FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – For the second week in a row, the Packers went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the NFL.
This one didn’t come down to the wire like last week, but the end result was no less frustrating, as a chance to take the lead against the Patriots was fumbled away in the fourth quarter.
Green Bay never regained any mojo following the game’s lone turnover, and New England pulled away for a 31-17 victory on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. The loss dropped the Packers to 3-4-1 at the season’s midway point.
“It’s very frustrating,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose duel with another all-time great in Tom Brady did not produce the drama expected. Neither QB put up 300 yards or a triple-digit passer rating (Brady 294 yards, 99.0; Rodgers 259, 89.2), but the game was very much back-and-forth, all night long.
Down 7-0 after the game’s opening drive, the Packers tied it twice. Davante Adams’ short TD grab in the second quarter knotted the game at 10, and tight end Jimmy Graham's 15-yard score on the first possession of the second half tied things at 17.
The defense then came up with a goal-line stand to keep the game even, stopping the Patriots on four straight plays from the 1-yard line – two runs and two passes. Replay overturned a rushing TD by Cordarrelle Patterson on second down, and the Packers held on.
“That was good football there,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “We got the reversal on the touchdown. Josh Jones made a heck of a play there. That’s a great stand for us to keep them out of the end zone.”
Two possessions later, the Packers were backed up again, but got out of the hole on back-to-back passes to rookie receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, covering 50 yards in all. It put the Packers on the New England 34-yard line as the quarter switched to the fourth.
But on the first play of the final period, running back Aaron Jones cut upfield for a nice gain but had the ball knocked loose by defensive lineman Lawrence Guy. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore recovered, and the Packers, frankly, never did.
“Obviously it was a big play in the game,” McCarthy said. “Really that was the turning point.”
The Patriots went back to their hurry-up, no-huddle offense that got them a quick touchdown to start the game, and this time they threw in a backbreaking trick play.
Receiver Julian Edelman took a backwards pass and fired it back across the field to running back James White for 37 yards, all the way down to the Green Bay 2. Three snaps later, White was in the end zone, and the Patriots weren’t threatened again.
“They made the key plays at the end there and we obviously didn’t in the fourth quarter,” McCarthy said. “We need to be better.”
The offense never found its footing, going three-and-out, and then the defense surrendered a 55-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon, who dodged a tackle attempt by new safety Tramon Williams and sauntered untouched to the end zone.
“It was a tempo play,” said McCarthy, whose defense struggled against the Patriots’ hurry-up a few times. “We weren’t set. Tom hit the hole and we missed the tackle.”
The Packers were also missing several players, as right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) left in the first half and was replaced by Jason Spriggs. On defense, cornerback Kevin King (hamstring) and safeties Kentrell Brice (knee) and Jermaine Whitehead (ejection) all exited, and linebacker Blake Martinez (ankle) left but came back.
This game wasn’t about injuries, though, as the Patriots were without star tight end Rob Gronkowski and starting running back Sony Michel but found a way.
Patterson gashed the Packers on the ground to finish a late second-quarter TD drive that put the Patriots up, 17-10, at intermission, and the converted receiver/returner finished with 61 yards on 11 carries with the one score.
White added 103 yards from scrimmage (31 rushing, 72 receiving) with two TDs and Gordon had five grabs for 130 yards and the clinching touchdown.
Valdes-Scantling recorded his second career 100-yard game (three catches, 101 yards) and Jones rushed for 76 yards on 14 carries.
“They just adjusted really well,” Rodgers said. “We got some things going, then they adjusted. We had some momentum there third quarter into the fourth. Obviously had that unfortunate fumble and I missed a couple opportunities there in the fourth quarter.”