The Patriots, eager to leave their first losing streak in four years behind, handed the Packers a painful 35-0 loss on Sunday, with quarterback Brett Favre leaving the game before the half and Tom Brady posting his best quarterback rating of the season (128.2).
"The team, those guys stepped up and they played well," said Patriots coach Bill Belichickin his postgame press conference. "I'm not sure what the story on Brett is, but obviously it's unfortunate to see him go out. I hope he's OK. I know I represent the team's feelings on that, as well. But the most important thing for our football team is we played a good football game for 60 minutes. And that's obviously what we need to do more of. So, good win. And on to Chicago."
Favre, who hasn't missed a start in 251 consecutive games, left the field in the final two minutes of the first half following a 10-yard sack by linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Tully Banta-Cain. Favre was a sitting duck once his feet got wrapped up, and Bruschi laid a big hit on him before he fell hard on his (right) throwing arm. The sack came immediately after Favre completed a pass for what was only the Packers second earned first down of the half. He left the field having only completed five of 15 attempts and his return was announced as "Questionable," though he never took another snap.
The Patriots relentless defense didn't skip a beat while Favre was in and they kept the intensity up after he was replaced by backup Aaron Rodgers. Packers running back Ahman Green was finally able to move the chains on the ground in the second half, though the Packers finished with only five first downs and converted only one of 13 third downs in the entire game.
Linebacker Mike Vrabel insured the shutout for the Pats on a first-down play with 3:50 remaining in the game when he came free from Rodgers' right side. Vrabel got his inside hand on the football before Rodgers knew what was happening. The ball popped loose as Vrabel recorded a 6-yard sack, and then defensive lineman Mike Wright recovered it.
Earlier, while Vrabel was in at tight end on the Pats goal line package, he jumped up and caught a pass from Brady in the end zone for what would have brought Brady's total touchdown passes to a career-high five in the game. Unfortunately, Vrabel couldn't quite get both feet down before his upper body landed out of the back of the end zone.
"I was trying to throw it away," joked Brady after the game. "He jumped up and caught it. I think it was close. I think I was excited. He was just so open and I just made a bad throw. But it was a great day of execution and really what we needed. We've got to move on now. Hopefully we just keep sustaining this level of play and we've got as big a game as any this week."
The front seven worked as a cohesive unit in this game with the return of defensive end Ty Warren, who's been listed as "Questionable" with a shoulder injury and missed last weekend's game against the Jets. Warren contributed 1.5 sacks in the game.
The linebackers and defensive linemen combined for 4.0 sacks and Bruschi led the hard-nosed defense with eight tackles and a half-sack. The Packers couldn't build momentum, and managed only 120 total yards on offense. The Pats defense had the help of an outstanding punt coverage unit that left the Packers with lots of ground to cover on a number of drives in the game.
Cornerback Asante Samuel did not play in the game. He'd been listed as "Questionable" all week with a knee injury before being downgraded to "Out" on Saturday. He was replaced by veteran Chad Scott, who had started at strong safety last week following Rodney Harrison's shoulder injury. The injury has kept Harrison off the field for two weeks now, though Troy Brown started as a nickel back, again being called on to play both offense and defense.
The secondary worked together, despite their patchwork personnel, and held go-to receiver Donald Driver to only two receptions. His compliment, rookie Greg Jennings entered the game averaging 16.7 yards-per catch, and the Patriots only allowed him one grab, though it was for 26 yards.
"We doubled [Driver] almost the whole game," said Belichick after the game. "There were very few plays out there when we didn't double him and when we didn't, we should have. He's a great player. But I thought Troy – there were a few plays where he didn't have help and Troy was very competitive against him. But we have all the respect in the world for Driver. We blitzed one time there, and Favre hit Jennings and he broke a tackle and made a big run, but for most of the game we doubled Driver."
Brady and the offense were crisp, to say the least. They scored on the opening drive with a fourth-down pass to tight end Daniel Graham.
"It was play-action and [Graham] did a great job getting through there and finding a hole," said Brady. "He made a big catch, fourth-and-one. It's nice to score on an opening drive. It really kind of deflates the crowd a little bit. The defense played great, I mean limited those guys – and that's a pretty good offensive team – limiting them to as few yards as they did. It was great."
Brady had never beaten Favre and the Packers in his career, but he tied a career-high four touchdown passes in this game while completing 20-of-31 throws for 244 yards. He stuck to his recipe of spreading the ball around and completed a number of precision passes, including a 36-yarder to Benjamin Watson in the Patriots first possession. Watson led the team with five receptions, one of which was an 8-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
The quarterback repeatedly refuted speculation that his throwing arm has been bothering him last week after the Patriots signed 43-year-old Vinny Testaverde as a third-stringer. Brady showed that his arm is just fine when he connected with wideout Reche Caldwell on a season-long 54-yard touchdown pass late in the first half. Caldwell remained a mainstay for Brady in this game and has caught touchdowns in three of the Patriots last four games. He showed that the Patriots are dangerous in the deep-passing game by grabbing three of Brady's passes for a total of 70 yards.
Running back Corey Dillon had 12 carries for 31 yards, though he was injured on his lone touchdown run in the second quarter. He returned to the game and continued to share reps with rookie running back Laurence Maroney throughout the second half. Maroney led the Patriots ground game with 82 yards on 19 carries. He also caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Brady to clinch the game. On that play, Maroney put a move on Packers linebacker Nick Barnett that left the defender looking like a statue. Maroney tip-toed into the end zone.
Backup quarterback Matt Cassel filled in for Brady after Maroney's touchdown and Testaverde came in to kneel the ball three times in the final minutes of the game.
The game marked the first road shutout for the Pats defense in 20 years, the last one being in 1986. It also marked the first time the Packers have been shutout at Lambeau Field twice in a season. The Patriots take on the Bears at home next Sunday.
Quote of note:
"This is kind of one of those days where a lot of things went right for us and not too many went right for Green Bay. I think they're a good football team. They've played very well in the last month and really were close to winning a couple other games before that. We have a lot of respect for them. I'm sure they'll bounce back." – coach Bill Belichick
On the road, again
The Patriots won their seventh straight regular-season road game on Sunday, tying the team record for consecutive road victories. New England has not lost a regular-season game on the road since Nov. 27, 2005, when it dropped a 26-16 decision to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Sunday's victory over the Packers ensures that the Patriots will go an entire calendar year without losing a regular-season road contest (the team's next road game is Dec. 10 at Miami).
Asked why the team has been playing so well on the road, coach Belichick said after the game, "I don't know. We just try to approach it one game at a time. We're happy with the way things went today, but we've just got to go out there and do the same things we did this week in preparation for next week's game against Chicago. I think each week's its own week, it's own entity, and that's the way we try to approach it."
Sunday's 35-0 win over the Packers marks New England's fourth straight road win by 22 or more points. During their seven-game road-winning streak, the Patriots have outscored their opponents 222-71, scoring an average of 31.7 points per game while allowing just 10.1 points per game. In their last four road games, the Patriots have outscored their opponents 132-26, scoring an average of 33.0 points per game while allowing just 6.5 points per game.