Road test adds new twist to Aaron Rodgers' anticipated duel with Patriots' Tom Brady
Eighth in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers will face during the 2018 regular season.
GREEN BAY - It’s far from surprising the New England Patriots will host the Green Bay Packers in a prime-time setting this fall.
They are two of the NFL's esteemed franchises, boasting two of the largest fan bases. They have two of the league’s longest-tenured head coaches. And they are both title contenders for however long their MVP quarterbacks remain behind center.
Yet here’s an additional wrinkle to consider when the Packers travel to Foxborough, Mass., in early November: It will be Aaron Rodgers’ first NFL game played in New England.
Rodgers missed the Packers' last game at New England in 2010 because of a concussion. In his absence, backup Matt Flynn almost engineered a huge upset, eventually falling short in a 31-27 loss. Flynn completed 24 of 37 passes for 251 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Barring injury, this season’s return could be special. Rodgers has competed against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady only once in his career, a 26-21 win at Lambeau Field in 2014. Never has he faced his MVP counterpart on the road.
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It figures to be among the Packers' toughest games in 2018. The Patriots remain a top favorite to win Super Bowl LIII, something they narrowly failed to do last season. A sixth Super Bowl ring would extend Brady’s already unparalleled legacy as the greatest quarterback to ever play.
Here are three things to know about the Patriots:
A dynasty like no other
The five Super Bowls won in the Brady/Bill Belichick era is the most of any quarterback/coach combo in NFL history, but their longevity might be most impressive. Teams rarely extend their title runs past a few years. The Glory Years Packers, for example, won their five NFL championships in a seven-year span. A decade later, the Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls in six years. Championships haven’t come as easily for the Patriots. Though they’ve always been a top contender for the Super Bowl with Brady and Belichick, the Patriots went nine seasons between their championships in 2004 and 2014. It’s the longest a team has gone between titles while retaining the same quarterback and coach. Perhaps a positive example for the Packers, who haven’t returned to the Super Bowl since the 2010 season.
Still the best?
With less than two months until Brady turns 41, Father Time has to be catching up to the Patriots quarterback. But he remains at the top of his game, remarkable considering he just finished his 18th season. As proof, Brady’s body of work in 2017 was good enough to secure his third MVP award, and his first since 2010. While Brady’s 2007 season stands out as a seminal year not just for him, but perhaps for the quarterback position historically, Brady’s numbers last season actually compared favorably to 2010. He had a higher completion percentage and more passing yards last season, though in 2010 he was more efficient with a higher passer rating, more interceptions and fewer touchdowns. Brady also took his team to the Super Bowl last season, something he didn’t do in 2010. At some point, his production will dip. It’s fair to wonder if that time might come before November. Just don’t count on it.
An uncertain future
Despite their winning ways, things didn’t go smoothly in Foxborough last season. Reports of conflict between Brady and Belichick threatened to boil over into this offseason, though the quarterback has attended mandatory events. One pressing issue was the presence of backup Jimmy Garoppolo, who was finally traded to the San Francisco 49ers last season. Garoppolo was Brady’s heir apparent but was set to become a free agent after spending four years on the bench. Now, with Brady’s age increasingly likely to become a liability, the franchise that has dominated all others over the past two decades potentially faces an impending expiration date.
Packers schedule glimpse
Nov. 4 at Patriots, 7:20 p.m., NBC
Week before: at Rams, Oct. 28.
Week after: vs. Dolphins, Nov. 11.
On the horizon: at Seahawks, Nov. 15.
New England Patriots
Coach: Bill Belichick (250-118 overall, 214-74 in 17 seasons with Patriots).
2017 record: 13-3, first in AFC East.
Scoring offense: 28.6 points per game (2nd in NFL).
Total offense: 394.2 yards per game (1st).
Scoring defense: 18.5 points allowed per game (5th).
Total defense: 366 yards allowed per game (29th).
Series: Packers lead 6-5 (1-0 in playoffs).
Last meeting: In a fabulously entertaining 2014 regular-season game, the Packers held on against the Patriots inside Lambeau Field for a 26-21 win. The Packers, dominant at home that season, jumped out to a 13-0 lead after the first quarter, but the Patriots didn’t go away quietly. They cut their deficit to 23-14 at halftime, then 23-21 early in the fourth quarter. A 7-yard completion from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb with 2:28 remaining sealed the win, allowing the Packers to run out the clock. Rodgers, on his way to a second MVP award, completed 24 of 38 passes for 368 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady, on his way to being named Super Bowl MVP, completed 22 of 35 passes for 245 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.