By Chris Wesseling, NFL.com
~Aaron Rodgers threw for 368 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead the Green Bay Packers to a 26-21 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday. Our takeaways:
1. We were denied a chance to see Rodgers in a two-minute drill with the game on the line when Ha Ha Clinton-Dix knocked the ball out of a diving Rob Gronkowski’s hands in the end zone. Tom Brady was sacked on third down the following play, ending the Patriots’ comeback hopes. As expected, Rodgers and Brady put on a quarterback clinic, trading beautiful throws throughout the afternoon. It has been roughly two years, 360 pass attempts and 31 touchdowns since Rodgers’ last interception at Lambeau Field. He has to be the favorite for MVP honors this season.
2. Beyond the marquee quarterback matchup, the battle between Darrelle Revis and Jordy Nelson was a joy to watch. As stingy as any cornerback over the past month, Revis was excellent save for Nelson’s 45-yard touchdown that put the Packers ahead by two scores at the half. Nelson and Randall Cobb became the first pair of wide receivers in franchise history with at least 10 touchdowns in a season.
3. With the Cardinals losing again on Sunday, the Packers are in pole position for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That’s a problem for the rest of the NFC, as Lambeau has been the most dominant home field in the NFL this year. Meanwhile, the Patriots’ margin for error as the AFC’s top seed has slimmed. They do still enjoy a tiebreaker advantage over the Broncos, Colts and Bengals.
4. After getting benched against the Lions, Week 11 breakout star Jonas Gray didn’t see the field until the final play of the third quarter. He was the fourth running back in the rotation Sunday, working behind LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen and even special teamer Brandon Bolden.
5. Rookie wide receiver Davante Adams had the best game of his young career with 121 yards on a team-high 11 targets, but dropped a crucial third-down pass that would have gone for a touchdown. If Sunday is a sign of big plays to come, Rodgers will be dicing up defenses with the most complete wide-receiver corps in the league.
6. After a slow start to the season, Eddie Lacy is averaging 5.0 yards per carry since Week 5. He has combined for 46 carries the past two weeks after being limited to 17 or fewer in the first 11 games. The Packers have shown a more balanced offense of late, which is a good sign for the stretch run.
7. Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower deserves Pro Bowl recognition this season. He and breakout star Jamie Collins combined for 22 tackles, two sacks and two more tackles for loss on Sunday.
8. Thriving with an accurate quarterback, Brandon LaFell has already set season highs in receptions (53), yards (712) and touchdowns (7).
Original story here
~GREEN BAY, Wis. — If this was a Super Bowl preview, with Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady in starring roles, the NFL will be thrilled.
Rodgers threw for 368 yards and two touchdowns, Eddie Lacy powered for key yards in the fourth quarter and the Green Bay Packers fended off the New England Patriots 26-21 Sunday in a high-profile matchup between Super Bowl contenders.
Rodgers bested Brady in the first meeting between the star quarterbacks as starters.
Rodgers connected with Richard Rodgers and Jordy Nelson for long touchdowns.
Leading by five, the defense held firm late for the Packers (9-3). Mike Daniels and Mike Neal combined to sack Brady on third down for a 9-yard loss, and kicker Stephen Gostkowkski pushed a 47-yard field-goal attempt wide right with 2:40 left.
The Packers sealed it after Rodgers converted to Cobb on third-and-4 with the Patriots out of timeouts.
Brady finished 22 of 35 for 245 yards and two touchdown passes to Brandon LaFell for New England (9-3), which had its seven-game winning streak snapped. The second score came from 15 yards early in the fourth quarter to get within 23-21.
The lead could have been wider for the Packers if not for some hiccups in the red zone.
Green Bay settled for four field goals from Mason Crosby of 35 yards or less, including a 28-yarder to make it a five-point lead with 8:41 left. That kick came after rookie Davante Adams dropped a potential touchdown pass on third-and-5 from the New England 10.
On his knees, a frustrated Rodgers buried his helmet into the turf in frustration.
But he was celebrating at the end. Green Bay has won four in a row and eight of nine.
Rodgers finished 24 of 38, while Lacy had 98 yards on 21 carries, including 26 on the ground in the fourth-quarter drive that led to Crosby’s field goal. Adams had a career-best 121 yards on receptions.
Rodgers extended his NFL-record streaks to 360 consecutive passes at home and 31 touchdown passes in a row at home without an interception. His last interception at home came nearly two years ago on Dec. 2, 2012.
The Packers had been blowing past opponents at home with big early leads, turning the final 30 minutes of games at Lambeau Field into glorified practices. But this game had the feel of a championship fight down to the final minutes.
New England punched back after falling behind 13-0 in the first quarter.
Brandon Bolden twisted his way up the middle past would-be tacklers for a 6-yard run early in the second quarter to get New England on the board. LaFell’s 2-yard catch with 1:09 left in the quarter drew New England within 16-14.
But the quick-strike Packers were at their best late in the first half. Rodgers found Nelson in stride over the middle, and the receiver beat standout cornerback Darrelle Revis for a 45-yard touchdown, outracing safety Devin McCourty and tagging the front pylon before falling out of bounds.
Six-foot-6 tight end Rob Gronkowski had 98 yards on seven catches, proving to be a matchup nightmare once again for a defense.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press
From the JSonline.com
~When: 3:25 p.m. Sunday. Where: Lambeau Field. Television: CBS.Radio: AM-620.
