The pregame hype Sunday night had a lot to do with "12 vs. 12." Since it was only their second head-to-head meeting on the field, it's understandable why there was a ton of attention paid to Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
One will go down as perhaps the best of all time at the quarterback position. The other? He certainly might be the most talented to play the position in the game today. Can't deny either one his props or his accolades.
But since football is supposed to be a "team" game, let's focus on the "team" result for a moment? Both players had their individual time in the spotlight, to be sure, as the Patriots won their 6th straight overall, beating Green Bay 31-17. The game was entertaining, and even historical.
But the game turned on a "team" moment, one we've talked about before. While the Patriots' offense can make plays without some of its' best players in the lineup, the defense this season has been in dire need of just that - someone to step up and make plays, in order to keep the other guys at bay.
That happened Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. An oft-maligned, much-criticized defensive unit for the Patriots stood tall in the face of defending the Packers' uber-QB Rodgers, who still managed to slip his way in and around the passing pocket well enough to have the game tied at 17-17 going into the 4th quarter.
That's when the play that turned this game (and perhaps this season) on its' ear happened. At the end of the 3rd quarter, New England's defense was staggered following two straight Rodgers' completions to Marques Valdes-Scantling totaling 50 yards, giving the Packers a first down at the Patriots' 34-yard line, knocking on an opportunity to take the lead.
Cue the defense. They made a play, just when it was needed most, on the first snap of the 4th quarter as Lawrence Guy caused a fumble, which was recovered by Stephon Gilmore at the Patriots' 24-yard line.
Making the play appeared to energize the entire team at a time when it may have been needed most. 10 plays and 76 yards later, James White hit the end zone for a lead the Patriots would not relinquish - and a valuable lesson learned (again) by the defense they should not forget.
Sure, these quarterbacks are great, but this defense is now showing it can play, too. It needs to, for the Patriots to travel this year where they hope to go. The Green Bay game was one of their better efforts of the season - maybe even over the past two seasons. Limiting a guy like Rodgers and the Packers to a mere 17 points, 368 yards and forcing a turnover?
All they've had to do, all along, is simply make a couple of plays to get the result(s) they've been looking for.
And that's just like the guy who wears the "12" on the other side of the ball. Just do what he has done so often, for so long.
Plenty of 'offensive' highlights, too
Some of the plays uncorked by the Patriots on offense were entertaining, to say the least. There was Julian Edelman's pass to James White. Cordarrelle Patterson turning into a tailback - in an "I" formation - and leading the team in rushing again (11 carries, 61 yards), scoring another touchdown on the ground, and setting a team record for most rushing yards in a game by a receiver.
Josh Gordon had his 2nd 100-yard receiving game as well. Makes you think he could work out alright, doesn't it?
There was also an egregious drop by Edelman (in the 1st quarter), two red zone 'fails' with 1st-and-goal inside the 10-yard line, and an unremarkable 4-for-12 conversion rate on 3rd or 4th down against the Packers' defense.
Poor play-calling? Perhaps. Poor execution? Definitely. They put 31 points up on the board, even missing two top players in Sony Michel and Rob Gronkowski, but there is still much to improve upon.
The Gumby defense
Bend-but-don't-break has been the mantra for almost as long as anyone can remember when it comes to a Patriot defense.
Linebacker coach (and de-facto defensive coordinator) Brian Flores was praised postgame by several players for his game plan, which certainly did the trick in slowing down Green Bay's Rodgers. For the most part.
Jason McCourty was the victim in a 51-yard completion to Marques Valdes-Scantling. Jimmy Graham burned Patrick Chung twice, once with Duron Harmon for a 15-yard score that tied the game in the 3rd quarter. And Rodgers did his part, proving to be slippery and just elusive enough to cause the defense plenty of headaches.
But the Patriots have had experience against "athletic," mobile quarterbacks this season. Maybe they learned something? This time, different looks provided by the secondary forced the Packers into adjustments the Patriot defenders anticipated.
They still bent. But they didn't break as Green Bay needed them to, to win the game.
Giving him some cushion
Valdes-Scantling had quite the game, didn't he? Who is this guy?
Apparently, the Patriots didn't know much about him, either. The Packers' rookie receiver came into the game with 14 receptions for 257 yards in the first seven games but burned the NE secondary for three big catches and 101 yards. Late in the 3rd quarter, back-to-back receptions against J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones put Green Bay in position to take a lead on the road.
Until someone else made a play, forcing the fumble that turned the tide.
MV-S is averaging 21.1 yards per catch this season - that's second-best in the NFL. Six of his last seven receptions have gone for 20 or more yards. Homework, anyone?
'72 Dolphins celebrate, again
Legend has it that members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins - the last team to make it through an entire regular and postseason without a loss - get together for a toast once the last, remaining unbeaten NFL team suffers its first defeat.
This season, that last unbeaten team was the Los Angeles Rams, who went into Sunday at 8-0 facing a 7-1 New Orleans Saints team arguably every bit as good as they were. And the Saints had the home dome advantage.
Defense took a back seat in this one, as most games featuring contenders do these days. In a 45-35 Saints win, the two teams combined for nearly 1000 yards of total offense; both Drew Brees and Jared Goff passed for more than 300 yards each, and NO's Michael Thomas caught 12 passes for 211 yards and a 72-yard score - after which he 'honored' former Saints receiver Joe Horn with a recreation of his infamous 'cellphone' celebration from 15 years ago.
And the Dolphins of '72, who won 14 regular season games and three more in the playoffs against teams with a combined winning percentage of .365, undoubtedly celebrated right along with him. Even if the legend is more fairy tale than fact.
Because they should.
For whom the Bell tolls?
Don't look now, but the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be back on a successful track. Without Le'Veon Bell in the backfield, too.
James Connor now has four straight 100-yard rushing games for the Steelers, after Pittsburgh beat Baltimore Sunday 23-16. Connor also had seven catches for 56 yards in the passing game and added a touchdown, becoming the first player in Steelers' history to find the end zone ten times in the team's first eight games of a season.
Connor appears to be the ingredient that currently stirs the pot in Pitt, while Bell has yet to report to the team. He must sign his contract tender by November 13th to receive any credit for this season, to receive a paycheck or to play for any other team. Bell is currently forfeiting approximately $850,000 for every game he misses.
The Patriots have the Steelers on the schedule for December 16th in Pittsburgh.
With the Steelers currently holding a half-game lead over Cincinnati in the AFC North, Bell may be the next player in an ever-growing line of them who has underestimated his real value in the present marketplace...that everyone is replaceable.
Eventually. Some sooner than others.
John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, is in his 26th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.