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Game Observations: Pats keep Rodgers under wraps

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The Patriots entered Sunday night’s game shorthanded with some key guys out of the lineup but the defense stepped up and contained Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in a 31-17 victory.

The win was the sixth straight for the Patriots, who remain two games ahead of the second-place Dolphins in the AFC East. Here are some observations from the Patriots seventh win of the season.

-The Patriots got some bad news before the game even began as Sony Michel (knee) and Rob Gronkowski (back/ankle) were listed among the inactives. Shaq Mason (calf) had already been ruled out on Friday after being knocked out of last Monday night’s win over the Bills. Ted Karras took his spot at right guard with the starting lineup. Michel left the Patriots Week 7 win in Chicago when he twisted his knee on the first play of the second quarter and hasn’t played since, leaving the team with just two true running backs in James White and Kenjon Barner. Since both are more suited to pass catching roles, Cordarrelle Patterson served as the lead back in Buffalo last week but White opened the Packers game in that role.

-It wasn’t all bad news for the right side of the line, though, as Marcus Cannon returned to his right tackle spot after missing the last two games with a concussion. Karras had some early problems when he was beaten badly by Mike Daniels for a third-down sack that halted the Patriots second drive of the night. After Daniels beat Karras to the inside while safety Josh Jones was blitzing off the edge, he slipped past David Andrews and smothered a helpless Tom Brady for a 10-yard loss.

-The opening drive had the look of a Patriots two-minute drill during training camp as New England used an up-tempo approach to easily march 59 yards for the opening touchdown. Patterson broke a tackle to take the opening kick back 36 yards and the Patriots got 5 extra yards thanks to a Packers penalty for offside. Then Brady used White liberally as the back had six touches on the 10-play drive. After picking up a first down with back-to-back 5-yard runs, White switched to receiver. He caught three passes for 18 yards to help the Patriots move inside the 10, and then he finished the impressive series with an 8-yard touchdown run off the left side. The up tempo approach had the Packers defense on its heels the entire way and gave New England an early lead.

-Patterson’s stint as a ball carrier did not end a week ago, however. In the second quarter he returned to the backfield and gave the offense a huge lift. He carried five times in the second quarter for 51 yards, including the final four plays of 69-yard touchdown drive. He picked up gains of 10, 17, 8 and 5 yards, the last resulting in the go-ahead touchdown that put the Patriots on top 17-10.

-The Patriots were in the midst of a sluggish second half and appeared poised to fall behind for the first time of the night at the start of the fourth quarter when the defense came to the rescue. Green Bay had driven all the way downfield from its 7 and had a first down at the Patriots 34 when the final quarter got underway. Aaron Jones ripped off a 6-yard run off tackle, but Lawrence Guy made the tackle and was able to knock the ball away from the Packers running back and Stephon Gilmore recovered at the 24. The game was tied at 17 at the time and momentum was clearly on the visitors’ side, but Guy’s big play turned the tables.

-On the ensuing possession, the Patriots went back to their hurry-up approach and quickly regained the lead. The drive got started when Brady hit Phillip Dorsett for 17 yards on third-and-seven, and from there it was all Patriots. After picking up another first down, Josh McDaniels dialed up some trickery when Brady threw behind the line to Julian Edelman, who threw a screen back to White. White then had a convoy down the sideline and picked up 37 yards down to the 2. He eventually punched in it from the 1 for the touchdown that gave the Patriots the lead for good. Incidentally, the throw to Dorsett gave 79,990 career total yards, moving past Peyton Manning for the most all time.

-Bill Belichick had a chance to throw his red challenge flag midway through the second quarter but chose not to following a potential catch on the sideline by Josh Gordon. Facing a second-and-10 from his 27, Tom Brady tried to hit Gordon deep down the right sideline and the receiver made an acrobatic catch as he tumbled to the ground. He was able to get one foot down, and replays indicated he possibly got a second down just inside the sideline. Officials ruled he was out of bounds, however, and Belichick evidently didn’t get a good enough look at it to warrant a challenge. It was not cut and dried and it may not have been overturned, but the possibility for a big play may have been worth tossing the flag.

-In another example of the direction the NFL is going, Packers safety Jermaine Whitehead was ejected with 3:11 left in the first half after an altercation with Patriots center David Andrews. The two got into it after a 10-yard Patterson run and exchanged blows following the whistle, although it was limited to just pushing and shoving. Whitehead threw the last shot, an open-handed push to Andrews’ face, and evidently that was enough for referee Brad Allen to send the safety to the showers. It’s possible the final call came from Al Riveron, the NFL’s director of officiating, who can make such decisions from his offices in New York.

-Belichick didn’t wait long in the second half to challenge a call, throwing his flag following an apparent 15-yard catch by Davante Adams in front of the Patriots bench. The throw came in low and Belichick decided to challenge, and he wound up winning when Allen overturned the call. Replays appeared to show the ball hitting the ground in between Adams’ arms, negating the catch.

-The excitement from the successful challenge wore off quickly when Aaron Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling for 51 yards on the next play. The overturned call set up third-and-six from the Packers 28 and the rookie wideout beat Jason McCourty badly on the play, catching the deep ball in stride down the right seam before being tackled at the Patriots 21. The Packers tied the game four plays later when Rodgers hit Jimmy Graham for a 15-yard touchdown, beating Patrick Chung in the corner of the end zone.

-Despite the relatively comfortable final score, there was a key juncture of the game that began late in the third quarter that put Green Bay seemingly on control. With the game tied at 17 the Patriots were poised to take the lead with a first-and-goal from the 9. After two failed plays it looked like the Packers would force a field goal but Bashaud Breeland was called for pass interference on Chris Hogan in the end zone. But the Patriots struggles continued as they failed to punch it in on first and second down when White and Patterson were stacked up on running plays. McDaniels then made a curious decision to roll Brady out on third down from inside the 1 on a play that never had a chance. Brady actually threw one that Josh Jackson knocked down, creating fourth down. Brady once again tried to throw but was unsuccessful targeting Gordon on a back shoulder fade. Considering the ball was inside the Packers 1, the decision to throw twice was curious at best.

-The defense responded by forcing a three-and-out, but again the offense couldn’t do anything with it. Even after Green Bay roughed the punter, the Patriots again went three-and-out, allowing Green Bay to move the ball into the start of the fourth quarter. That’s when Guy’s big play turned the tide for good.

-When the Patriots took the lead in the fourth quarter the game was all but over, if not literally then figuratively. Brady improved his record to 110-3 all-time at home when holding the lead at any point in the fourth quarter. The only three times Brady has lost in such situations came in 2011 against the Giants, 2016 against Seattle and last season’s opener against Kansas City. Otherwise, Brady is spotless.

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