Series: Tied, 5-5. Line: Packers by 3. Weather: 35, partly to mostly cloudy. Surface: DD GrassMaster.
Coaches: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (96-53-1, .643) vs. New England’s Bill Belichick (227-116, .662).
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
RUN TO REMEMBER: RB LeGarrette Blount returns to Lambeau Field, the scene of what probably was his greatest run in the NFL. It was early in the second quarter of the Packers’ game against Tampa Bay on Nov. 20, 2011. On first and 10, Blount ran over ILB Desmond Bishop on a dive over right guard. When A.J. Hawk saw Bishop miss, he decided to hustle over and then hit Blount with a forearm (it had no effect) instead of wrapping up. After that, Morgan Burnett, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields missed tackles. When OLB Erik Walden couldn’t get Blount down inside the 10, he had a 54-yard TD. It’s the longest rush in Blount’s five-year career. Shane Vereen starts for the Patriots, but Blount and Jonas Gray also should play extensively. “In that offense, they want a back that will run hard when their number’s called,” an executive in personnel for an NFL team said. “You may not get a bunch of carries, but when you do get them you run off the lineman’s butt and get up the field. Blount’s a little bit of a deceptive athlete. He can do some things for a big, powerful back. Gray has had a couple games where he blew it up pretty good. He runs hard. That’s the one thing they like in that offense.”
BACK ON THE BEAM: CB Brandon Browner started alongside Richard Sherman in Seattle in 2011, 2012 and the first eight games of 2013 before a groin injury and NFL suspension made him a forgotten player during the Seahawks’ drive to the Super Bowl. An unrestricted free agent, he signed a three-year, $15.15 million contract ($1 million guaranteed) March 14 to join New England. After sitting out a four-game suspension this season, the 30-year-old Browner replaced Alfonzo Dennard as the starter in Game 7. “I thought he was done,” said one scout. “I think the time off has done wonders for his legs. He’s a little bit rejuvenated, but I think it will be short-lived. He’ll just flash what he’s flashing and that will be it. At best, he’d run 4.65. He doesn’t win on speed. He wins on length. He’s a tough son of a gun. Very strong upper body. He’s got those weird kind of legs that go this way and that way. Knock-kneed.” Said another scout: “He looks to impose his will on you. He’s not a vertical speed type guy so he tries to keep guys in front of him or occupied and fighting with him. He knows what he can’t do and plays to his strengths.”
OTHER WEAPONS: The lion’s share of the attention when it comes to the Patriots’ receiving corps falls on TE Rob Gronkowski. Still, WR Julian Edelman is on pace for another 100-reception season. “Very good football player,” one scout said. “Shifty. Just like that (Wes) Welker role.” Former Panther Brandon LaFell is the other starter outside. “He’s a bigger receiver,” the scout said. “Not as elusive as the others, but he catches the ball well. Kind of a buildup runner but he can get down the field vertically and make the athletic play at the point of the ball.”
Former Tampa Bay TE Tim Wright, a converted wide receiver, counts six touchdowns among his 23 catches. “He’s kind of a big receiver,” another scout said. “You wouldn’t look at him as a traditional tight end as much as a big wideout or a small tight end. He’s more of a route runner than he is a blocker.”
REVIVED LINE: The Patriots’ offensive line took a hit after last season when venerable position coach Dante Scarnecchia retired at age 65. Trading LG Logan Mankins on Aug. 26 for Wright didn’t help. Having LG-RG Jordan Devey (four), LG Marcus Cannon (three) and RG Josh Kline (two) make starts didn’t help, either. The situation stabilized to a degree when rookie Bryan Stork was installed at center, veteran Dan Connolly at left guard and C Ryan Wendell took over at right guard. “They’re not flashy players but they’re in sync,” said one scout. “Collectively, they do a nice job. They are smart and effective covering up their guy…you’d be surprised how well Stork has played. You wouldn’t know that he’s a rookie. He plays pretty sound. It’s good when you have veteran guys around you.”
INSIDE STRENGTH: The Patriots struggled to stop the run early in the season. Two weeks after allowing 218 yards on the ground to the New York Jets, Bill Belichick signed former Cardinal-Bill DT Alan Branch. Together with improved conditioning noted in NT Vince Wilfork and overall improvement by DT Chris Jones, the Patriots have allowed 43, 19 and 91 rushing yards in the last three games. “Wilfork is very stout at the point in the run game,” one scout said.
“Stays on his feet. He does stay out there and will chase the ball and give maximum effort. He’s a big, big man that you really have to block and account for….Branch can penetrate. Long and rangy. Not as consistently talented but he’s had some flash plays where you know you really want to keep a hat on him….Jones brings some twitch and activity.”
VIEWS OF THE GAME
Packers beat reporter
Two of the NFL’s best organizations, coaches and quarterbacks meet at Lambeau Field. As an interconference game, the outcome won’t define either team’s season. This isn’t a do-or-die, late-season situation. Both teams can just go play. For those who love football, this is your game.
Packers beat reporter
I don’t see a whole lot of defense being played in this game. Not because the defenses are so bad but because the offenses are so good. The Packers will struggle some in the passing game with Darrelle Revis shutting down one third of the field, but Eddie Lacy and the tight ends can make up for it. It may come down to the last team with the ball. If it does, I like Tom Brady to win it for the Patriots.
