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Monday, December 1, 2014

Patriots Fall Just Short in Green Bay, Losing 26-21 to Packers In Possible Super Bowl Preview

I will never complain about wins, especially when it comes to the Patriots given how difficult it is to do in the NFL (way harder than any other professional sports league). Therefore, even though New England (9-3 overall, 3-3 away) lost 26-21 tonight at Lambeau Field to Green Bay (9-3 overall, 6-0 home) I think that there was plenty to build on and be confident about should these teams meet again for the Super Bowl in February. More than anything, it was just nice to have a competitive game against a worthy opponent after the Pats had been blowing teams out left and right during their seven-game win streak.

There were no turnovers in the contest (when does that ever happen?) so it was a game dominated by the two iconic quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers (24 of 38 for 368 yards, 2 TDs) played like the MVP he will probably be this season while Tom Brady (22 of 35 for 245 yards, 2 TDs) wasn't far behind. The Packers got more out of their passing game and the running game played a surprisingly big part as well. More specifically, it felt like the Pats were too slow to get LeGarrette Blount (10 carries, 58 yards) involved and recognize that Green Bay would have trouble stopping him.

In the first half, it seemed that New England was fortunate to only trail 23-14 at halftime. Mason Crosby had kicked three field goals from the red zone meaning that the Patriots' defense did their job down there. Of course spotting Rodgers and the Packers a 13-0 lead at home in the first quarter was a death wish that came true. St. John's of Shrewsbury alum Richard Rodgers (no relation) caught a 32-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers with eight seconds left in the first quarter to make it 13-0.

Jonas Gray is a forgotten man in the span of two weeks but it was still bizarre to see Brandon Bolden come off the bench and get New England on the board with a 6-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter to cut it to 13-7. Following Crosby's third field goal, the Pats trimmed Green Bay's lead to 16-13 on Brandon LaFell's first of two touchdown grabs, this one from two yards out. However, the Packers punched right back at Jordy Nelson shook loose from Darrelle Revis for the dagger 45-yard touchdown catch on a slant with 14 seconds left in the half.

After a scoreless third quarter, the Patriots were in business with a pretty 15-yard strike from Brady to LaFell with 13:51 left in the fourth. Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 98 yards) started to heat up and LaFell set a new career-high for touchdowns (7) in a season. The final points of the game were on a 26-yard field goal by Crosby. Both teams had a couple more chances to score but neither could do it. Finally, the Packers just needed to get a first down and they were able to in order to run out the clock.

Davante Adams (6 catches, 121 yards) and Eddie Lacy (21 carries, 98 yards; 2 catches, 17 yards) were other weapons at Rodgers' disposal that he took full advantage of. Revis did a good job on Nelson but like the Pats, the Packers have so many weapons and best of all a top-notch quarterback that knows how to use them all.

Another aspect that really hindered the Patriots' ability to win at Green Bay was the lack of a pass rush. They only sacked Rodgers once and basically every time he dropped back to pass, he had as much time as he wanted. You'd have to think that Chandler Jones would make a big impact in that regard. He hasn't played for a while due to his hip injury but he was listed as questionable this week and made the trip so you'd have to think he's getting close to returning.

In a wise move, the Pats chose to stay on the road as they'll travel to San Diego ahead of their Sunday Night Football (8:25, NBC) meeting with the Chargers (8-4). There are only four weeks left in the regular season and New England still controls their destiny as the top seed in the AFC. Furthermore, they could very well see San Diego in the playoffs so this will be a good indication if they have anything to fear should that matchup occur in January.

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