By Brian Garland
“He’s the greatest of all-time”, Aaron Rodgers speaks time and again about Tom Brady during interviews this week.
Brady-Manning was a yearly tradition until Manning’s retirement after the 2015 season, but Brady and Rodgers have been squarely at the top of most football metrics for almost a decade.
Four years passed since the previous Brady-Rodgers matchup, with Rodgers and the Packers hanging on for a win at Lambeau Field. Now at Gillette Stadium, the stakes have never been higher.
Aaron Rodgers’ Packers are up against the wall in the NFC North division with two more road games in Miami and Seattle following their contest with New England. At 3-3-1 before Sunday night, the Packers are running out of room for losses.
For the Patriots and their 6-2 record, a win over the Packers could put the AFC East division to rest, and keep them in contention for the top seed in the AFC with Kansas City.
With Kansas City in mind, the Patriots defense has seen quarterbacks as dangerous with their arms and legs like Patrick Mahomes. The Patriots covered the dynamic rookie quarterback well in the first half, but the speed of Tyreek Hill made Mahomes and Hill almost too much for New England’s defense in a 43-40 Patriots win.
A shootout of the same kind was probable, but was not the case Sunday night. New England and Green Bay were evenly matched on offense in the first half, marching down the field each drive with a 17-10 score at halftime.
The Patriots defense bent to Aaron Rodgers, but it did not break. Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore matched well with Green Bay’s top receiver Davante Adams in the passing game, limiting Adams to 40 yards on six receptions, though Adams did find the end zone from two yards out in a signature Rodgers ad-lib play to tie the game at 10 in the second quarter.
With Adams covered deep with Gilmore and a safety, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers relied on his other targets to be effective in the passing game, and none could help Rodgers stretch out New England’s defense with deep passes.
Keeping Rodgers’ deep passes contained is no small feat, nor is the pressure that New England’s front seven put on Rodgers.
Adrian Clayborne, Trey Flowers and Adam Butler were in Rodgers’ pocket all game, forcing the quarterback to scramble and make split-second decisions.
Rodgers’ quick release has few equals in the NFL, but New England forced him to play quickly all night. When Rodgers is at his best, he can hold the ball for ages until the opposing defense wears down and a receiver is wide open. There was not much of this against New England due to the Patriots’ best pass pressure of the season.
Rodgers completed just 24 of his 43 pass attempts for 259 yards, his career-low in yards with 40+ passes in a game.
On offense for New England, Dwayne Allen started in place of Rob Gronkowski at tight end. While Allen is a non-factor in the passing game compared to Gronkowski, Allen and the rest of the offensive line let James White and later Cordarrelle Patterson run rampant on Green Bay.
This was another excellent game for Patriots running back James White, whose blocking, receiving and rushing abilities made him an invaluable weapon Sunday night. White scored two rushing touchdowns and contributed 100 total rushing and receiving yards, with 37 coming from a trick throw from receiver Julian Edelman.
The Patriots were even with Green Bay for three quarters until Green Bay running back Aaron Jones fumbled in New England territory.
Tom Brady and the Patriots moved down field with three short passes, and then a Brady-to-Edelman-to-White trick pass play drove the Patriots just short of the end zone.
The “Edelman Play” is a rare trick in New England’s playbook, but its high risk often comes with a higher reward, as Edelman remarked post-game. It was the turning point of the 2014 AFC Divisional playoff game against Baltimore, and it was the same against Green Bay.
New England did not let up after White scored two plays later to take a 24-17 lead. The pass rush from Clayborne and Flowers forced Rodgers outside of his comfort zone and on to the ground on 3rd and 7 the next Packers drive.
Tom Brady faked out Green Bay’s defense on a 55 yard connection with Patriots receiver Josh Gordon to seal a 31-17 win.
For all of New England’s defensive struggles this season, this was their most complete game of football against one of the NFC’s elite opponents. The Patriots improve to a 7-2 record after a 1-2 start, with a six-game winning streak since acquiring receiver Josh Gordon from the Cleveland Browns..
The Patriots travel to Tennessee for a 1PM start against Mike Vrabel’s Tennessee Titans, featuring former Patriots Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis and Logan Ryan.