Patriots 37, Packers 34
Packers beat reporter
Lambeau Field could be a factor. Green Bay has looked unstoppable against the likes of Cam Newton, Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez at home. But Tom Brady is a different monster, one still in his prime at 37 years old. And this Patriots defense has been flustering some of the best quarterbacks in the game. Expect a close game Sunday in which New England’s defense gets more stops.
Patriots 35, Packers 27
Packers beat reporter
Watching Aaron Rodgers against defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick, with those 3-4 and 4-3 fronts, should be entertaining for everyone, but how will the Packers use Eddie Lacy? Will they try to establish the running game first or go for the big shots downfield and an early lead?
Patriots 31, Packers 21
Packer Plus editor
Rob Gronkowski is looking every bit like the megastar he was three years ago when he had 1,327 receiving yards and 17 TDs. After a slow start, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound tight end has become a force the last seven weeks, boosting his receiving totals to 58 catches, 812 yards and nine TDs. The Packers, however, will find a way to keep Gronkowski, Tom Brady and the rest of New England’s offense in check. Or, so they hope.
Packers 24, Patriots 23
Original story here
From Tyler Dunne, JSonline
Green Bay — For 20 filibustering minutes, Bill Belichick heaped praise upon the Green Bay Packers. Through this conference call with Wisconsin reporters and each trip to the podium in New England, the Patriots commander-in-chief saluted his opponent Sunday.
In truth, Belichick probably would’ve cut or traded many of the Packers’ players long ago.
Maybe Mike Neal, hounded by injuries his first three seasons. Maybe Sam Shields, the speed demon whose tackling skills reached embarrassing proportions for parts of 2011. Maybe T.J. Lang, who cleaned up his act off the field to earn a starting spot and long-term contract. Or Brad Jones, the goat in the Week 1 loss at Seattle. Or Mason Crosby, who endured a career-worst slump in 2012.
“When you put an investment in a guy,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said, “the players that come here understand that we’re not looking to get rid of people. Even if you have a rough start, we’re going to develop you and make you ours.”
Now, the only two teams to reach the postseason each of the last five years meet Sunday at Lambeau Field. And they’ve gotten here in polar-opposite ways.
Yes, both are built on franchise quarterbacks. But whereas New England signs players Tuesday and cuts ’em Friday — Belichick has fostered a stone-cold, you-are-replaceable climate — the Packers are more apt to develop prospects within. They’ll be counting on several such prospects in this cross-conference showdown, too.
Neal to generate pass rush. Shields as a quick-reacting antidote to Tom Brady’s accuracy. Jones as the dime linebacker.
Whitt is one assistant central to the development. He molded a former University of Miami wide receiver into a $39 million man.
Would Belichick really have tolerated the growing pains after that brutal sight Nov. 20, 2011, against Tampa Bay? Human sledgehammer LaGarrette Blount broke eight tackles en route to a 54-yard touchdown, and Shields’ miss was the most egregious. With a perfect angle at the back, Shields’ merry-go-round attempt epitomized the team’s tackling woes.
Yet general manager Ted Thompson, Whitt, everyone stuck with him. And in 2012, he responded.
All along, Whitt said he told coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers that Shields was a worker, he was mature. He’d get it.
“Sam had so much raw ability, it’d be hard to throw that raw ability out,” Whitt said. “When you put that (work ethic) with his ability, you knew if he did it the right way, he was going to be a quality player because he had the skill set.”
The breakthrough? Whitt doesn’t hesitate. A third and 2 in the 2012 season opener. San Francisco’s Frank Gore caught a swing pass left, rumbled toward the sideline and Shields, mano a mano, was the aggressor.
Said Whitt, “It showed that he had the ability and the courage to tackle.”
Shields has been beat at times this season, but his ball skills remain a potential game-changer in this prime-time setting. From press coverage, when “he doesn’t see the ball,” Whitt said, Shields still can make a play on the ball. He sees “flashes” and reacts. Through 70 career games, the 5-foot-11, 184-pound cornerback has 85 pass breakups and 19 interceptions.
Elsewhere, Neal transformed from college defensive tackle to 3-4 defensive end to the outside linebacker the Packers need against Brady with Nick Perry (shoulder) listed as questionable again.
This is after missing 28 of a possible 48 games his first three seasons, echoes of bust Justin Harrell getting louder and louder.
“Obviously, they won’t quit on you,” said Neal, who has 32 tackles and three sacks. “They’ll give you as much opportunity as you need. You just have to be ready to capitalize on it. It has benefited me.
“It works. Even if sometimes it seems murky, we still have a winning record, still go to the playoffs and see people in our system thrive and get better. So I think that it’s a positive.”
Of course, the Patriots’ cutthroat approach works for them.
Wide receiver Wes Welker — his six years of service, 672 receptions, 37 touchdowns — was low-balled in free agency and departed for Denver. Veterans are routinely whisked away, recycled. Blount rampaged through the 2013 postseason, left in free agency, was cut by Pittsburgh and then was signed again by New England. Thus, Shields will get a shot at personal redemption Sunday.
Remember Tiquan Underwood? The Patriots cut him less than 24 hours before the Super Bowl. Belichick constantly reshuffles the bottom of his roster.
