The Patriots kicked off the second half of the season in pretty impressive fashion Sunday night in Foxborough with a solid 31-17 win over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Playing without key cogs Rob Gronkowski, Sony Michel and Shaq Mason on offense, Bill Belichick's team went blow-for-blow with Green Bay and then pulled away in the fourth quarter to extend its winning streak to six games.
The victory saw newly-minted running back Cordarrelle Patterson, James White and Josh Gordon step up offensively, while a group effort on defense slowed Rodgers and Co. with strong combination of pass rush and coverage.
The game hinged on a couple key plays in the second half, most notably Lawrence Guy's forced fumble on Packers running back Aaron Jones with Stephon Gilmore recovering for New England at its own 24. New England drove down the field for a James White 1-yard touchdown and added another on its next possession on a 55-yard catch-and-run score for Josh Gordon. A 17-17 game early in the fourth quarter, turned into a decisive victory.
There were big plays on offense – including a flea-flicker to Julian Edelman and a double-pass from Edelman to White.
But there was even more of a dominant performance by the defense for the second straight week, following a beating of the inept Bills with an impressive performance against a more productive, competitive offensive attack.
It was, simply, a very good win.
"Any time you beat a good football team it feels good," Tom Brady said.
"It's good to be 7-2," Belichick concluded.
Before moving past this stretch of night games to next Sunday afternoon's trip to Tennessee to take on the Titans, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the victory over Green Bay.
Cordarrelle Patterson – A week after making his career debut as a running back against the Bills, Patterson was at it again against Green Bay and was more productive in the role. The career wide receiver/kickoff returner carried it 10 times for 61 yards and one touchdown with a 17-yard long. With James White a little dinged up in the first half, Patterson's first four carries of the night went for 11, 10, 17 and 8 yards. He punched it in on the goal line. Patterson also had a nice night on kickoff returns with a 32-yard average on two chances, including a long of 36 yards.
James White – New England opened the game in a one-back set with White in the backfield and a no-huddle approach. The Patriots marched right down the field on a 10-play scoring drive in which White caught three passes and ran the ball three times, capping it with an 8-yard touchdown run. Though he seemed to fight through a leg injury early, White notched a career-high 12 carries for a mere 31 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. Per usual, White also caught it a ton with six catches on seven targets for 72 yards, including a 37-yard long on a double-pass screen from Edelman. White has passed his previous career high with 61 catches on the season. He leads the team with 10 touchdowns. He's just a key cog in the offense game after game. The Packers are the latest team to learn that lesson.
Trey Flowers/Adrian Clayborn-led Pass rush – New England only finished with one sack of Rodgers, split between Flowers and Clayborn on a twist stunt in the second half. But the Patriots pass rush affected the quarterback much more than that, even well beyond the six QB hits that were recorded. A Devin McCourty blitz forced Rodgers to rush a would-be big play. Adam Butler got involved too. It was a solid all-around effort from the pass rush up front, Flowers stringing together two big games in a row and Clayborn putting forth his best performance of his first season Foxborough.
Stephon Gilmore – New England's No. 1 cornerback is really rounding into midseason form. Not only has he put an end to the touchdowns he allowed early in the year, but he has become a guy to avoid for opposing passers. Though New England mixed things up, he manned up with Davante Adams at times, helping to hold the Packers top target to just six catches for 40 yards and was not in coverage on Adams' touchdowns. Gilmore had a nice pass defense in the end zone on Green Bay's first drive and Adams had a break up a would-be interception on the sideline. Gilmore also recovered the game-changing fumble to open the fourth quarter.
Patrick Chung – Chung wasn't horrible, but on a night when the defense was nearly perfect in so many ways, he had a couple tough snaps. He was flagged for a holding call in the end zone on Jimmy Graham, though Green Bay settled for a field goal. He then got caught chasing Graham in the third quarter, allowing the tight end to haul in a 15-yard touchdown. It wasn't all on Chung, but Graham finished with four catches for 55 yards and the score, another tight end that gave the Patriots problems.
Penalties – Belichick troops have been inconsistent in terms of penalties this season. There have been games with none and games with too many. That latter was the case against Green Bay when New England was flagged seven times, including five that were accepted. One area in particular that continues to stand out is substitution penalties, with another 12-men flag on the defense and a couple other times when there was a little confusion on that side of the ball. Playing even better, cleaner football could come with a few less flags.
Runaway rushers – With Mason missing his first game while Marcus Cannon returned to action, New England had its issues up front against a solid, veteran Packers pass rush that entered the game No. 2 in the NFL in sacks per pass play. Filling in for Mason, Ted Karras was beaten early by Mike Daniels for a 10-yard sack to stall the second drive of the night. Linebacker Antonio Morrison beat Joe Thuney for an 11-yard sack. Blake Martinez blew free to force a Brady throwaway that was a near grounding call. Dante Scarnecchia's troops historically haven't allowed a lot of runaway rushers, and there were only a few against Green Bay when Brady was hit just three times, but it was one of the few negative aspects of a big win.
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