Ugly Dozen: Patriots Hold On Against Surprising Packers, Rally For 12th Win, 31-27

Tom Brady threw for just 163 yards and a pair of touchdowns and the New England offense had the ball for less than 20 minutes, but it was enough as the Patriots improved to 12-2, rallying to narrowly defeat Matt Flynn and the Packers Sunday night. Read more at Acme Packing Company and Pats Pulpit.

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Packers Vs. Patriots: Patriots Hold On Against Packers For 31-27 Win

A big sack from Dane Fletcher and some inexperience on the part of the PackersMatt Flynn held the Packers out of the end zone as the Patriots won their 12th game of the season.

This one came down to the wire, and ended with the Packers just 10 yards from a game winning touchdown thanks to Dane Fletcher and Patrick Chung. Fletcher made the big play, sacking Matt Flynn on first down and setting him up with a 3rd-and-long. Green Bay almost managed the first down and possibly more were it not for Pat Chung flying in and making the save a yard short of the first.

It was then that Matt Flynn showed his inexperience. Trying to hustle to the line, but unable to spike the ball, confusion took over. The backup quarterback could not get a call, and ended up having to run one last play looking for the end zone as the clock ticked down to zero.

A closer win than one would expect from the Patriots, and one that’s exposed a few issues. The interior of the offensive line was abused by the Packers’ pass rush, and without Brandon Spikes this defense doesn’t look nearly as strong against the run. Still, there’s plenty of time to correct that, as the Patriots are just one win (or a Jets loss) away from clinching the top seed in the AFC.

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Packers Vs. Patriots: New England's Offense Returns, Gives Patriots 31-27 Lead

It’s been a crazy up-and-down night so far, but for the most part the Patriots’ offense has been down. They had 24 points, but most of those came thanks to Dan Connolly’s return and Kyle Arrington’s interception.

Suddenly, though, things are looking up. Tom Brady isn’t under quite as much pressure, he’s finding some open men, and he’s putting points on the board. This time it was a beautiful pass to Deion Branch and some power (!) running from Danny Woodhead that set up the touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez.

The Pats need to hold the lead for seven minutes, but the Packers have been carving up their Brandon Spikes-less run defense, and Matt Flynn has been a surprise.

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Packers Vs. Patriots: New England Tacks On Three, Get Bizzare Defensive Stop

The Patriots drove into field goal range thanks to a big grab from a wide open Wes Welker, but it was their defense on the ensuing Packers drive that was noteworthy.

First, Devin McCourty picked up his first career sack. If you haven’t been paying attention, he’s having quite the season already, and the words “rookie of the year” have been flying left and right tonight.

But more interesting was a simple incompletion. Matt Flynn threw behind his receiver, setting up a long 3rd down which the Packers couldn’t convert. Not exactly unusual until you realize that it was Vince Wilfork on coverage, chugging behind and almost picking the pass when it got batted around. In a game where Dan Connolly almost picked up a touchdown on a kickoff return, it’s looking like anything can happen.

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Packers Vs. Patriots: Goal Line Stand Keeps Pats Within A Score

The Packers have added three points to their lead, making the score 27-21, but it was close to being a lot worse for the Patriots, who had to hold the Packers for three plays from within the 5-yard line. The biggest play of the series arguably came from Devin McCourty on 2nd down, making first contact in the backfield.

Meanwhile, Dan Connolly has left the game with a head injury. Oh, and Matt Flynn just threw out Aaron Rodgers’ Championship Belt taunt.

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Packers Vs. Patriots: Defensive Miscues Continue To Hurt New England

Another penalty and another defensive error has the Patriots in a 24-21 hole as Matt Flynn found John Kuhn for a six yard touchdown pass.

The big penalty came on a big stop at the line by Vince Wilfork. Wilfork was held, but reached out and snagged the ball carrier’s facemask on the way by for 15-yards, possibly saving the Packers’ drive.

Then, if the earlier collision between Brandon Meriweather and Devin McCourty wasn’t enough, another ugly play cost the Patriots at least four points. On third down from the 6 yard line, Matt Flynn found John Kuhn. Kyle Arrington had the outside route secured, forcing Kuhn to cut inside…and right past Rob Ninkovich, who had slipped and fallen to his knees, giving Kuhn an easy lane to the end zone.

The Patriots offensive line is getting run off the field, and the defense is either coming up big or not at all right now. These are dangerous times for New England.

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Packers Vs. Patriots: Kyle Arrington's Pick Six Gives Patriots Lead In Second Half

The Packers may have started both halves with the ball thanks to their onside kick, but that didn’t stop the Patriots from scoring first in the second.

Kyle Arrington intercepted a Matt Flynn pass to James Jones in Packers territory, and made one impressive run into the end zone. It took three broken tackles—one of them spinning him a full 360 degrees—and a stiff arm to pick up the seven.

That’s gotta be deflating for a Packers team that had played so strong to go into halftime with a lead.

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Video: Dan Connolly's 71-Yard Kickoff Return

No matter the outcome of the second half, it's hard to see this play getting beat by anything. Dan Connolly takes the ball 71 yards to the 4-yard line on a kickoff:

Tom Brady really isn't sure what to think there, is he?