There is a value in fear, in players always wondering if they’re next.
In Green Bay, the Packers’ faith in Jones at inside linebacker led to midseason scrambling. Clay Matthews, their best pass rusher, is now lining up inside instead.
The Packers don’t want trust to be confused with complacency.
“Tomorrow is not promised to anyone,” wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett said.
“So we want to make the most of our opportunities. Yes, bring them along. But don’t put anything on the backburner as far as the ultimate goal — and Coach Mike talks about it at the beginning of every season — where we want to be at the end of the year. Our standards will never change.”
Adds Whitt, “We’re all under the pressure that we understand we have to perform. And we’ve had enough success around here that we don’t panic when we do get hard days.”
The players seem to get that memo. Whenever a player is cut in Green Bay — be it Jerron McMillian last year or Ryan Taylor this year — it resonates in the locker room.
James Starks, another player the Packers stayed patient with through injuries, said both the Packers and Patriots “have an eye” for talent, a “knack” for roster building.
“And I know it’s a business,” Starks said. “You’re here to perform. That could happen anywhere, that’s the way of the league. You never know where you’re going to go.”
So here inside an interview room, asked about when Randall Cobb truly broke through, Bennett even calls his star slot receiver a “work in progress.”
With everyone, they want more.
Still, Sunday features a stark contrast in styles. Two different ways of doing business in today’s NFL.
Whitt uses himself as an example. When he arrived as a quality control coach in 2008, he knew in the back of the Packers’ brass minds, they wanted him to eventually to take the cornerback room over.
All assistants operate with one team ethos in mind. Thompson did so hoping it’d lead to winning games like this.
“You bring in talent, you grow your talent,” Whitt said, “and it might not necessarily flourish Day 1 but you saw something in that individual that fits the Green Bay Packers.
“So we hold onto it and we grow our players.”
Original story here
From Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay — In this week’s edition of The Other Side, we check in with your old pal here at the Journal Sentinel, Greg Bedard, who now covers the NFL for Sports Illustrated and The MMQB after also covering the New England Patriots for The Boston Globe.
Bedard breaks down how the Patriots turned their season around and how Tom Brady remains dangerous as ever at 37, the soft spots on the roster and gives his prediction for Sunday:
Q: Talking to Troy Brown earlier this week, he said he thinks Tom Brady took that Kansas City loss personal. Do you think he did?
Bedard: Well, it was certainly embarrassing, that’s for sure. And it was the worst game that I’ve seen him play in some time – it looked like he checked out in the second half as the frustration of leading such an ineffective unit got to him. It was one thing to trade Logan Mankins, but not to have a viable plan on top of it? He had a right to be frustrated. Some of the people they had playing on the line (Jordan Devey, Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming) had no business being out there. I think after that game, everyone got their act in order. I think the coaches finally realized they had to dumb everything down and get the ball out of Brady’s hands quicker because they just couldn’t block it. I also think stories like this one from Chris Mortensen were leaked by the Patriots on purpose to tell Brady that it was time to get his head in the game. What it was, it worked, because the Patriots have been on fire since.
Q: How is Brady still so effective at 37 years old? Did he change any parts of his game?
Bedard: To me, he’s the exact same player that I started covering in the middle of the 2010 season. He keeps himself in terrific shape (his arm is still very good to all parts of the field), so I think that’s the biggest thing. Brady still moves well within the pocket – you’ve seen none of his legs go, which is usually the first sign a quarterback is on the decline. There’s been some chatter about him keeping plays alive a little bit more. To me, it’s been a little bit overblown. He’s always done that, as long he goes into a game with that mentality. At times that mentality hasn’t been there, especially early this season when he was facing pressure on 30-40 percent of his dropbacks. An early big hit still does spook him, however.
Q: Who in the heck will be playing running back this week for New England? What has allowed anyone to plug into that role and be effective of late?
Bedard: I expect you’ll see both Jonas Gray and LeGarrette Blount get the two-down work in this game, and Shane Vereen will get snaps in his hybrid role. After a slow start, the line is finally doing what it always does: open nice holes for any running back to go through. Gotta look out for the trap and wham blocks. Patriots love those and will pound them over and over again if you’re not careful. Also, Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears is one of the best. His guys rarely pick the wrong hole, or miss a block picking up the blitz.
Q: The Packers’ RB coach Sam Gash called this the best linebacker group Green Bay has faced to date. How did they pick up the pieces when Jerod Mayo went down?
Bedard: Well, they only play with two and safety Patrick Chung. I think it helped tremendously that Donta Hightower got experience last season filling in for Mayo when he was also lost for the season. Hightower has been nothing short of spectacular since Mayo was sidelined. Hightower has been as good as Mayo against the run, and is much better rushing the passer. Jamie Collins is a tremendous and rangy athlete who takes up a lot of room in the middle of the field. He’s very good at going forward (blitzing) and backwards (coverage). His weakness is reading and reacting to the run game. The coaches have done a nice job accentuating his strengths but limiting his weaknesses. But Collins hasn’t really been tested on the ground during this win streak because of the big early leads. If I’m the Packers, I’m trying to run the ball in this game.
Q: Where is the weakness on this roster? Where do you see Aaron Rodgers attacking?
