TEMPE, Ariz. (AP)—When a team wins 17 in a row, some of them are bound to be ugly.
New England’s 23-12 victory over the sputtering Arizona Cardinals on Sunday was one of those.
“What streak?” coach Bill Belichick said. “We’re just trying to win a game.”
That one-game-at-a-time approach has worked for almost exactly a year.
After a bye next week, the Patriots (2-0) can tie the NFL record of 18 straight victories with a win at Buffalo on Oct. 3.
But big performances didn’t add up to big points.
New England drove to the Arizona 2-, 10- and 2-yard line in the second half, but had to settle for short field goals by Adam Vinatieri each time.
“It’s frustrating,” Brady said. “Sometimes you come out of these games almost with a sour taste in your mouth, knowing you could have performed so much better.”
With the exception of a costly fumble, Dillon had the kind of day he envisioned when he left lowly Cincinnati after last season.
“I didn’t come here to rot away and take L’s,” he said. “I wanted to be part of something that’s a winning tradition, and this is it.”
Wilson’s second interception, on McCown’s ill-advised pass into double-coverage, gave New England the ball at its 49 in the fourth quarter. Brady threw 27 yards to David Givens, one of his six catches for 118 yards. The drive stalled on fourth-and-1 at the 2, and Vinatieri’s 24-yard field goal put New England up 23-12.
Givens got more playing time because Deion Branch was knocked out with a knee injury on the final play of the first half.
“A guys goes down, we have ammunition to back him up,” Givens said. “We have five guys (receivers) who can all play.”
Arizona managed just 167 yards, 117 through the air and 50 on the ground. For the second week in a row, the Cardinals scored just one touchdown. Coach Dennis Green, who made his reputation on offense, was disgusted.
“We’re not on the same page, and that’s a shame,” he said, “because system-wise, style-wise this is probably the best offense in the National Football League right now. It’s hard to believe that we developed it. It’s hard to believe that we created it and we don’t know how to run it.”
Repeatedly, Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel had an untouched path to McCown, who was sacked five times, all in the first half.
“We were supposed to be protecting one way and we were protecting it backwards,” Arizona offensive tackle Anthony Clement said. “Things were just happening. As an offensive line, we screwed up.”
Neil Rackers kicked field goals of 51 and 52 yards in the second quarter for the Cardinals (0-2).
Former Cardinals safety Pat Tillman, killed in combat in Afghanistan, was honored in an emotional halftime ceremony in Arizona’s home opener.
Down 14-0 early and 17-6 in the third quarter, Arizona went 80 yards in 11 plays, with Emmitt Smith scoring on a one-yard run. McCown’s pass on the 2-point conversion try fell incomplete and it was 17-12 with 1:33 left in the third.
Vinatieri’s 28-yard field goal, after the Cardinals held on third-and-1 at the 10, made it 20-12 with 12:02 to go.
Two penalties, and a fortunate fumble recovery, aided New England’s eight-play, 68-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter.
A roughing-the-passer penalty against James Darling gave the Patriots a first down at the Arizona 48.
Brady’s screen pass to Patrick Pass gained 39 yards, the last 9 yards on a fumble. The Cardinals’ Adrian Wilson and LeVar Woods both had a shot at the fumble, but Branch slid behind them and got the ball at the 8.
On second-and-goal at the 5, Brady threw incomplete, but a defensive holding penalty on Karlos Dansby made it first-and-goal. Brady threw to a wide-open Graham on the next play and it was 7-0.
Wilson’s first interception, thrown by McCown into triple-coverage, gave New England the ball at the Arizona 30.
McCown said he forced things too much.
“When you’re in a dogfight, you want to be the guy who makes the play,” he said, “and I just got a little greedy.”
Rackers missed a 58-yard field goal try with eight seconds left in the first half. … Branch wanted to return to the game, but Belichick held him out as a precaution. … McCown was trying to get the ball to rookie Larry Fitzgerald on both interceptions.