The Patriots went toe to toe with the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday, falling in overtime after fighting hard behind third-string rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe, who was thrust into the game after starting backup Brian Hoyer went down with an injury.
Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers started slow but got hot late, as the teams traded scores in the second half to send the game to overtime. The teams both saw possessions in the extra session, but on their second the Packers put together a final drive that set up a game-winning field goal. Green Bay iced it with a 31-yard kick, winning 27-24.
Here are the key takeaways from the game!
Everyone had prepared themselves for Brian Hoyer to get the start in place of Mac Jones, who was ruled out officially on Friday, but the veteran backup lasted just two series as he took a hard sack and was taken to the locker room for evaluation for a head injury. He was later ruled out for the rest of the game. Hoyer had helped engineer a solid first drive, though it stalled out in the red zone, giving New England an early 3-0 lead.
Hoyer's injury thrust rookie Bailey Zappe into the lineup and it was a tough baptism for him, taking over on his first possession at the Patriots own 8-yard-line where he was unable to produce a first down, but the rookie would start making some plays.
Zappe had his ups and downs throughout the rest of the contest, with a lowlight coming on a fumble that gave the ball back to Green Bay, but rebounded with a 25-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker that gave the Patriots back a 17-14 lead in the third quarter. The touchdown was controversial though, as the play clock had expired moments before the Patriots got the snap off but the referees missed it.
The rookie showed even more after that, leading the Patriots on another touchdown-scoring drive that included an impressive 21-yard pass to Nelson Agholor on the next possession. Riding an impressive rushing performance from Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, the Patriots put up another seven-play, 66-yard drive to retake the lead 24-17 in the fourth quarter.
Zappe wasn't perfect, not that anyone should've expected him to be, but he made enough plays to keep the Patriots in the game and avoided any game-killing mistakes aside from a lone fumble. That will be a good formula going forward if he's pressed into action again next week.
Jones boys, game changers
With Jalen Mills sidelined with an ankle injury, rookie Jack Jones was inserted into the starting lineup and immediately made some huge first-half plays, starting with a forced fumble that he recovered himself, then a pick-six just before halftime that gave the Patriots a 10-7 lead. Two takeaways in one half was pretty impressive in his first start.
Jones has been a ballhawk since his arrival, jumping routes and often walking the line between getting picks and getting burned on close plays. But as evidenced by this game, he's making progress and is starting to show up with his playmaking in a positive way. With an opportunity presenting itself for the rookie, he made the most of it and will look to continue his development against the run, where he appeared to be a target at times due to his lack of plus size.
He wasn't the only rookie Jones to make an impact, as Marcus also made his presence felt on kick and punt returns, consistently setting up positive field position on a day where the Patriots badly needed it. His 20-yard punt return in overtime was a big play.
The Pats needed to replenish their cornerback group this offseason and appear to have found two rookies who made their impact felt against Green Bay.
Rodgers starts slow, finishes hot
The Patriots defense contained Aaron Rodgers for much of the first half, but Rodgers and his offense woke up and found their stride in the second half. They started the third quarter off by stringing together a 10-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that gave Green Bay back the lead, 14-10.
Rodgers had his struggles early on, culminating with Jack Jones' pick-six just before the half, but few teams can hold down the four-time MVP for long. A 3rd-and-10 strike up the sideline to Allen Lazard was a turning point during the opening drive of the third quarter, as the Patriots were almost able to get off the field, but the Packer receiver made a spectacular catch over Jonathan Jones and Green Bay soon capitalized with a touchdown.
With the game tied at 24, the Patriots offense went three-and-out, giving the ball back to Rodgers with under four minutes left in the game and it looked like they would almost lose it on a third-down throw to the end zone from near midfield. The receiver couldn't hold on to the ball and the Patriots would force a clutch punt that ultimately forced the game to overtime.
60 minutes can't decide it
With both defenses stiffening in the closing moments of the fourth quarter, the two teams headed to overtime tied at 24.
The Packers took the ball first but stout play by the Patriots defensive front forced stops on first and second down with Davon Godchaux and Jahlani Tavai coming up with stops. On third down, pressure from Matthew Judon and Christian Barmore helped force an incomplete to give the Patriots a shot at the win.
After a 20-yard punt return by Marcus Jones the Patriots were set up near midfield but couldn't pick up more than five yards and were forced to punt it back to Rodgers and his offense. From there, Rodgers would do what he does best, engineer a game-winning drive as the Pack imposed their will on a 12-play, 77-yard journey down the field.
It was a disappointing ending to a game that the Patriots almost stole one on the road despite playing with their third-string quarterback. The defense just couldn't get the final stop.
Patriots are now 1-3
With the loss the Patriots fall to 1-3 on the season, landing them in fourth place in the AFC East by virtue of wins by the Bills and Jets on Sunday. Now down to their third quarterback, the wait for Mac Jones' return becomes an even bigger issue than it was last week. Zappe showed some potential during the preseason after a prolific final college season, but starting him for an extended period of time will be as difficult a challenge as Bill Belichick has faced with the Patriots, especially with three games already in the loss column.
In 2016 Belichick was forced to insert rookie Jacoby Brissett at starter, but knew Tom Brady would be back in Week 5. Now, there's no such firm guarantee. Updates this week on the health of Jones and Hoyer will be hotly anticipated. Otherwise, Zappe could be in line for the first start of his career next week against the Lions in Foxborough.
Clearly, the quarterback position is the biggest concern at the moment, but then finding a way to dig out of the fourth-place hole that they find themselves in will be next. The Patriots showed impressive grit in a tough place to play but more players must rise to the occasion if New England is to get their season back on track after a number of significant injuries.