Bedard: Well, as far as the Patriots’ offense goes, the line is still a bit shaky at times so it’s paramount they get pressure against the weaker players: LT Nate Solder, LG Dan Connolly and RG Ryan Wendell. If you can pressure Brady on 30 percent of his snaps, the win percentage goes up big time. The Patriots don’t have a vertical threat, so you be a little more aggressive defending the short area of the field against the quick passes Brady lives by. If I’m Dom Capers, I’m doing whatever I can to stop Gronkowski and Edelman. I think at one point that over 90 percent of Gronk’s catches went for either a first down or touchdown. That’s insane. Make Brady beat you with the other guys.
On defense, the Patriots have shown they can be run on, and they haven’t faced a concerted effort to do that in some time. Have to get CB Brandon Browner to move side to side. His strength is going up and back. He can be beat on big plays when he’s not grabbing you (which is just about every play). Patrick Chung has played much better this season but he’s a guy I would target. When Duron Harmon comes on as the second deep safety, I would run routes that put him in a bind. He doesn’t have much experience and when he’s in, he’s usually deep which allows Devin McCourty to dive on crossing routes.
Patriots’ special teams are awesome. No weaknesses there, so old friend Shawn Slocum better be on his game.
Q: And finally, who wins this game and why?
Bedard: Really great matchup against two teams that are very similar. The Patriots have been on a roll and, as opposed to the Packers, they’ve decimated some really good teams. I have a hard time seeing the Patriots losing a game this big, unless Eddie Lacy has a huge day. Patriots 34, Packers 27.
From the fellas over at Bleacher Report
~GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN
–New England Patriots (9-2) at Green Bay Packers (8-3)
The Pick: Green Bay Packers (11-5)
On many levels, it seems blasphemous to pick against the New England Patriots right now.
At 9-2, the Patriots have the AFC’s best record. They’ve defeated four first-place teams over their seven-game winning streak, including all three other division leaders in their conference. The games weren’t even especially close.
AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz is on the bandwagon regardless of destination:
“The Patriots have defeated three straight division leaders (though the Lions no longer lead the division thanks to losing to the Patriots) and have done it so many ways—running the ball, throwing the ball, stout defense, explosive special teams. How can anyone pick against them right now? Look for a big day from LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray against a Packers run defense that ranks near the bottom of the league in every category.”
Frenz’s points are valid, and no one will be surprised if the Patriots win.
However, the Packers have been every bit as hot as the Patriots of late. The teams rank first and second in the NFL in scoring. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are playing at a level right now somewhere between “otherworldly” and “Madden on Rookie difficulty.”
However, Rodgers has also been absolutely flawless at home this season, and the locale of Sunday afternoon’s big showdown was enough to swing the vote.
In any event, if you like shootouts, have your popcorn ready beforehand. Get up during this one, and you’re apt to miss three scores.
Patriots (5): Frenz, Kruse, Miller, Simms, Tanier
Packers (11): Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, McCown, Schalter, Schottey, Sobleski, Tomlinson
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~GREEN BAY, WI – It sure looks like a Super Bowl Preview. Now. But it definitely didn’t when October began.
First, Green Bay got steamrolled to fall to 1-2 in Detroit, losing to the Lions 19-7, with the Lions offense smothering the high-octane Packers offense.
But afterwards, Aaron Rodgers told everyone to R-E-L-A-X.
The following week, New England got clobbered 41-14 by the Chiefs on Monday Night Football to fall to 2-2 with their wins being against Oakland and Minnesota, two usual cupcakes.
Tom Brady said their offense was, essentially, “not good”.
“I can definitely do a better job, so I think that’s what I’m trying to focus on,” Brady said on Wednesday. “We’re 2-2. It’s not really where we necessarily want to be, but it’s where we’re at. We’ve got a lot of football ahead. We’re going to try to do a lot better job, all of us are.
“I don’t think we should feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve always found a way to kind of grind our way through tough times.”
Brady was optimistic, sounded positive. But fans near and afar, and analysts, thought the writing was on the wall and that Brady was losing it, and the Patriots were in trouble.
“When you’re weak, when you’re the weakest kid and you go into a bully’s house, you get the snot beat out of you,” ESPN analyst and former Super Bowl-winning QB Trent Dilfer said. “We saw a weak team. The New England Patriots, let’s face it: They’re not good anymore. They’re weak, and they came into a great atmosphere, with a team that feels like they’re in a do-or-die situation, a team that came out and attacked, played fast, and got after the weaker opponent. Let’s call it what it is.”
“How is it possible, with all these draft picks, and all this guru stuff we hear coming out, and all the personnel expertise from the Patriots and how great they’ve been for so long, how have they not been able to support Tom Brady in his career the last five years, especially this year, with enough personnel to go attack the Super Bowl? How have they fallen so far?”
Dilfer interjected: “At 37 years old, you need maybe more help than he did at 32, 33, and they’re giving him less.”
Fellow ESPN analyst, and former record-setting Super Bowl MVP QB Steve Young replied: “The problem is, people are going to say, ‘Tom Brady’s the problem.’ He is not. He didn’t play well, but I’m telling you, there’s a big separation between what they’re trying to do offensively and what Tom wants to do. Also, Tom gets either no help behind the line of scrimmage or gets no help down the field. You saw the tape, nobody’s open. In the end, if anybody wants to go after Tom Brady, come through me, because I guarantee you, this guy is still capable of taking anyone that’s really any good to the Super Bowl.”
