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Injury to Isaiah Bolden overshadows & shortens Patriots’ 21-17 victory over Packers

Saturday’s game was cut short by a serious injury suffered by the Patriots’ rookie defensive back.

New England Patriots v Green Bay Packers Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Late in the 2022 NFL regular season, Damar Hamlin’s injury eventually led the NFL to suspend a game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals. On Saturday night, the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots had a similar situation with a freak injury to Patriots rookie cornerback Isaiah Bolden leading the two teams to elect to stop play with about 10 minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter.

The preseason game ended with a 21-17 final score in favor of the Patriots, but the main concern coming out of the contest is for Bolden’s health. He took an awkward hit from one of his teammates on a pass play by the Packers and lay motionless on the field for several minutes, eventually being immobilized on a stretcher and taken off the field on a cart. With players from both teams looking on in concern, head coaches Matt LaFleur and Bill Belichick elected to call the game rather than continue, putting an end to a week of spirited football between the two teams that started with a pair of joint practices.

Prior to Bolden’s injury, the Packers saw Jordan Love and the starting offense successfully find the end zone for the second straight game. However, it took being backed up near their own goal line and an instant replay challenge for the unit to finally get moving. As he did a week ago in Cincinnati, Love threw a great ball on a touchdown pass, with this week’s score coming to rookie wide receiver Jayden Reed.

Green Bay also got some flash plays on defense, with outside linebacker J.J. Enagbare and defensive lineman Karl Brooks each making multiple big plays. Ultimately, the game was won on a 17-play drive late in the third quarter by Bailey Zappe and the Patriots offense, who scored a touchdown on the final play of the period for the final margin of victory.

The Packers started the game with most of their top offense on the field, as only David Bakhtiari was missing from the lineup. That led to Rasheed Walker starting in Bakhtiari’s normal spot at left tackle, but it was a different starting lineman who made a critical mistake on the first drive.

The opening series of the game started off nicely with a few solid runs by Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, but it ended in a massive failure on the part of center Josh Myers, who has been stuck in a battle with Zach Tom for the starting job at that position. Although Tom appears to be the preferred option at right tackle, Myers might be forcing him back inside as he appeared to misread Jordan Love’s cadence and snapped the football too early, leading to an early turnover after the Patriots fell on the football.

The Packers’ defense, which was playing without several starters, looked like they might have a stop near the end zone on the ensuing series, but rookie Carrington Valentine got called for a hold on 3rd and goal, giving the Patriots a first down at the one-yard line. Rhamondre Stevenson punched the ball over the goal line on the next play to give New England an early 7-0 lead.

Green Bay’s next drive was better than its first, but it still ended without points. The unit picked up a pair of first downs, one coming on a nice hands catch by Romeo Doubs over the middle on a laser beam from Love, but the young quarterback could not connect with Jayden Reed on a third down from midfield, resulting in a punt. The Packers were able to force a punt as well, however, as Kingsley Enagbare walked right tackle Sidy Sow right back into Mac Jones’ lap to register a sack on third down.

Backed up near the Packers’ own goal line, Love connected with Romeo Doubs on a deep shot up the right sideline for a huge 42-yard gain. Love’s throw was a bit underthrown, but Doubs made a great adjustment to the football and was able to narrowly drag both feet in bounds to complete the catch. Love scrambled for a first down on the next play and drew an unnecessary roughness penalty to boot, then delivered his best throw of the night. Love got some time in the backfield and waited for Jayden Reed to come open on a crossing route before delivering a perfect ball, which Reed hauled in beautifully at the five-yard line before he scampered across the goal line for a touchdown.

New England drove down the field once again on the ensuing drive, which came against the Packers’ second-team defense. A few coverage mistakes and a great catch by Kendrick Bourne on a floating ball over the middle got the Patriots well inside Packers territory, but Enagbare put an end to a second straight series with a sack. This time, he came off Jones’ blind side and knocked the football out of his hands, then fell on the football to complete the sack-strip-recovery trifecta.

As was the case on defense, the Packers sat their starting offense down, turning the keys over to Sean Clifford and running back Emanuel Wilson. Wilson broke multiple big runs right away, going for 28 yards on four straight carries to start the series. Clifford then hit Malik Heath over the middle, who picked up a few yards after the catch to move the chains again and get the Packers into the red zone. Patrick Taylor would give the Packers the lead, taking a handoff from Clifford and getting to the edge for an 8-yard touchdown run. Anders Carlson hit his PAT from five yards deeper than usual after a delay of game penalty, making the score 14-7.

Zappe then took the field for the Patriots, trying to tie the game with just a few minutes left in the first half. He took a few big hits on that first series, including a sack by rookie Karl Brooks that was erased by a pass interference penalty. For one of the first times in the summer, Carrington Valentine made a big mistake, trying to jump a slant route by Keyshon Boutte. Unfortunately, Boutte cut his route in front of the rookie corner as Zappe hit him in stride, and the receiver took it in for a game-tying 42-yard score with 56 seconds left in the half.

The Packers tried going deep early to try to find some points before the break, but Sean Clifford’s first pass, a mid-depth shot to Malik Heath, went off the receivers hands and got intercepted. Fortunately, rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez got called for pass interference, erasing the turnover and keeping the drive alive. Clifford did hit Heath for 18 yards to get the Packers on the edge of field goal range, and Carlson came on for a 52-yard attempt. Carlson drilled his kick perfectly down the middle with a kick that probably would have been good from 65 yards to send the Packers into halftime up 17-14.

The two teams traded punts to start the third quarter, but New England reclaimed the lead after a drive that lasted a whopping 17 plays and almost nine minutes of game time. The Patriots converted three third downs on the series, then kept the offense on the field for a 4th-and-2 from the Packers’ six-yard line. Zappe was able to evade the Packers’ pass rush on that play and scramble to the right side, where there were no defenders in the area, and run in for a 6-yard touchdown that put them back on top 21-17.

Clifford and the Packers responded with a long drive of their own to put the pressure back on the Patriots. Green Bay converted on third down three times themselves on that ensuing fourth-quarter drive, including on what would turn out to be the final play of the game. Clifford completed a 7-yard pass to Heath to move the chains and enter the red zone, but Bolden took some strange-looking contact from a teammate behind the play and fell to the ground. After a lengthy delay while the two teams’ medical staffs evaluated him, Bolden was eventually loaded onto a stretcher and carted off while the coaches and officials discussed whether to proceed with the game.

Eventually, all parties agreed to suspend play and call the game, leaving the Patriots with a 21-17 decision on the scoreboard.

The Packers will conclude their preseason schedule next Saturday at home against the Seattle Seahawks.