GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Even without their stars and other starters as well, the New England Patriots proved they're no pushovers when playing short-handed.
Just ask the Arizona Cardinals, who fell 23-21 Sunday night in the season opener for both teams at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Playing without suspended quarterback Tom Brady, All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, suspended defensive end Rob Ninkovich and two starting offensive linemen, the Patriots rode the arm of Jimmy Garoppolo and the leg of kicker Stephen Gostkowski to deal Arizona its first home loss in September since 2009.
The Cardinals rallied from a 10-0 first-quarter deficit and eventually took the lead with 9:46 left to play when Carson Palmer threw a 20-yard fade pass to Larry Fitzgerald in the corner of the left end zone. Chandler Catanzaro's extra point made it 21-20, Arizona.
But Garoppolo, charged with replacing Brady during the future Hall of Famer's four-game suspension for his alleged role in the Deflategate controversy, brought his team back and proved the Las Vegas odds makers, who had listed New England as 9-point underdogs, to be dead wrong.
He guided the Patriots on a 13-play, 61-yard drive capped by Gostkowski's third field goal of the game, a 32-yarder, with 3:44 remaining. Gostkowski also connected from 47 and 53 yards.
The Cardinals had a chance to win it, driving to the Patriots' 29-yard line in the final minute of play. But Chandler Catanzaro was wide left on a 47-yard field-goal attempt. The snap from rookie Kameron Canady was low to holder Drew Butler, which threw Catanzaro off.
The Patriots took over with 41 seconds remaining and ran out the clock to seal the win.
Garoppolo finished the game 24 of 33 for 264 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Palmer was 24 of 37 for 271 yards and two touchdowns, both of them to Fitzgerald, who moved into a tie for eighth all time with Hall of Famers Tim Brown and Steve Largent with 100 career touchdowns.
The Cardinals converted a fumble by LeGarrette Blount into a touchdown in the third quarter when second-year running back David Johnson bulldozed his way in for the score from a yard out. The touchdown by Johnson, who would finish with 89 yards on 16 carries and also catch four passes for 43 yards, pulled the Cardinals to within a field goal, 17-14.
Blount finished with 70 yards on 22 carries for the Patriots. Chandler Jones had one of Arizona's two sacks against his former team, which traded him to the Cardinals this past spring in exchange for guard Jonathan Cooper, who did not play because of a foot injury, and a second-round draft pick.
Garoppolo looked a little nervous on his first pass attempt of the night, sailing one over the head of Chris Hogan on New England's first possession. Garoppolo settled down almost immediately, though, completing each of his next four passes for 75 yards, which included a 37-yarder to Hogan down the left sideline for a touchdown.
Hogan beat the Cardinals' rookie cornerback, Brandon Williams, badly on the play.
After going 74 yards on eight plays, the Patriots mounted another scoring drive on their second possession, this time relying on the running game and the dual threat of LeGarrette Blount and James White to generate yardage. A great effort on third down by safety Tyvon Branch to deflect a Garoppolo pass prevented a touchdown.
New England went 63 yards on 12 plays, but was forced to settle for a 47-yard field goal by Gostkowski.
The Cardinals pulled to within three after forcing a New England turnover. Markus Golden strip-sacked Garoppolo and Jones, the former Patriot, recovered the fumble. Eleven plays later, Palmer hit Fitzgerald on a 3-yard scoring pass.
The touchdown moved him ahead of Torry Holt (13,382) for 14th on the league's all-time receiving yards list.
The game marked the return of Cardinals Pro Bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu, who tore his right ACL last December. Mathieu didn't roam all over the field in typical Honey Badger fashion, though. He was used in a more conventional way as a deep safety.
The Cardinals lost two players to injury during the first half as starting right guard Evan Mathis exited with a left foot issue and receiver J.J. Nelson departed with an injured left shoulder. Arizona has plenty of depth at the wide receiver position, but Mathis is a two-time Pro Bowl performer at guard. Earl Watford, a backup at all five positions up front, replaced him.
NOTES: Cardinals' rookie CB Brandon Williams, when asked if he ever could have dreamed of starting in the NFL in Week 1 just a year removed from being a running back: "Of course, why wouldn't I? If you don't there's something wrong. Everybody should have a dream like that." ... Patriots WR Danny Amendola helped hold the American flag during the singing of the national anthem.