“Two rookie offensive linemen, offensive tackles getting beat, no game-breaking wide receiver, Gronk not back to top form, and an offense committed to a lot of underneath short throws, along with a quarterback who at 37 is being asked to do a lot of heavy lifting,” Former Super Bowl QB Boomer Esiason said. “If LaFell [and] Dobson can’t stretch the field, defenses will not respect deep throws. I admire Edelman, but there has to be more options. With inexperience along the line and a running game grinding, it’s no wonder they are bewildered.”
Appearing on “Inside the NFL,” Esiason was even stronger.
“Something I can tell you from that Patriots offense is that nobody, I mean nobody, scares anybody. They are not throwing the ball at all. I can see with my own plain eyes that nobody is scaring anybody with that offense,” he said. “And this was a team that always lived scoring between 28 and 34 points, and the defense was an afterthought. The Patriots have really big problems, and I don’t see the answer on their roster.”
Now, fast forward to today, as we set to close out November and the third quarter of the season.
The Patriots haven’t lost since that game. As hot as the Packers have been winning seven of eight, the Patriots are even hotter. They’ve won seven in a row, including three straight against division-leading teams, by margins of 22, 22, and 25. That was against Peyton Manning’s Broncos, Andrew Luck and the Colts, and then the NFC North leading Lions, who held the Packers to 7 points earlier this season.
The Patriots also lit up the Bears for 51 points the week before that Broncos game, and they scored 43 points on the Bengals back in week five.
The Steelers gave LeGarrette Blount back to the Patriots last week, and he responded with a pair of touchdowns yesterday against the #1-ranked Lions defense. Blount plowed through the top-ranked Lions defense for 6.5 yards a carry. Remember, the Lions defense held the Packers to 7 points earlier this season.
Gronk is back. He leads all tight ends with 812 yards, and his 58 catches is just one behind Jimmy Graham (who plays tonight) for tops in the NFL. Gronk’s nine touchdown receptions is tied for 4th in the NFL, behind only Julius Thomas, Dez Bryant, and Randall Cobb.
He is a beast, and as many Packer fans are well aware of, covering opposing tight ends is one of the biggest weaknesses of the Packers defense, year after year. Packers inside linebackers have made it a habit to make decent tight ends look good and make good ones look great.
Gronk is a great one.
Who’s going to cover Gronk? A.J. Hawk can’t cover him. Brad Jones got some rust off this week, but that’s asking a lot of the former outside linebacker. Clay Matthews? Do you really want him running with Gronk down the seam and all over the field, or do you want him hunting down Brady?
Julius Peppers, size and skill-set, is probably the best specimen that you could design. But again, you stop Brady not by taking away one target, albeit his favorite. You stop him by hitting him before or when he throws the ball. Peppers and Matthews off the edges, and stunting inside, are the golden keys to slowing down Brady and that passing offense.
What about stopping the run? Yes, that’s been another Achilles heel for the Packers. They’ve done a better job the past couple of weeks, since Matthews was moved to inside linebacker at times. Coincidence or not, he’s quicker and better. Still, the Patriots have a power running attack with Blount and Jonas Gray, if he doesn’t oversleep.
The last power back the Packers faced was their last loss, in New Orleans, when Mark Ingram of the Saints had his best game ever in the NFL.
The Patriots also have a deep threat, now, in Brandon LaFell, who has five touchdowns and almost 700 yards.
They have the new Wes Welker slot guy in Julian Edelman, who will be a hard guy to cover for the Packers. Remember how wide open Greg Jennings was Sunday for the touchdown, and then the Vikings two-point conversion? The Patriots are experts at those cross, pick, rub slot routes and it’s Edelman who is the main man running those. He has 70 catches on the season, leading the team.
Another guy to watch is number two tight end Tim Wright, who has six touchdown receptions. He’s a hybrid type of tight end, who’s basically a large wide receiver in the Shannon Sharpe, Julius Thomas mold. Watch out for him too.
If the Packers are to stop Brady, they are going to have to win at the line of scrimmage, as the Chiefs did. This is a game where Julius Peppers can show the world that his addition was well worth the price tag. He already has, by the way. But on the biggest stage, that’s where the best showcase themselves. Speaking of big, he will be going against the Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who is 6-8, 320. Peppers might be at a height disadvantage, but he’s much quicker than Vollmer is.
On the other side, it’s another 6-8, 320 bookend Nate Solder who protects Brady’s blind side. Again, while Matthews gives up some inches in the paint on a basketball court, Clay has an edge both athletically and quickness.
Dom Capers’ game plan is critical. One good thing is on third down passing situations, they can pin their ears back and go after the QB, not worrying about the long run by the QB like Colin Kaepernick has gashed the Packers on. Brady will not look to run. But he’s smart and will find the open guy if there’s a blown coverage on an exotic blitz where someone leaves a running back uncovered. Shane Vereen is a very good receiver out of the backfield and he could hurt the Packers with some big third down catches.
Now two weeks ago, the Packers defense did a fine job on Eagles backs LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles, who’s one of the most dangerous guys out of the backfield.
But that was Mark Sanchez piloting the ship, this is Brady. And that was a rookie TE in Jace Amaro, while this is Gronk.
