It’s a tough loss to get upset about. Both Green Bay and New England played clean, competitive games, but the Packers came up with the big plays when they needed them in pulling off a 26-21 victory.
Both teams played well. Even Belichick admitted as much when he commended the Packers, “That’s a good football team and in the end they made a few more plays than we did tonight. I thought both team competed hard. I’m really proud of the way our guys hung in there, fought right to the end.”
There was no “we need to do better in all phases of the game.” There was no “we need to execute better, we need to coach better.” Sometimes two teams just go out, play their best, and one team proves to be better. One or two missed (or made) plays can make all the difference.
In this game, that one play may have come towards the end of the second half. The Patriots had just scored a touchdown to close the gap to 16-14 with 1:14 left in the second quarter. Green Bay got the ball at their own 19. They’d march down to the Patriots’ 45 yard line where they’d face a 3rd-and-2 with thirty seconds left. That’s when Aaron Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson — who had been blanketed the whole game by Darrelle Revis — on a short slant which Nelson took all the way to the house. Brutal. Instead of 16-14, it was 23-14 going into the half.
It changed the whole complexion of the second half. Instead of the Patriots mixing in a few more run plays, they kept going with the passing game — feeling the need to keep pace with Rodgers and his offense. The Patriots ran the ball well (84 yards), but they only ran 18 times against the 30th-ranked rush defense in the NFL. LeGarrette Blount had 10 of those carries for 58 yards.
Brady played well, but missed some opportunities. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 245 yards and 2 touchdowns. Julian Edelman played hard while fighting through a hip injury. Gronkowski was blasting potential tacklers. Brandon LaFell emerged as a bona fide red zone target.
Green Bay was just better on this day. Rodgers completed 24 of 38 passes for 368 yards. The clockwork timing of the Green Bay offense was a thing to behold. Wide receiver Randall Cobb proved to be a difference maker making key catches while coming out of the backfield. Eddie Lacy (21 carries, 98 yards) helped balance the offense with a punishing running game.
The Patriots were hurt by a lack of a pass rush. Chandler Jones, where art thou? His pass rushing ability was sorely missed on this day. Rodgers had all day to throw. It is a testament to how good the secondary played that Rodgers didn’t make more plays with the amount of time he had to throw.
The Patriots were also hurt by a couple of first quarter defensive holding calls on cornerback Brandon Browner. One came on a 3rd-and-2 play when Rodgers failed to complete a pass. The other came on a play Akeem Ayers had sacked Rodgers for a nine-yard loss. Both drives ended in field goals, so the penalties weren’t disastrous. The Patriots did lose by five, though.
The Patriots had a chance at the end of the game to extract a victory. They had the ball 1st-and-10 at the Green Bay 21-yard line with just over four minutes left in the game, trailing, 26-21. Brady would take an inopportune time to take his first sack of the game on a 3rd-and-9 play. The sack followed a pass play that Gronkowski almost made a spectacular diving catch on in the end zone. Even though one gets the feeling that Belichick would have wanted to continue trying to march for a game-winning touchdown, 4th-and-18 was just too big of a gamble. He opted to go for a 47-yard field goal which Stephen Gostkowski pushed wide right. The Patriots’ offense wouldn’t see the ball again.
The Patriots fall to 9-3. Green Bay improves to 9-3. There is a solid chance that both these team will meet again in Arizona in February. Playing on a neutral field may provide a different result.