By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — All week long, no matter which corner of the sports media universe you explored, all you heard about was Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. The talking heads were going berserk. Talk radio lines were jammed with callers. The most inane imaginary storylines were explored.
Everybody wanted to talk about every single aspect of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Even Michael Jordan weighed in … and he doesn’t weigh in on anything.
So of course, when the game finally played out on national television with the Patriots winning 31-17, it wasn’t Tom Brady who made the game-defining play. It wasn’t Aaron Rodgers, either.
It was Lawrence Guy.
Nope, it wasn’t a future Hall of Famer wowing the world with a preposterous display of talent. It was ol’ Larry Guy, he of zero Pro Bowls and zero All-Pro teams. The seventh-round pick. The man who was drafted by the Packers, but then was cut, and then spent time on practice squads, bouncing around from Green Bay to Indianapolis to San Diego before finally finding regular work with the Ravens in his fifth NFL season. The man who’s well-known in New England and Baltimore — and the deep football analysis crews — but isn’t exactly a household name around the United States. The man who has fewer than 7,000 Twitter followers. (Follow Lawrence.) The man whose photo from this game was not even available for use in this story.
The man with the most anonymous name of all time: Lawrence Guy.
How perfectly Patriots.
It was perfect not just because of who made the play, but for what play was made. On the first snap of the fourth quarter, in a 17-17 game, and with the Packers driving for a go-ahead score at the New England 36-yard line, Guy lined up on the interior of the defensive line and pursued the play to his right. Aaron Jones found a decent-sized hole off the left end and likely felt fairly comfortable with his five or six-yard pickup.
But Jones had no idea that Guy was coming.
As Jones began to hit the deck while faced up with Dont’a Hightower, Guy came flying in from Jones’ right. The running back never saw it coming. Guy punched the ball out, and the running back with zero career fumbles coughed up the football.
“Just a good defensive play,” Jones admitted after the game. “He punched the ball out. It’s my mistake.”
The Patriots recovered, and they’d go on to score 14 unanswered points to finish off the victory.
All thanks to Lawrence Guy.
That these plays happen so regularly, so routinely for the Patriots, is surely no coincidence. Bill Belichick employs smart players who make smart plays in critical moments. Oftentimes, they lead to wins. Guy’s forced fumble — and Stephon Gilmore’s recovery — is just the latest.
Of course, a turnover can only do so much. Without a scoring drive to seize the momentum, a play like Guy’s could end up being forgotten.
So, one might figure that upon being gifted the football in a critical situation, finally it would be time for Brady to put his stamp on this momentous game.
Yet while Brady was perfect on the ensuing drive, he wasn’t even his own team’s best quarterback.
That title belonged to Julian Edelman, who received a backward pass from Brady before throwing the ball across the field to a waiting James White. With blockers in place (and Brady among them), White burst up the left sideline for a gain of 37 yards. White would plunge in to the end zone three plays later, scoring what proved to be the winning points of the ballgame.
But more than 10 minutes remained in the game, which is an eternity for a defense when facing Rodgers. The man blessed with the best arm in football can score in a hurry. Yet it was at that moment that the Patriots’ defense turned in its best series of the entire night. After a short run on first down, Jason McCourty ran step-for-step with Equanimeous St. Brown up the left sideline, forcing an incompletion on the deep ball. And on third down, Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn bullied their way to Rodgers, bringing down the elusive quarterback for a nine-yard loss. The Packers had to punt.
Granted, Brady was good on that go-ahead drive, going 4-for-4 for 34 yards, including a 17-yard hookup with Phillip Dorsett to covert a third-and-7 to prevent the drive from stalling out before it began. And, yes, Brady connected with Josh Gordon on a 55-yard catch-and-run following that defensive three-and-out by the Patriots.
In the much-hyped, much-anticipated, much-ballyhooed showdown between Brady and Rodgers, the old man was better. The victory reflects that.
But a message of “Brady beats Rodgers” overlooks a few too many things — the very things that help explain how and why the Patriots have been so successful for so long. They win these games because of the Lawrence Guys and the Julian Edelmans and the James Whites and the Adrian Clayborns. That cast of characters has changed regularly, on a weekly/monthly/yearly basis for the Patriots. Brady remains the constant.
And while Brady will go down as the greatest quarterback to ever play, one need only look to wins like this one to see that any game hyped as a quarterback showdown is likely a game being oversimplified.
If you don’t believe me, just ask Lawrence Guy — provided you know what he looks like.