In a clash between possibly the two best teams in the NFL and maybe the two leading MVP candidates, the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers ended up being victorious, beating Tom Brady & the New England Patriots 26-21 in an excellent game under the always harsh conditions Lambeau Field presents to visitors.
Not that the Patriots are new to cold weather, but they weren’t playing the same way we’ve seen from then in recent weeks. It’s probably just the opponent. Suddenly Tom Brady didn’t have the time and space to throw the ball like he wants, ending up in bad throws and one big blind-side sack on the team’s biggest possession. The secondary that had so many compliments coming its way couldn’t keep up with Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb all game long. When you’re that good, you’re going to find openings, including touchdowns on big plays.
It’s frustrating to face a quarterback like Rodgers, even for a team as good in blocking and covering receivers like the Patriots. He hardly gets flustered or frustrated when his top options aren’t open. He just finds other ones, which eventually gets his main guys open. Davante Adams caught six passes for 121 yards and that eventually allowed Randall Cobb to be more open, finishing with 7 receptions for 85 yards. The Patriots did a good job in keeping Jordy Nelson covered deep, but he still got away for one big play, a 45-yard touchdown pass just before half time to put the Packers up by nine points again.
The second half was about damage control. The Packers went to Eddie Lacy who finished with 98 yards on 21 carries and most of the time, even without blitzing too much (six on 20 dropbacks) kept Brady in check. The Patriots do better when they establish a run game early, especially through the tackles. The Packers aren’t very good at stopping those runs, and yet the Patriots hardly made an effort to establish that part of their offense in the second half, going to the ground only 18 times during the entire game.
Rodgers finished with 368 passing yards and two touchdowns compared to Brady’s 245 and two touchdowns passes. The difference was the amount of times Rodgers actually missed a receiver, which was hardly, including a couple of drops by Randall Cobb that could have ended the game sooner, while Brady had a number of times in which he underthrew his receivers. It’s about the time they get to throw, and Rodgers, who is a lot more mobile and capable of throwing on the run anyway, had plenty of protection and time to show his stuff, including that big pass to Cobb for the crucial first down on the final drive.
This was a loss the Patriots could afford. It doesn’t hurt their head to head and conference record when it comes to leading the AFC and having home field advantage in the playoffs or their bye situation. It does eliminate the small margin they had, but sometimes a loss is good for teams on a roll, taking away some arrogance and confidence that they’re unbeatable. Bill Belichick isn’t the kind of head coach to actually let his players off the hook, but if there was somewhere they could afford to lose along the way, it was this one in Green Bay.
The Packers, for the first time since their championship season in 2010, look like a team that can go all the way. Aaron Rodgers doesn’t warrant any new explanations, but their improved defense, his OK protection and the ability to mix it up with Eddie Lacy who has overcome his awful start to the season make them seem like the best team in the NFC, but that only stands if they’re going to have home field advantage. Their visit to Seattle earlier this season proved that.