In a battle of the two conference runners-up from the 2015 season, the New England Patriots entered their first game of the 2016 NFL season against the Arizona Cardinals with starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo replacing Tom Brady who was currently serving his four-game suspension.
Following a Cardinals' punt on the first possession of the game, the Patriots took their first possession of the season for a touchdown. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed 4/5 passes for 75-yards on a 10 play drive, ending with his 37-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Hogan. On the Cardinals' next drive, aided by a 39-yard completion from quarterback Carson Palmer to wide receiver John Brown, the Cardinals reached Patriots territory, but were forced to punt. Starting from their own 8-yard line, the Patriots cashed in again. Despite only reaching the Cardinals' 29-yard line, placekicker Stephen Gostkowski nailed a 47-yard field goal for a 10–0 Patriot lead. The Cardinals drove to the Patriots' 31, but on 3rd-and-2, Palmer was sacked for an 8-yard loss. Rather than attempt a 57-yard field goal, the Cards punted. This time the Cards caught a break; on 2nd-and-8, Garoppolo was sacked by linebacker Markus Golden and fumbled with ex-Patriot Chandler Jones recovering at the Patriots' 39, but a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty sent the Cardinals to their own 46. The field position didn't hurt Arizona as they drove 54-yards in 11 plays, scoring on Palmer's 1-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald trimming the deficit to 10–7. Neither team got a first down for the rest of the half.
The Patriots kicked off the second-half by storming 75 yards in 9 plays, with Garoppolo converting a 3rd-and-6 with a 10-yard run and a 3rd-and-7 with a 28-yard completion to wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, before running back LeGarrette Blount finished the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run, extending the lead to 17–7. The Cardinals punted on their next drive, but on the first play of the Patriots next drive, Blount fumbled with defensive end Calais Campbell recovering for Arizona at the Patriots' 33. With the good field position, Arizona marched 33-yards in just five plays and running back David Johnson scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, trimming the score to 17–14. The Patriots countered with a 50-yard drive to the Cardinals 25. On 3rd-and-4, Garoppolo hit wide receiver Julian Edelman for a first down, but the play was nullified for a holding penalty on tight end Martellus Bennett and the Patriots settled for 53-yard field goal two plays later. Andre Ellington returned the ensuing kickoff 16 yards to the Cardinals 16. This sparked a 79-yard, 7 play drive, aided by a 45-yard run by Johnson, with Palmer finding Fitzgerald on another 1-yard touchdown pass, giving the Cardinals their first lead 21-20. However, Garoppolo came through again. Marching 61 yards, Garoppolo converted a 3rd-and-15 with a 32-yard pass to wide receiver Danny Amendola for a first down. On 3rd-and-3 later, he completed a 7-yard pass to running back James White, and Blount later made up for his fumble with a 13-yard run on 3rd-and-11 and the Patriots ultimately settled for a 32-yard Gostkowski field goal with 3:44 remaining to retake the lead, 23–21. Starting at their own 8, the Cardinals reached the Patriots 33 where two costly mistakes occurred; first, offensive guard Earl Watford was flagged for holding, moving the ball back to the 43. On the very next play, Palmer attempted a screen pass to Andre Ellington, for a four-yard loss, but on 3rd-and-23 at the Patriots 47, Palmer threw a clutch 18-yard pass to Brown to the Patriots 29-yard line setting up a game-winning field goal attempt from placekicker Chandler Catanzaro, but he missed the 47-yard field goal wide left with 36 seconds left. Garoppolo took a knee and the Patriots got their first win of the season.