FOXBOROUGH – Well, that was an interesting game. Far more interesting than most thought it would be.
But the Patriots ended up winning 31-27 to improve to 12-2 on the season. One more win, if I’m not delirious at this hour, delivers them the AFC East title and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
So that’s good. Outside of that? Not a terrific performance by the Patriots.
WHY DID THE PATRIOTS WIN?
Mostly because the Packers didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities it had in front of them. There were dropped passes, dropped interceptions and the interception for a touchdown. Probably the biggest sequence of the game was the goal line stand the Patriots made early in the fourth quarter when the Packers had first down at the 2-yard line. They gained one yard in three plays and, somewhat surprisingly, settled for the field goal instead of going for it. If the Packers went up by 10 points there, it would have been hard for the Patriots to come back given how the Packers were moving the ball. Since it was a six-point game, the Patriots just stayed within the game plan.
A New England field goal made it a three-point game with about 11 minutes left. When the Packers got the ball they passed three straight times. Patriots got the ball back, punched it in for a touchdown on a great audible by Tom Brady to isolate Aaron Hernandez against rookie corner Sam Shields to take a 31-27 lead. That was the first time in the whole game Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn had to play from behind. It makes a difference.
DE Brandon Deaderick (shoulder) left but returned to the game.
RG Dan Connolly (head) did not return to the game.
THREE THINGS TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT
1. They survived: Playing at home likely made a big difference in the final result. They may not have been as fortunate on the road. But it’s over and they won and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.
2. Interceptions keep coming: Kyle Arrington’s return for a touchdown meant the Patriots are now 11-0 in games they get at least one interception (22 total). They have 12 in the past six games. It still remains to be seen if the defense can do enough if it doesn’t get a turnover that turns into points. They have a great knack for doing that. It’s one of the top traits about this team.
3. Defense brought pressure: It was kind of hit and miss but when the Patriots needed pressure on Flynn, they were able to find a way to get it. New England had five sacks, which tied the season high set against Pittsburgh. Even better is four different outside linebackers combined for four. They’re going to need more of that.
THREE THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT
1. Run defense: The Patriots allowed average running backs behind an average offensive line in the run game to rush for 143 yards. Brandon Jackson had 99 on 22 carries. He only had more than 63 yards once this season (115 against the Redskins). As a team, the Packers rushed for over 100 yards four times this season before tonight. The injuries to Ty Warren (injured reserve), Mike Wright and Myron Pryor are taking a big toll on the line.
2. Branch and Welker being neutralized: Not many teams have corners the caliber of Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson, but they were able to shut down Brady’s favorite targets. That makes it very hard for this offense to move the ball. Many teams have tried to copy the Packers’ game plan to little success, but teams in the playoffs will have the talent to do so. Players like Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman need to continue to gain the confidence of Brady.
3. Safety play: It continues to be a problem and will be targeted by better quarterbacks. The Patriots need Brandon Meriweather to play better. He’s a first-round pick and needs to take better angles than the one he did on James Jones’ 66-yard touchdown.
At Buffalo Bills (4-10), 1 p.m. Sunday.
Result: Beat the Dolphins 17-14 to win for the fourth time in six games.
What’s up with them: The Bills have been playing much better of late, especially with former Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick directing the offense. He was 16 of 26 for 223 yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins. OLB Arthur Moats has 2.5 sacks in the past two games. Patriots beat them 38-30 in Week 3.