|12.19.10 at 11:28 pm ET|
FOXBORO – In a game that saw the team with the best record in the NFL dramatically outplayed at times by a team with a quarterback making his first career start, the Patriots did just enough to survive a very game Green Bay Packers group and escape with a 31-27 win. (Recap.)
Tully Banta-Cain sacked Matt Flynn on the game’s final play at the Patriots 16-yard line to secure the win. The Patriots move to 12-2 on the season and are just a win away from clinching the AFC East and the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Dan Connolly: If not the play of the year for the Patriots, the 71-yard kickoff return by Connolly late in the second quarter has to rate at the top on the improbable scale. The Packers were trying to avoid Brandon Tate with a short kickoff, but it was Connolly who broke the big play, showing off what appeared to be 6.8 40 speed to bring the ball all the way to the Green Bay 4-yard line. The longest return by an O-Lineman in NFL history, it set up a Tom Brady two-yard TD pass to Aaron Hernandez.
Aaron Hernandez: The rookie tight end caught a pair of TD passes on Sunday, the second giving the Patriots a 31-27 lead with 7:14 left in the fourth quarter. The first-year tight end duo (Rob Gronkowski and Hernandez) now has 13 touchdown receptions.
Charles Woodson breaks out the hands of stone: Tom Brady put a floater right in the hands of the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in the first quarter, but Woodson somehow dropped a sure INT on second-and-17. The very next play, Brady found Deion Branch for 17 yards and the first down and then BenJarvus Green-Ellis found the end zone from 33 yards out to give the Patriots a 7-3 lead.
Kyle Arrington TD: It wasn’t the best of overall efforts for Kyle Arrington (he took a horrible angle on the John Kuhn third-quarter TD catch and had his struggles in coverage), but he picked off a third-quarter Matt Flynn pass and shook off four would-be tacklers to find the end zone from 36 yards out.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Onside kick: The Patriots were completely unprepared for the opening play of the game, as the Packers easily converted an onside kick. James Sanders and Rob Ninkovich were out of position, allowing Nick Collins to recover. The Packers were then able to put together an 11-play drive to lead to a field goal.
Matt Flynn: Remember Colt McCoy? Very similar stuff from Flynn on Sunday night, as the LSU product used his legs to gain time and make play after play. Sure, he threw a pick six to Arrington, but overall it was an extraordinarily impressive effort from Flynn in his first NFL start, as he finished 21-of-33 for 229 yards and three touchdowns.
Brandon Meriweather: Meriweather knocked Devin McCourty to the ground to allow James Jones to make an easy catch-and-run on a second-quarter 66-yard TD grab. It was another less-than-impressive performance from Meriweather, who also had a chance to make a play on Kuhn on his third-quarter TD catch but failed to make the tackle.
Penalties: The Patriots entered the game as the NFL’s fourth-least penalized team but looked anything but disciplined on Sunday night, picking up key flags on each Green Bay TD drive and having a promising second-quarter drive halted by a holding call against Alge Crumpler. Vince Wilfork hadn’t been flagged for a penalty all season but picked up a pair of penalties on Sunday. What appeared to be a game-icing pick by Meriweather was wiped out by a hands to the face penalty on Banta-Cain with three minutes left in the fourth quarter.
|12.19.10 at 9:58 pm ET|
FOXBORO ‘ There are two quarters in the books here at Gillette Stadium, and the Packers are more than holding their own against the Patriots. Green Bay backup quarterback Matt Flynn has dominated New England, going 11-for-18 for 143 passing yards and two touchdowns on the way to a 17-14 lead for the Packers.
The lone bright spot for the Patriots came at the end of the first half when offensive lineman Dan Connolly delivered an unlikely 71-yard kick return with just over two minutes left in the second quarter that set up New England’s second touchdown of the night, a two-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Aaron Hernandez with 1:08 left in the second quarter that ended the first-half scoring for both sides. For the half, Brady was 10-for-15 for 81 yards and a touchdown.
However, the biggest story of the first half has been the play of Flynn. The career backup engineered three scoring drives in the first two quarters, and made some big plays. The Packers opened with surprise onsides kick and maneuvered the ball down to the New England 8-yard line, but had to settle for a 31-yard field goal for Mason Crosby that made the score 3-0 with 8:45 left in the first quarter.
Green Bay added to that with a three-play, 69-yard drive that was highlighted by a 66-yard scoring strike from Flynn to James Jones on the first play of the second quarter. On that deep ball down the New England sideline, Jones was in single coverage with Devin McCourty, but teammate Brandon Meriweather appeared to take a bad route to the play, and he collided with McCourty. That sprung Jones, who took it to the house for a 10-7 Green Bay lead.
The third scoring drive of the half for Green Bay was the most impressive, a 14-play, 82-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard pass from Flynn to Greg Jennings to make it 17-7 with 2:17 left in the first half.
