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, with pregame coverage starting at 1:30 p.m.