GLENDALE, Ariz. — Patriots linebacker Raekwon McMillan was simply trying to do his job, running over to make sure that teammate Kyle Dugger made the tackle on a routine play.
Suddenly, he saw a football on the ground.
McMillan scooped it up and ran 23 yards for the touchdown, giving the Patriots the go-ahead score in a 27-13 win on Monday night over the Arizona Cardinals, who lost starting Kyler Murray in the first quarter to a potentially serious knee injury.
“I looked back, saw it was just me and a lineman,” McMillan said of his mindset when scooping the fumble. “I said ‘If I can’t beat a lineman, then I don’t deserve to be out here.’”
New England trailed 13-10 at the break but tied the game at 13-all early in the third quarter after a short field goal. A few minutes later, the Patriots got their game-changing play and a 20-13 lead later when McMillan scored his touchdown, snatching the loose ball off the grass and sprinting toward the end zone.
Kyle Dugger forced the turnover by stripping Cardinals three-time All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who had just caught a pass.
“I try to be perfect. I let myself down,” Hopkins said. “Let coach down, let the guys down. I haven’t fumbled all year. It is definitely a reminder to protect the ball.”
The Patriots pushed their advantage to 27-13 early in the fourth quarter on Pierre Strong Jr.’s 3-yard run, then leaned on their defense to complete the much-needed win. New England’s defense had six sacks, including three by linebacker Josh Uche.
Mac Jones threw for 235 yards and finished 24 for 35 with an interception as New England (7-6) snapped a two-game losing skid to strengthened their AFC playoff positioning.
“There’s going to be a lot change over these next four weeks for everybody, that’s just how it goes,” Andrews said. “You start looking at (playoffs) and you’ll let something slip away.”
Arizona (4-9) has lost five of six games, including the last three.
Murray was hurt on the third play of the game, immediately changing the complexion of the evening. The fourth-year quarterback was flushed out of the pocket and running to his right when he tried to juke past a Patriots defender, but tumbled to the grass in obvious pain.
Players from both teams surrounded the quarterback before he was carted off the field with a towel draped over his head.
The 36-year-old Colt McCoy has proven a capable replacement for Murray over the past two seasons, coming into Monday’s game with a 3-2 mark when Murray was injured. He worked his magic again — at least for a while — leading the Cardinals to a 13-10 halftime lead.
“We’ve battled injuries all year long,” McCoy said. “The guys that are going to go in there are going to fight until the very end. I don’t think there is any more you can ask for and I will be proud to go lead them.”
The Cardinals took a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter after a 33-yard field goal by Matt Prater. They had good field position for the drive after Isaiah Simmons intercepted a pass from Jones, who was hit on the arm by rookie Cam Thomas as he was throwing.
James Conner bulldozed his way forward for a 10-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, breaking multiple tackles to give the Cardinals a 13-7 lead late in the second quarter. Conner finished with a team-high 85 yards rushing.
The Patriots scored their lone touchdown of the first half when rookie Kevin Harris ran 14 yards to the end zone.
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