Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn throws a pass in the first quarter Sunday night against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. / Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette
A closer look at the Green Bay Packersí 31-27 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
The big picture
The Green Bay Packers didnít lay down just because their starting quarterback was out with a concussion. With Aaron Rodgers in street clothes, it was Matt Flynnís show. And he performed admirably. Problem was his counterpart, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, is the best in the business, and it will go down as another late-season loss for the Packers.
Was that John Kuhn or William Henderson playing fullback for the Packers? Kuhn evoked memories of Henderson, the Packers Hall of Famer-to-be who used to leap defenders to gain extra yards. Kuhn used the move to his benefit against the Patriots and put together his best game of the season. On third-and-10 from the Patriots 15-yard line in the second quarter, Kuhn took a screen pass from Matt Flynn and with a head of steam, hurdled a defender to get the first down with a 12-yard gain. That set up Flynnís 1-yard slant pass to Jennings for a touchdown that gave the Packers a 17-7 lead with 2:17 left in the second quarter. Earlier, on a third-and-3 play, Kuhn got the ball on a handoff and dove forward for a 5-yard gain and a first down that set up a first-quarter field goal. But his biggest plays were yet to come. In the third quarter, he took a dump-off pass on third-and-5 from the Patriotsí 6 in for at touchdown, getting into the end zone with by diving forward. That gave the Packers a 24-21 lead. Then, after the Packers forced a punt on the Patriotsí next possession, another big catch and run by Kuhn gave the Packers a chance for another touchdown. He caught another dump-off pass on third-and-7 from the Patriotsí 11 and rumbled 9 yards for a first down. However, this time the Packers couldnít punch it in. Kuhn got 1 yard on first down and was stuffed for no gain on second-and-goal from the 1. After Flynn was forced to throw the ball away on third and down, the Packers settled for a field goal and a 27-21 lead with 13:49 remaining.
As good as the Packersí special teams looked on the surprise on-side kick they recovered to start the game, they were just as bad on the embarrassing 71-yard kickoff return by Patriotsí offensive lineman Dan Connolly on the second quarter. Having just taking a 17-7 lead, surely special teams coach Shawn Slocum didnít want to risk giving up a long return to Brandon Tate, who has 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to his credit this season. Early in the game, Mason Crosby popped up a kickoff, and it kept the ball out of Tateís hands, which forced the Patriots to start at their own 30. On his next kickoff, he tried a squib kick, but Connolly fielded it cleanly at the 25-yard line. He took off running to his left and shockingly turned the corner. Safety Charlie Peprah mistakenly got sucked in and by the time he recovered, Connolly had a full head of steam. Still, someone should have caught him. Peprah made a feeble attempt Ė trying to strip the ball instead of getting Connolly to the ground Ė and missed at the Packersí 35-yard run, which allowed Connolly to rumble all the way to the Packersí 4. Three players later, Brady threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez, and the Packers 10-point lead was cut to 17-14 with 1:08 to play in the first half.
Play of the game
Watching a 6-foot-4, 313-pound offensive lineman return a kickoff makes for good TV, but the Packers will have nightmares about Connollyís 71-yard kickoff return that sapped much of the momentum they had gained in the first half.
Nursing a 17-14 lead, the Packers played it safe at late in the second quarter when they got the ball back with 1:03 to play. Rather than risk a game-changing turnover, Mike McCarthy called two running plays and went to the locker room with a three-point lead. It only delayed the inevitable. The game-changing turnover came on opening drive of the third quarter, when Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington picked off Flynn and returned it 36-yard for a touchdown that gave the Patriots a 21-17 lead.
Did you notice?
♦ Erik Walden made his first NFL start in place of injured right outside linebacker Frank Zombo (knee), but Walden came out of the game in certain dime situations. On those occasions, inside linebacker Desmond Bishop lined up outside, and safety Jarrett Bush was the sixth defensive back.
♦ The Packers dropped two possible interceptions (by Charles Woodson and Sam Shields) and had two dropped passes (Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver) in the first half.
♦ Tight end Andrew Quarless had already dropped a ball by the time Patriots rookie cornerback Devin McCourty delivered a helmet hit that drew a 15-yard penalty and helped set up a 1-yard touchdown reception by Greg Jennings in the second quarter.
By the numbers
♦ 2: Penalties on the Packers.
♦ 69: Percentages of third downs the Packers completed in the first three quarters, when they were 9-for-13.
♦ 123.1: Flynnís passer rating, which was nearly 21 points higher than Tom Bradyís, in the first half, when he completed 11-of-18 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns.