31 thoughts on the Patriots’ 31-17 victory over the Packers

New England took command in the fourth, thanks to some creativity, savvy, and a little luck too.

Tom Brady talks with Aaron Rodgers after the Patriots defeated the Packers, 31-17, at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
Tom Brady talks with Aaron Rodgers after the Patriots defeated the Packers, 31-17, at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. –Maddie Meyer / Getty Images
  1. Weird game, wasn’t it? Fun, and fulfilling in the end … but weird. The Aaron Rodgers-Tom Brady shootout never really materialized, the Patriots were shorthanded on offense without Rob Gronkowski, Shaq Mason, and Sony Michel, one Packers defensive player or another seemed to get hurt on every New England drive, and for at least one drive the Patriots’ hard-running bell cow back was wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
  2. It felt like the Patriots led by at least 10 points most of the way, as if they had it under control all along, but it was 17-17 after three quarters, and they didn’t really put it away until a couple of the cleverer designs in their playbook led to 14 straight points in the fourth quarter. It was a good win, their sixth straight to improve to 7-2. But it certainly did not follow any expected blueprint.
  3. The Patriots wasted a couple of good opportunities, chances that made it seem like they were controlling the game when they really couldn’t quite seize it. In the third quarter, they failed to get anything out of a gift from Packers tight end Robert Tonyan, who was called for roughing punter Ryan Allen on fourth and 21, giving the Patriots a fresh set of downs that led nowhere. In the second quarter, a flea flicker from Brady to James White to Brady to Julian Edelman got the Patriots to the Green Bay 10, but they ended up having to settle for a 28-yard field goal.
  4. The Patriots took command in the fourth, thanks to some creativity, savvy, and a little luck too. After Lawrence Guy punched the ball away from Packers running back Aaron Jones and Stephon Gilmore recovered, Brady led the Patriots on a 10-play, 76-yard drive that culminated with a James White 1-yard run, his second touchdown of the night and 10th overall this season.
  5. Actually, an argument could be made that Julian Edelman led the Patriots on the drive, since he made the biggest passing play – a throw to White across the field on the back end of a double pass that the running back took 37 yards down the left side.
  6. The catch was White’s 61st of the season, a new career-high, which tells you just how great he has been this year. He might reach 100 catches before the Patriots officially clinch the AFC East.
  7. The punctuation mark on the win came with 7 minutes and 20 seconds left, when Brady found Josh Gordon on a short pass and he took it 55 yards for a touchdown and a 31-17 lead. It wasn’t clear if Brady was targeting Gordon or Edelman, who leaped in an apparent attempt to make the catch. But it couldn’t have worked out better.
  8. Bill Belichick gave Gordon a smile, a smack on the helmet, and a “nice job” when he got back to the sideline. I’m starting to believe he really is acclimating as quickly as the Patriots have been telling us. Gordon finished with 5 catches for 130 yards.
  9. Edelman played his best game since returning in Game 5 from his suspension, completing his 37-yard pass, contributing six catches for 71 yards, and running for 28 yards on two carries. He looks to me like the player he was before his knee injury.
  10. There might have been teams through history that are the Patriots’ equal in maximizing players’ specific skill sets. But I can’t imagine there’s a team that has been better at it, whether recognizing that college quarterback Julian Edelman could make it as a slot receiver, spending a fifth-round pick on UCLA special teams ace Matthew Slater, plugging Troy Brown in at cornerback with relative success, and on and on.
  11. The latest example might be one of the most enjoyable. Patterson, an electrifying runner with the ball (mostly returns) but an exasperating receiver, is suddenly a factor in the Patriots running game. Part of that might come from necessity – Sony Michel was out with a knee injury Sunday night, and James White, in a hold-your-breath moment, hobbled off the field in the second quarter. But it’s also clear that the Patriots recognized that Patterson was capable of doing this.
  12. Doing what, you say? Well, he ran 5 times for 51 yards – including a 5-yard TD run — on the Patriots’ go-ahead drive in the second quarter, which put them up 17-10 going into the half. This wasn’t just sweeps and screens, either – Patterson ran hard up the middle, as if he were actually a running back by trade.
  13. Patterson entered this season with 44 carries for 454 rushing yards – an impressive 10.0 average – in his career. He has a career-high 28 carries this year after running 11 times for a team-high 61 yards Sunday night.
