By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — There was about as much hype as possible in the lead-up to Sunday night’s showdown between the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, a matchup that pitted two future Hall of Famers and two of the best quarterbacks of all time — Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers — against each other for just the second time ever.
Everyone was excited for the showdown, and that carried through the first half. Then, things hit a bit of a lull.
Fortunately for the Patriots, that quiet stretch was turned around by a forced fumble, a trick play, and a long bomb, all of which went the Patriots’ way en route to their 31-17 win over Green Bay.
It was a huge win for the Patriots, but as always, it wasn’t perfect. Here are the Four Ups and Four Downs … or Five Ups and Three Downs. Finding too many negatives feels wrong after a win like that.
When James White limped off the field in the first half, the outlook for the Patriots’ running back situation looked bleak. Turned out, it was just Cordarrelle Patterson’s time to shine.
After a 10-carry performance last week, Patterson was primed and ready for the national TV spotlight, running with confidence and speed as the Patriots’ primary back in this game. He performed exceptionally well, rushing for 61 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, and coming about a foot shy of running for another.
With no Sony Michel — and with the continued absence of Rex Burkhead, and the loss of Jeremy Hill — the Patriots have turned to Patterson as somewhat of an emergency option. He’s done better than anyone could have anticipated.
Patterson also excelled in his primary role, returning the opening kick of the game 36 yards to start the Patriots at their 41-yard line.
It’s not a coincidence that the Patriots often end up on the right side of game-changing plays in major moments. Lawrence Guy offered the latest.
The defensive tackle pursued Aaron Jones as the running back rushed for a decent gain off the left edge. As Jones braced for contact from Dont’a Hightower, he never saw Guy flying in from the side. Guy perfectly knocked the ball out of the arms of the unsuspecting Jones, and Stephon Gilmore recovered.
The score at the time was 17-17. The Patriots marched down the field and scored, then came up with a defensive stop, and then scored again. It was the game-changing play.
Not that there was any doubt about it after his performance on Monday night in Buffalo, but Julian Edelman is all the way back to being Julian Edelman.
He literally did everything for New England in this one. He caught two passes for 28 yards. He caught punts. He rushed twice — once for 17 yards, another for 11. And he delivered the pass that essentially put the go-ahead points on the board in the fourth quarter.
It was only “essentially” because James White was brought down at the 2-yard line. But it was yet another perfect pass delivered from Edelman (he was a college quarterback, as you may have heard once or twice), and it came at a critical moment.
The Pressure/Coverage Combination
It wasn’t a perfect game from the defensive backs. There were some penalties and there was a leak or two. But any time you can limit Aaron Rodgers to six yards per attempt, and any time you can limit that offense to just 17 points, it’s a win on the night.
Stephon Gilmore broke up a pass in the end zone intended for Davante Adams, helping to force the Packers to settle for a field goal. He broke up another pass to Adams early in the second, helping to lead to a Packers punt.
Jason McCourty broke up a pass intended for Marquez Valdes-Scantling late in the first, and he had perfect coverage on Equanimeous St. Brown on a deep ball on Green Bay’s drive following the Patriots’ go-ahead score in the fourth.
That coverage was complemented by a solid pass rush. Adrian Clayborn was constantly chasing after Rodgers, and though New England only recorded one sack, the team recorded six hits on the quarterback and never allowed Rodgers to get too comfortable in the pocket.
It’s a fifth up, sure, but Josh Gordon had himself a monster day. The receiver caught five passes for 130 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown that put the game on ice with 7:20 left in the fourth quarter.
The rarely used Phillip Dorsett stepped up to catch a 17-yard pass on a third-and-7 on the go-ahead drive. The Patriots had been 2-for-8 on third down prior to that play. The even more rarely used Dwayne Allen caught a pass and turned it into a 21-yard gain. … James White left the game briefly with what looked like a lower-body injury, but he re-entered the game and was once again his reliable self. He rushed for two touchdowns (12 carries, 31 yards), and caught six passes for 72 yards. Behind Brady, he’s this team’s MVP thus far. … Ryan Allen had a good night. So did Stephen Gostkowski. … Oh yeah, and Tom Brady. Everyone wanted to talk about Brady and Rodgers all week long. Brady was better.
The Patriots mostly figured things out by the end of the night, but it took a while getting there. That was in part due to some breakdowns in protection. Ted Karras allowed Mike Daniels to swim right by him for a third-down sack early. It looked like James White missed Antonio Morrison in pass protection, leading to another sack. That sack also came on a third down.
Jason McCourty, For A Snap
He got credit in the Ups, but one play in the second half earned him a spot on the Downs too. That play came on the third play of the second half, just after the Patriots won a challenge to force the Packers into a third-and-6. Valdes-Scantling simply burned past McCourty and hauled in a deep ball from Rodgers for a gain of 51 yards. The Packers would end up scoring on that drive to tie the game at 17-all.
It was a big moment, and whether it was a bust in terms of safety help or not, it was the type of play that nearly cost New England in the Kansas City game, and it’s one that they’re going to want to clean up.
The tight end didn’t play, and that’s why he’s on this list. It’s not that he’s done anything wrong, it’s just that a back issue forcing him to miss two out of three games has to be considered a concern.
Gronkowski had a strange week, practicing Wednesday before abruptly ending his press conference, missing practice Thursday, then reappearing at practice on Friday, before officially being inactive on Sunday night. Clearly something is not quite right with the 28-year-old, and though the Patriots can get by for a game or two without him, they’re a much more dangerous team when No. 87 can suit up and play.