The Packers’ 2018 season was bad. What was supposed to be a redemption tour after Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone in 2017 ended up being a death spiral for the Mike McCarthy era, and that spiral started spinning quite a bit faster after the Packers’ last matchup with the New England Patriots.
But even before things started looking rough in Green Bay, the Patriots game loomed large. The Packers’ schedule in 2018 got considerably tougher after their Week 7 bye, and the Patriots’ game was the second of four road games during a five-game stretch.
The Packers had managed to hold off an undermanned 49ers team just before their bye and went into the week off at 3-2-1 (their tie having occurred because Clay Matthews’ infamous sack on Kirk Cousins erased what would have been a game-sealing interception by Jaire Alexander).
After the bye, the Packers traveled to Los Angeles and hung tough with the Rams, only to see their hopes dashed by Ty Montgomery’s ill-fated kickoff return. Prior to Montgomery’s fumble, the Packers had scored on three of their previous five possessions and were moving the ball well, but Aaron Rodgers and company never got a shot at pulling a late upset.
That meant the Packers headed for New England at 3-3-1, starting the toughest portion of their schedule with a loss. It wasn’t about to get any easier.
The Patriots were 7-1 and cruising, and there was reason to believe they were getting stronger. Even though Rob Gronkowski had been banged up, the Patriots had been creative with their skill position players, with two in particular enjoying bigger roles.
Cordarrelle Patterson, who had evidently been miscast most of his career as a stocky wide receiver, had switched to running back in Week 8 and done reasonably well. He looked to be in line for a bigger role in Week 9 against the Packers.
The oft-troubled Josh Gordon, meanwhile, had signed with New England prior to the 2018 season and was finally settling into the Patriots’ offense. He had logged 15 catches for 234 yards and a score over the Patriots’ previous four games.
The Packers were set to counter with changes of their own on defense. In addition to shipping Ty Montgomery out of town after his blunder against the Rams, the Packers had also traded safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to Washington, leaving them with a hole in their secondary. They’d turn to Tramon Williams to fill it, slotting the 35-year-old defensive back into a new role for the first time against Tom Brady.
Week 9 also featured the Packers’ debut of Bashaud Breeland, who’d been inactive since signing with the Packers in September after a truly bizarre free agency saga involving an infection he’d developed after cutting his foot while on vacation in the Dominican Republic.
Much like the Rams game the previous week, the Packers mostly hung with the Patriots. The score was tied at 17 heading into the fourth quarter thanks to a strong game from Aaron Jones and Jimmy Graham’s second (and final) touchdown of the 2018 season.
But everything came undone in the fourth quarter. On the very first play of the final period, former Packers’ defensive lineman Lawrence Guy punched the ball out of Aaron Jones’ arms. The Patriots recovered, and after a trick play involving a Julian Edelman pass to James White, punched in a touchdown to go up 24-17.
The Packers went three-and-out on their next possession and the Patriots moved in for the kill. After an end around to Julian Edelman, the Patriots used a nifty fake wide receiver screen to spring Josh Gordon loose on the left side, and a bad angle on the tackle by Tramon Williams allowed Gordon to stroll 55 yards for a touchdown.
At 31-17, the rest was academic, but there was one more indignity in store for the Packers. It’s a small thing, but it’s worth noting because it’s the sort of thing that was all too common in the late McCarthy era.
The Packers’ final drive ended with a failed 4th down conversion, but they still put on a show of attempting to stop the Patriots from running out the clock. But after taking a timeout with 3:41 left, the Packers lined up for the next play with 12 men on the field. McCarthy was fired a month later as the death spiral that was the 2018 Packers season claimed its highest-profile victim.