On the other side of the ball, the New England offense struggled. Brady narrowly avoided a pair of interceptions and fumbled a football (he later recovered) on a savage sack from Green Bay’s Desmond Bishop. The Patriots first scoring drive was a seven-play, 73-yard sequence that culminated with a nice 33-yard touchdown run from BenJarvus Green-Ellis that made it 7-3 New England with 6:19 left in the first quarter. (On that play, Green-Ellis was sprung by a pair of impressive blocks by Logan Mankins and Deion Branch.) The second came after Connolly’s run, and cut the Green Bay lead to three before the half.
On another note, the Patriots entered this game as the NFL’s fourth-least penalized team (at least in accepted penalties). They haven’t played like it tonight with five penalties in the first half, including the first flag of the year against defensive lineman Vince Wilfork.
|12.19.10 at 8:47 pm ET|
FOXBORO ‘ The Patriots opened with the following offensive personnel:
|12.19.10 at 8:36 pm ET|
FOXBORO ‘ The Patriots opened with the following defensive personnel:
|12.19.10 at 7:20 pm ET|
FOXBORO ‘ The following players were ruled inactive for Sunday’s game for the Patriots: wide receiver Taylor Price; offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger and Mark LeVoir; running backs Thomas Clayton and Fred Taylor; and defensive linemen Myron Pryor, Ron Brace and Mike Wright.
The biggest news is who is not on the list ‘ rookie cornerback Devin McCourty, who suffered a rib injury last week in the win over the Bears in Chicago, is active, which should give the Patriots some depth at corner. Also active for New England is cornerback Tony Carter, who was promoted off the practice squad to the 53-man roster late this week. It will mark the first several weeks that New England will dress four cornerbacks for a game, as they will be joined by Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington. And rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez, who missed practice on Friday because of the flu, appears to be good-to-go Sunday night.
However, the Patriots will not dress Taylor (who has struggled with injury all season) and Clayton, leaving the Patriots with three available running backs in BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and Sammy Morris. Meanwhile, all three defensive linemen who are inactive have all been dogged by injury as of late, with Pryor (back), Brace (concussion) and Wright (concussion) having been sidelined the last few weeks.
And finally, Price, Ohrnberger and LeVoir have been inactive more frequently than they have been active this season, so those moves are no surprise.
|12.19.10 at 7:15 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Aaron Rodgers won’t play tonight but Aaron Hernandez will as the Patriots rookie tight end avoided the inactive list and will play in the game against the Packers. Running back Fred Taylor leads the list of inactives for the Patriots.
Devin McCourty, limited this week in practice by a rib injury suffered last week against the Bears, will play. Hernandez missed Friday’s practice and was questionable with the flu.
The three defensive linemen who all missed practice this week are also inactive for the Patriots as Mike Wright, Ron Brace and Myron Pryor will not play. Offensive linemen Rich Ohrnberger and Mark LeVoir are inactive, as are receiver Taylor Price and running back Thomas Clayton.
|12.19.10 at 6:12 pm ET|
FOXBORO — For the fifth time in their last six games, the Patriots will be playing football after sundown as they battle the 8-5 Green Bay Packers under the lights at Gillette.
Three days ago, there was concern that the contest might be played in the midst of a classic Nor’Easter, with winds kicking up off the Atlantic, blowing cold winds and a snow storm toward Foxboro. But the storm stayed mainly in the Atlantic and Foxboro and those commuting to the game have been spared.
Instead, temperatures will hover around the freezing mark at kick-off, with light snow accumulating, possibly over an inch. Winds will be just about non-existent and very mild, out of the north at 7 MPH. It could be a lot worse for Dec. 19.
What’s at stake: With the Jets winning, 22-17, in Pittsburgh, the Patriots wrap up the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs with wins in two of their final three games. The Jets win in the Steel City means the Patriots won’t be able to clinch the AFC East tonight for the eighth time in 10 seasons.
Matt Flynn will need every bit of a break he can muster as he is filling in for Aaron Rodgers, who was ruled out of tonight after his second concussion of the season last Sunday in Detroit. Flynn – in his third year out of LSU – was 15-of-26 for 177 yards in filling in for Rodgers last week.
Some other nuggets to consider:
– Tom Brady looks to extend his NFL record for consecutive wins in home starts to 27 after setting the new standard in his last Gillette appearance, a 45-3 rout of the Jets on Monday night, Dec. 6.
– There’s been a lot of talk in the last month about Brady’s astronomical quarterback rating. If you put any stock into the highly-debated statistic, consider this: Brady has the fifth-best quarterback rating of all-time at 94. 9, exactly the same as Peyton Manning entering this weekend and trailing only Tony Romo (95.5), Steve Young (96.8), Philip Rivers (97.2) and Rodgers (97.6). Of those quarterbacks ahead of Brady, only Young has a Super Bowl title to his name. Manning had a rating of 105.6 today against Jacksonville in a 34-24 win over the Jaguars.
– Cornerback Chevis Jackson probably spoke a little bit more with Bill Belichick this week since he played with Flynn when the two were at LSU. Both are in their fourth NFL seasons. Jackson was released by the Patriots on Saturday, as they signed running back Tony Carter to the 53-man roster.
– The Patriots have won 16 straight at Gillette Stadium against NFC opponents and are 16-1 all-time. Their only loss was to Brett Favre and the Pack in their first game against an NFC team in the new stadium on Oct. 13, 2002.
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