  14. Patterson appeared to have a second rushing touchdown with the score tied at 17 midway through the third quarter, but he was ruled down at the 1. The Patriots then made a couple of strange play calls – a Brady rollout that was incomplete, and a 4th-and-1 throw to Gordon on a play with a high degree of difficulty.
  15. Maybe this is just a case of Belichick and Josh McDaniels forgetting position designation – a silly thing, anyway — and identifying what a player does best. It’s amazing how often coaches will pigeonhole themselves by trying to make a player do something he can’t just because he’s supposed to be able to do it.
  16. The Patriots came out to start the game in a hurry-up offense, but calling it a hurry-up doesn’t really do it justice. It was more of a SpongeBob-at-driving-school floor-it offense, with Brady taking the Patriots 59 yards in 10 plays in just 3 minutes and 20 seconds.
  17. Cris Collinsworth kept saying on the broadcast that it was the quickest he’s seen the Patriots play. I’m not sure about that, but it does seem like they don’t accelerate the pace as much as they used to, and it’s exhilarating when they do. The young Packers defense must have been wondering why they look so much faster on the field than they do off the field.
  18. Let the record show that it was 13 minutes and 52 seconds of the first quarter when Al Michaels first mentioned that James White accounted for 20 points by himself during Super Bowl LI. The reminder is always welcome, though perhaps not necessary.
  19. Packers defensive back Jermaine Whitehead was ejected in the second quarter for giving Patriots center David Andrews a smack in the face. It looked like something from Dave Chappelle’s old Rick James skit (“SLAP!”), but it shouldn’t have led to an ejection.
  20. The great James White – you bet we should refer to him that way – was the bell cow back on the first possession, running three times, catching three passes, and picking up 44 of the 59 yards, including the final 8 on his third rushing touchdown and ninth overall this season.
  21. Brady kept the first drive rolling with a 2-yard sneak on third and 1 from the Packers 10. That gave him 999 rushing yards for his career, and it would have been a fitting play to get him to 1,000 given that Brady has mastered the QB sneak as much as he has anything (or everything) else.
  22. I think Collinsworth talked more glowingly about Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine than he did Aaron Rodgers.
  23. The Patriots’ two best defensive players this season have been Stephon Gilmore and Trey Flowers, and that held true Sunday night. Gilmore, who is having a peak Ty Law type of season, locked down standout Packers receiver Davante Adams, while Flowers at one point toppled a pair of Packer blockers like bowling pins en route to forcing Rodgers to get rid of the ball sooner than he wanted.
  24. Flowers got a sack on an important third down in the fourth quarter, blowing through the middle of the Packers line and meeting Adrian Clayborn in the vicinity of Rodgers’s midsection. He really is a game-changer.
  25. This was the best game Clayborn has played as a Patriot. He got two good shots in on Rodgers in the fourth quarter, including one that ended a Packers drive with under 4 minutes left.
  26. With 12 minutes left in the second quarter, Patriots running back Kenjon Barner dropped Clay Matthews like a major company realizing he’s no longer a viable pitchman.
  27. Hard to believe a team with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback is winless on the road, but the Packers dropped to 0-4 away from Lambeau with the loss.
  28. Then again, there’s not a lot of name recognition on the Packers offense right now. Jones (14 carries, 76 yards, one costly fumble) is a talented back who is averaging over 6 yards per carry this season, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling had 101 yards on three catches. But the Patriots contained their one true skill-position star, limiting Davante Adams to 6 catches for 40 yards.
  29. Gordon is one of those rare athletes who can make a play that doesn’t even count into a memorable moment. He made a tremendous effort off a Brady throw in the second quarter, clamping the ball with his vise-like hands while trying to get his feet down along the sideline.
  30. It was ruled no catch on the field; replay indicated he might have gotten the tippy-toe of his second foot down. Belichick didn’t challenge it, and it was probably the right decision, but that was one of the best catches that wasn’t a catch that we will ever see.
  31. With 11 championships in the last 18 seasons, there aren’t many variations on a celebration that New England sports fans haven’t already seen and enjoyed. But wheeling a duck boat loaded with Red Sox onto the Gillette Stadium turf during the pregame was a heck of a way to hammer home how fortunate we have been around here. Maybe the Bruins will let the Sox take the trophy on a spin on the Zamboni now.

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