It's never pretty for Patriots, but a win over Cardinals helps their playoff hopes

The stories with the New England Patriots this season have most been about a weird offensive playcalling situation, that offense not producing enough points or Mac Jones not replicating his rookie year success.

The wins don't get talked about as much.

The Patriots are 7-6 after a 27-13 win over the Arizona Cardinals and if the season ended today, they'd be in the playoffs as the AFC's seventh seed. That might surprise some people whose only entry into the Patriots' season has been the complaints about Matt Patricia calling plays or a short-lived Bailey Zappe-Jones quarterback controversy.

Monday night was a typical Patriots win. They took advantage of mistakes. They had a fortunate fumble return for a touchdown. There was a bad interception after that by Colt McCoy, who was replacing injured Kyler Murray. The Cardinals missed a couple of big plays on fourth downs.

But maybe there's a reason opponents always seem to make those kinds of mistakes against the Patriots.

Cardinals lose Kyler Murray

The game started ominously for the Cardinals. On the third play, Murray scrambled to his right and as he planted, he went down. He was carted off with a non-contact knee injury. McCoy came in.

While the Cardinals didn't want to lose their $230.5 million quarterback, it was a challenge for the Patriots. Murray and McCoy couldn't be more different. The Patriots prepared for the dual-threat Murray, and then had to adjust to 36-year-old McCoy. But Bill Belichick always has his team ready for anything.

The Patriots played well against McCoy. The Patriots offense couldn't get much going either but the game was 13-13 late in the third quarter when New England got a gift.

DeAndre Hopkins, who has some of the best hands in the NFL, dropped the ball for a fumble after a short catch on a crossing route. Raekwon McMillan scooped up the gift and returned it 23 yards for the Patriots score. On the next possession, McCoy was under pressure and threw a duck downfield that rookie cornerback Marcus Jones settled under for an easy interception. Mac Jones hit three passes for 60 yards after that, setting up a Pierre Strong Jr. touchdown run.

The Cardinals weren't coming back after that.

Mac Jones of the New England Patriots celebrates during his team's win over the Cardinals. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Mac Jones of the New England Patriots celebrates during his team's win over the Cardinals. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Patriots take advantage of mistakes

The difference in many Patriots wins through the Belichick era is that his teams don't beat themselves, but are more than willing to take advantage of every error their opponent makes.

The Cardinals were a mess, and it can't all be blamed on Murray's injury. There were numerous penalties at inopportune times. Hopkins' fumble was a huge mistake. The Cardinals went for it on fourth-and-1 when they could have tried a 50-yard field goal, but McCoy's pass to a wide open Trey McBride wasn't high enough and it was knocked away by linebacker Jahlani Tavai. On a fourth-and-6 in the third quarter, the Patriots got quick pressure on McCoy, Marquise Brown didn't react quickly to McCoy's early pass and the ball went through his arms.

The Patriots feast on that. They're usually prepared for anything. Backups come in and succeed. Running backs Kevin Harris and Strong were forced into action when Rhamondre Stevenson hurt his ankle and Damien Harris was inactive, and each scored a touchdown. They had five carries for nine yards in their careers combined before Monday night.

The Patriots are good on defense, limited offensively, well coached by Belichick and at the moment a playoff team. The AFC is tough, but the Patriots can't be counted out.