And that was Rex Ryan, this is Bill Belichick.
It would be great if this was the matchup in the Super Bowl. Well, except for Seahawks, Cardinals, 49ers, Cowboys, Eagles, Broncos, Steelers, Ravens fans.
Rodgers versus Brady.
Rodgers versus Belichick.
Brady versus Capers. That’s the one I worry about the most, quite frankly. I’ve seen how Capers’ defenses have fared against great QB’s before. Drew Brees and the Saints have looked terrible this year, even at home. That is, except the 44 they lit up Capers’ defense for back in week 8.
We’ve also seen how Colin Kaepernick has looked time and time again against Capers’ defense. He’s had his best ever passing game once, and his best two running games the other two times, including eliminating the Packers from the playoffs the past two years.
For the season now, Brady is 271-417, 65% completions, for 2,998 yards, with 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions for a passer rating of 101.
Rodgers, throwing much less, is 228-342, 67%, for 2,957 yards, with 30 touchdowns and 3 interceptions for a passer rating of an unbelievable 119.2.
Brady now is considered a front-runner for the MVP, along with Rodgers and Manning. Back to normal.
Brady has rebounded.
Dilfer and Esiason have had to eat crow the past month or so.
From Rob Demovsky, ESPN.com
~MINNEAPOLIS — Observed and heard in the locker room after the Green Bay Packers’ 24-21 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium:
Feeling ill: The Packers could tell running back Eddie Lacy wasn’t feeling well throughout the game but until it was disclosed after the game that he was suffering from an illness, no one on the outside knew. You sure couldn’t tell by the way he performed. He rushed 25 times for 125 yards — both season highs — and scored two touchdowns (one rushing and one receiving). By the time reporters entered the locker room, Lacy was already on the team bus trying to recover. “I knew he wasn’t feeling great,” left guard Josh Sitton said. “He’s a tough son of a bitch. … You could see it on his face a little bit that he wasn’t feeling too good. He’s just tough, man.”
Game ball: Rookie tight end Richard Rodgers knows what he’s going to do with the ball he caught for his 1-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. “Probably give it to my dad,” Rodgers said of his father who is the Carolina Panthers’ special teams coach. It was perhaps one of the most memorable plays of the game because of how far Aaron Rodgers had to throw the ball for just 1 official yard. He rolled to his right and from just outside where the 10-yard line number is painted, he throw the ball all the way to back left corner of the end zone, where the tight end was completely uncovered and waving his arms.
On to New England: The talk turned almost immediately to Sunday’s showdown with the New England Patriots, the first-ever meeting between Rodgers and Tom Brady as starters. But most players said they wanted to enjoy this victory first. “I haven’t even thought about it,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. Guard T.J. Lang said: “It will be a big game for us. I haven’t really thought about them too much.”
By Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel
~Minneapolis — The Green Bay Packers finally surpassed the Detroit Lions in the NFC North on Sunday after a 24-21 win over Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Lions lost to the Patriots, 34-9.
Granted, the Packers and Lions play again in Week 17. But one game up, the Packers now can control their own destiny.
It didn’t come easy on the road. Green Bay’s juggernaut offensive attack was contained for much of this one, as Aaron Rodgers was held to 209 passing yards on 19-of-29 passing. But eventually the Packers’ offense broke through and held on to beat Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings.
Bridgewater made it interesting, leading a 79-yard drive that cut the Green Bay lead to three with 3 minutes and 23 seconds left.
But Eddie Lacy — who had another big day against Minnesota — dove up the middle out of the shotgun for four yards on third and 2 and rumbled for 10 more the next play to close out a Packers win.
Next up for Green Bay? A home date with Tom Brady and the 9-2 New England Patriots.
Player of the Game: Even as Rodgers put up ungodly first-half numbers at Lambeau Field, the quarterback maintained the Packers would probably be leaning on the run more deeper into the season. That was the case Sunday, as Lacy rumbled his way through the Vikings’ defense again. The second-year back finished with 115 rushing yards, 13 receiving and two of Green Bay’s three touchdowns. His full repertoire was on display. The Vikings did a solid job eliminating the big play from the Packers’ offense — they had only two pass plays of 20-plus yards — but Lacy chipped away throughout.
Turning point: Minnesota had a golden opportunity to take a 17-14 lead in the third quarter when Charles Johnson broke out on Sam Shields inside the 10. Bridgewater’s pass was poor to the wide open receiver, and Johnson couldn’t haul in a diving grab. The Vikings settled for three and would never take a lead.
Big number: 5 — Receiving touchdowns by three different Green Bay tight ends after Rodgers hit Richard Rodgers wide open on a throwback at the 1-yard line.
What went right: Again against Minnesota, Lacy broke tackles, spun and kept plays alive. When the Packers needed to get it together, they did. Ahead 17-13 in the fourth quarter, Rodgers orchestrated an 87-yard touchdown drive that in which he hit Jordy Nelson on a slant for 11 yards on third and 3, scrambled for 18 yards on third and 6 and found Lacy on a well-designed, well-executed shovel pass for a 10-yard touchdown. Just like that, the Packers led by 11 and could breathe a lot easier.
