.The Green Bay Packers hung with the New England Patriots for a little over 45 minutes. However, Aaron Jones’ fumble on a promising drive in a tie game shifted all the momentum to the Patriots, who pounced on both the football and the opportunity that it presented.
About eight minutes later, the game was all but over.
New England scored two quick touchdowns after the fumble, thanks in part to a trick-play pass from Julian Edelman to James White, giving them their margin of victory in a 31-17 win over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Rodgers threw a pair of touchdowns in the contest, one each to Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham, but he still looked out of sorts at times, missing some reads and receivers in what seems to becoming the new normal for him this season. He finished the game 24 for 43 for 259 yards, but although he only took one sack all game, he was under pressure consistently throughout.
The Packers’ young playmakers on offense kept the team right in the thick of things until the fourth quarter. Marquez Valdes-Scantling set up the Packers’ first touchdown with a 51-yard gain on a deep bomb and had his second 100-yard game as a rookie, while Aaron Jones kept up his sparkling yards-per-carry average with 76 yards on 14 carries. However, that fumble will be the lasting image from the game for the second-year running back.
Injuries were another major storyline throughout the middle of the game for the Packers. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, cornerback Kevin King, safety Kentrell Brice, and inside linebacker Blake Martinez all left the game with various issues, sapping the defense of much of its playmaking ability down the stretch. Combined with a controversial ejection of Jermaine Whitehead, the Packers were essentially down to Antonio Morrison and Oren Burks at linebacker for a stretch in the second half, though Martinez did return to the game late.
The Patriots started the game by running their offense at warp speed, covering 59 yards in just three minutes and 20 seconds on the opening drive of the game. James White was uncoverable, catching three passes and carrying the football twice as the Packers were stuck with Oren Burks in coverage on him and unable to substitute due to the Pats’ no-huddle offense. White’s second carry went for an eight-yard touchdown, giving the Patriots an early 7-0 lead.
The Packers responded with a score of their own, but they had to settle for a field after reaching the red zone. A healthy dose of Aaron Jones and Jimmy Graham got them there, but a delay of game penalty and an inexplicable receiver screen to Randall Cobb on third-and-goal from the 14 signaled that Mike McCarthy gave up on the series to settle for three points.
Following a Mike Daniels sack and a Patriots punt, the Packers elected to punt the ball away on fourth-and-six from the Patriots’ 44-yard line. A little trickery got the Pats a seven-point lead back, as a flea-flicker to Julian Edelman set up the Pats in field goal range to take a 10-3 lead.
Midway through the second quarter, McCarthy decided to really get Aaron Jones involved in the game plan. Jones and Davante Adams combined for 51 yards on the drive, and a 13-yard run by Jones set up the Packers near the goal line. On third-and-goal, Rodgers scrambled to his left to find an open Adams to tie the game at ten. However, the team lost Bryan Bulaga in the second quarter to a knee injury, and he would not return.
The Patriots struck back on the next series. James White left the field after a few plays with an apparent hamstring injury, at which point Cordarrelle Patterson took over in the backfield. Patterson ran the ball on four straight plays, picking up 40 yards and finding the end zone to give New England a 17-10 lead. It was on this series that Whitehead was tossed.
Coming out of the half, the Packers got a huge play from Rodgers and rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a third and six deep in their own territory. With good protection, Rodgers lofted a deep ball to MVS for 51 yards, setting the Packers up in a great spot near the red zone. A few plays later, Rodgers found Jimmy Graham on a deep cross in the back of the end zone for a touchdown to tie the game at 17.
A great goal-line stand for the Packers’ defense culminated in pass breakups by Josh Jackson and Bashaud Breeland, keeping the Patriots from taking a lead. but the offense could not get out of the shadow of their own end zone. Thankfully, a solid punt by JK Scott and a holding penalty on New England pushed them back to their own 36.
A punt by the Pats — a relief after Robert Tonyan was flagged earlier on the same drive for a roughing the kicker penalty on fourth-and-21 — set up a great start to the next Packers drive for Valdes-Scantling, who caught back-to-back passes from Rodgers for 50 yards. However, Aaron Jones coughed up the football across the Patriots’ 30 and New England recovered. They immediately took advantage, using a throwback pass from Julian Edelman to James White to jump-start their offense for a 37-yard gain before White plunged into the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown.
After a Packers punt, Tom Brady hit Josh Gordon for a 55-yard touchdown up the right sideline that effectively put the game away at 31-17. The Packers made it to midfield on their final drive of the game, but a pressured Rodgers sailed a pass over Valdes-Scantling’s head on fourth-and-four to effectively end any hopes for a comeback.