For the second week in a row, the Packers’ hopes for a win were undone by a fumble. In Los Angeles last sunday, Ty Montgomery inexplicably decided to take a kickoff out of the end zone — even though he was supposed to take a knee — and he fumbled. Instead of Aaron Rodgers and the offense having two minutes to overcome a two-point deficit, the Rams ran out the clock for the win.
On Sunday night in Gillette Stadium, the Packers were tied with the Patriots through three quarters, and then, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Aaron Jones coughed it up.
And that was the beginning of the end for Green Bay.
A few plays later, the Pats went deep into their bag of tricks — Julian Edelman threw a 37-yard pass to James White …
…And three plays later, James White waltzed into the end zone to give New England a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. When it was over, the Patriots won going away, 31-17. The implication, as it has been for nearly two decades now, is that if New England earns home-field advantage, they’re a virtual lock to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. It’s that difficult to win at Gillette Stadium. This was the latest step toward that goal.
Still, credit to the Packers, a team decimated by injuries who kept pace with the Pats for 45 minutes.
Mike Pettine deserves a lot of credit
It’s easy to remember Mike Pettine as one of the long list of names to flame out with the Browns. But before he was Cleveland’s coach (he went 10-22 in 2014-15), he was known as one of the league’s best defensive coordinators; he worked for Rex Ryan in New York from 2009-12 and joined Doug Marrone in Buffalo in 2013 before getting the Browns gig. And after a year off — because everyone should take a year off after working in Cleveland — Pettine is back.
Pettine replaced Dom Capers in Green Bay and the defense has been about replacement level through the first half of the season. He has also orchestrated impressive back-to-back game plans to slow up two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Last week, the Rams’ Jared Goff completed just 54.3 percent of his throws — his lowest rate of the season — and was sacked five times. Yes, Goff still threw three touchdowns and didn’t commit a turnover, but if not for Ty Montgomery’s fumble with two minutes to go in the game, the Packers looked poise to win the game.
A turnover changed the direction of Sunday night’s game too, this time by Aaron Jones. But Brady wasn’t the reason the Patriots surged down the stretch. In fact, the 41-year-old quarterback was 20 of 33 for 224 yards with no touchdowns until midway through the fourth quarter when the Packers, already trailing 24-17, blew a coverage and left Josh Gordon wide open. The result: a 51-yard touchdown pitch and catch that pretty much sealed things.
But the larger point remains: Until that point, Brady was completing 60 percent of his attempts, a season low, and he looked uncomfortable in the pocket for most of the night. It didn’t help that the Packers were without much of their secondary, but the fact that Pettine had them confusing Brady well into the second half is a testament to his coaching skills.
Patriots don’t need Gronk and Michel
The Patriots were without two of their best players on Sunday. Neither Rob Gronkowski or Sony Michel dressed because of injury. Turns out, it didn’t matter. It seldom does with Brady under center, and the only real mystery is which names will step up to fill the void.
Sunday night’s winners? Gordon and Patterson.
Both came into the league as big-play wide receivers, and while Gordon remains one of the league’s best when he’s focused on football, Patterson has evolved into more of a gadget guy — a returner who is good with the ball in his hands.
Gordon’s 55-yard reception in the fourth quarter stretched the Pats’ lead to 14 points:
Gordon finished with five catches for 130 yards and a score — he led all receivers on the evening — while Patterson, who before the season never carried the ball more than three times in a game, had 11 carries against the Packers for a team-leading 61 yards and a touchdown.
This comes a week after Patterson had 10 carries for 38 yards against the Bills. Basically, Patterson, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds, is the new LeGarrette Blount.
But before you give Bill Belichick credit for doing what never crossed another coach’s mind, Jack Del Rio would like a word.
Here’s the overarching takeaway: Gronkowski and Michel are coming back. And the Patriots, who didn’t look in sync for much of the night but still found a way to win, will be that much better down the stretch.
An open-handed slap will now get you ejected
In the second quarter, right as Cordarrelle Patterson was getting warmed up at running back, Packers safety Jermaine Whitehead found himself being escorted off the field after giving Patriots center David Andrews an open-handed slap to the face. There was no question that Whitehead should’ve been flagged for a personal foul, but referee Brad Allen took it a step further and ejected Whitehead for his actions. The call was confirmed by NFL head of officials Al Riveron.
Not surprisingly many — including most of the football-viewing public — were confused by the ejection, and that includes former NFL referee Terry McAulay:
It’s unclear why Riveron would confirm Allen’s call. That wasn’t the only controversial call on the evening.
Is this roughing or running into the punter?
First things first: When the score is tied in the second half and you have the Patriots facing a fourth and 21, the very last thing you do is get anywhere near the punter. That proved too difficult for tight end Robert Tonyan, who couldn’t avoid punter Ryan Allen. But here’s the thing: Tonyan didn’t make contact with Allen’s plant leg, which would make it a roughing-the-kicker penalty and a first down. He hit Allen’s kick leg, and then made contact with Allen’s body, which, by rule, constitutes running into the kicker. That’s a five-yard penalty. In other words, the Pats would’ve faced fourth-and-16 instead of a new set of downs.
Except — and you knew this was coming — the contact was “deemed severe” so roughing the kicker applied here.
We’ve never seen that called but sure. Why not.
New England has now won six straight and moves to 7-2 on the season. They’ll travel to Nashville to face the Titans (3-4) on Sunday, who are 2.5 games behind the Texans in the AFC South. The Packers, meanwhile, fall to 3-4-1, which is good for third place in the NFC South, behind the Bears and Vikings. They’ll host the Dolphins (5-4), who are fresh off beating the Jets and are just two games behind the Pats in the AFC East.
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