What went wrong: The former Packers seventh-round pick Johnson beat veteran Tramon Williams off the line for a 22-yard touchdown in the first half. And the Vikings would not go away quietly in this one, giving Green Bay a scare with multiple long drives. Bridgewater led scoring drives of 74 yards (5:28) and 42 yards (5:07) and 79 yards (5:11) to keep this one close throughout. He moved the ball down the field with ease late in the fourth quarter, hitting Greg Jennings for a 5-yard score with 3:23 to go that made it a three-point game. On offense, the Vikings forced punts on Green Bay’s first two possessions — unheard of late for the Packers, who eventually rallied on the road.
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~Aaron Rodgers is a bad man, as Stephen A. Smith says.
But lost in the trenches of this record-setting Packers offense, far away from the spotlight on Aaron Rodgers and the end zone where Jordy, Randall, Eddie, and Davante are often found, are the unsung heroes: The White Wall.
From left-to-right, LT David Bakhtiari, LG Josh Sitton, C Corey Linsley, RG T.J. Lang, and RT Bryan Bulaga have remained healthier than recent years past (knock on wood) as they haven’t missed any starts yet.
Starting with the hardest possible tests, at Seattle, vs NY Jets, at Detroit, the Packers offensive line has progressively gotten better.
Yesterday against the Eagles, they allowed only one sack to a defense that had just gotten eight sacks of Cam Newton the previous game.
“The offensive line has been playing well all year, really, everyone in the protection unit,” Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said. “Yesterday they played very well. We only had the one sack, and multiple times Aaron had a lot of time to throw and was able to go to secondary receivers.
True, the Packers have allowed 22 sacks in 10 games, but that’s middle of the pack, 16th in the NFL. This despite every opposing defense aiming for him. That’s each defensive coordinator’s primary focus all week leading up to facing Rodgers.
True, the Packers rushing game is only 18th in the NFL in yards per carry at 4.1, and 18th in yards per game at 102.2.
But as long as Rodgers is getting time to pass, and Nelson, Cobb and Lacy remain healthy, the Packers are going to light up most defenses. And we’ve seen that now for pretty much the past seven weeks.
Now of course Rodgers is getting all the pub, which he does deserve as he’s a surgeon out there and he’s leading the NFL in passer rating, again. He’s the leader in the clubhouse for the MVP again, at this moment.
Nelson and Cobb are also much more important than most people realize. They’ve both stayed healthy so far through 10 games and it makes a huge difference. Take one away, and the other guy gets doubled all the time and his production drops while the other guy is gone. Packer fans of old remember that from the Favre Era in the 90’s when Robert Brooks or Antonio Freeman were out. The 1996 Super Bowl team had to bring in Andre Rison to get the offense back on track.
And when Bill Schroeder was a starter? You wonder why Favre slowed down in the late 90’s, early 00’s when he still had the arm left.
Back to the trenches.
At left tackle, second-year left tackle Bakhtiari continues to make Ted Thompson looking like a genius for grabbing this guy out of Colorado last year on Day-3 of the 2013 Draft. He was expected to be a backup, a la what Donny Barclay was last year.
But both of them became needed starters last year due to, what else, injuries. Now a year later, Bakhtiari is better and more confident, and doesn’t need help nearly as often as last year’s rookie season.
Over at right tackle, Bulaga has been solid as well, for the most part. He had some issues with Cameron Wake of the Dolphins in week six. He also, as he often does on the road on turf against speedy edge rushers, had some issues at New Orleans. But he’s been healthy and reliable and Rodgers will take him like this every day, for the next six games and then for three or four more in January.
The guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang have played the past two full weeks on wounded wheels. Lang has an ankle while Sitton has a torn ligament in his big toe. The fact that they’re both playing through it is impressive. But the fact that they’ve played well is extra special. These grizzly old veterans deserve a lot of credit.
Josh Sitton is simply as good as it gets in the league at guard, and Lang is getting closer.
At center, perhaps this year’s most surprising rookie Corey Linsley has been the key. Drafted late, like Bakhtiari a year ago, Linsley was expected to be a young backup, afforded a chance to sit and learn as a rookie. But with J.C. Tretter going down right before the season started, Linsley was forced in as starter without even one preseason game to practice with Rodgers.
And he had to start his career at Super Bowl champion Seattle, on national TV, with Seattle still on fire from winning the Super Bowl. There could be no tougher test for any center than that. Great defense, and loud. He did fine and has only gotten better. There have been calls for him to make the Pro Bowl this year. According to Pro Football Focus, the only center in the NFC graded higher this year has been Max Unger of Seattle. Linsley has not been charged with a sack yet.
Now this line hasn’t faced anywhere near the caliber of interior defensive linemen the past month or so as they did early against Detroit, Seattle, and the Jets. But what’s been accomplished recently, mostly at home, has a lot to do with how well these guys have done in the trenches.
Another challenge against Suh and the Lions awaits at the end of the season, and New England comes to town on November 30th, with Little Bill (Belichick) always creative going after opposing quarterbacks.
“The offensive line has really started the charge here,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said at his Monday presser. “It starts up front. Those five guys continue to play together each and every week.”
What happens the rest of the year remains to be seen, but if this current group can stay healthy and on the field (along with #12, #87, #18, #27), the Packers will continue to light up the scoreboard.
If the Packers ultimately end up in Glendale on February 1st, the White Wall will most likely be the Unsung Heroes. And perhaps they will get to pay a visit to the White House in February.