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Packers Vs. Patriots: Dan Connolly's Amazing Return Sets Up Second Pats Touchdown

The Packers have been loathe to kick it deep to return man Brandon Tate tonight, opting instead for an onsides kick and two short boots to 30-yard line. Generally, this is a pretty safe move.

Not so when the man returning it is 313 pound offensive lineman Dan Connolly! Awkwardly securing the ball with two hands (and arms) at about the 30, Connolly cut outside, charged downfield, and found himself at the 4-yard line before he was stopped. There are not many linemen who can claim they’ve ever done that.

After getting stopped on the first two downs, Tom Brady danced around the pocket for a long time before finding Aaron Hernandez just past the goal line, bringing the Patriots within three points of the Packers.

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Packers Vs. Patriots: Penalties Hurt Patriots

The Patriots are getting hit hard by the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, who again ate up the field five yards at a time en route to their second touchdown of the game.

The bigger position shifts on the drive came as the result of yellow flags, however. With Roger Goodell in the stands, the boys in stripes got together on a hard hit by Devin McCourty and decided eventually to throw a flag, citing the helmet-to-helmet hits that the commissioner has been under fire for this season.

Eventually, with the ball on the one yard line thanks to a pass interference call in the end zone, Matt Flynn found Greg Jennings in the end zone for another TD. After a couple of big games, the Patriots defense is really showing what it was that had them ranked amongst the worst for most of the season.

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Packers Vs. Patriots: Packers Retake Lead As Patriots Play The Stooges

Brandon Meriweather ran straight into Devin McCourty, and Matt Flynn connected on his first career touchdown pass to James Jones. It went for 66 yards, most of those coming after the catch, and with two defenders lying in a heap behind him.

This comes just a few plays after Jermaine Cunningham was knocked off a potential sack by another Patriot.

It’s not been the best year for Brandon Meriweather after his seven turnovers earned him Pro Bowl honors in 2009. An awful play like this can’t help him any in the eyes of the coaching staff.

The Patriots’ struggles with the interior line continues, meanwhile, as Brady is getting hit a lot more than he’s used to. A big sack by Bishop has New England punting again.

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Packers Vs. Patriots: Patriots Respond To Field Goal With Touchdown, Take 7-3 Lead

If the Patriots’ offense was phased by the onside kick, they’re not showing it. Tom Brady connected on key passes to Rob Gronkowski and Deion Branch before BenJarvus Green-Ellis broke free and capped the drive with a long touchdown run.

After Rob Gronkowski’s grab got the Patriots out to midfield, the Patriots ended up in trouble when B.J. Raji sacked Tom Brady. After lucking out on a near-pick by Charles Woodson, Brady stepped up in the pocket and found Deion Branch on 3rd-and-long to keep the drive alive.

One play later, and BenJarvus Green Ellis was in the endzone thanks to some great blocking by the offensive line, Wes Welker, and a big hit from Deion Branch at the end.

Meanwhile, in the trenches, Sebastian Vollmer is doing a fantastic job on Clay Matthews, keeping him out of most plays. It’s Dan Koppen and Matt Light who are having troubles early on, with Logan Mankins making his case for a big contract every week.

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Packers Vs. Patriots: Eric Moore Comes Up Big Again, Packers Lead 3-0

Coming off the onside kick, the Packers ground their way downfield with short gain after short gain, chewing up six minutes of clock. As they have so often in the past, though, the defense bent but did not break, as Eric Moore came flying into the backfield on 2nd down in the red zone to pick up a big sack, and hold the Packers to a field goal.

Eric Moore has been a surprise since the Pats picked him up earlier this month. Tonight’s early sack comes after a strong performance against the Bears where he picked up a sack and forced a fumble.

The Packers kick it long, and the Patriots will start on the 26-yard line.

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Packers Vs. Patriots: Packers Onside Kick Catches Patriots By Surprise

A surprise onside kick to open the game took the Patriots by surprise, and the Packers will start with the ball and a short field.

Talk about a gutsy call. Packers coach Mike McCarthy is clearly not willing to play a passive game against the Patriots, who can expect to see just about everyone’s best shot as the season winds down.

Matt Flynn, starting in place of the concussed Aaron Rodgers, will have a chance to show what he can do from the 37-yard line.

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Packers Vs. Patriots: Devin McCourty Active For Sunday Night

Good news for Patriots fans tonight, as rookie cornerback Devin McCourty will be active for tonight’s game. McCourty left last week’s game against the Bears after sustaining a rib injury, but will be ready to go against the Packers.

Not all the Patriots are so lucky, however. Tonight’s Patriots inactives:

WR Taylor Price
RB Fred Taylor
RB Thomas Clayton
OL Rich Ohrnberger
OL Mark LeVoir
NT Myron Pryor
DL Ron Brace
DL Mike Wright

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Aaron Rodgers Officially Ruled Out For Packers-Patriots Game

Aaron Rodgers has officially been ruled OUT by the Green Bay Packers for Sunday night's game against the Patriots in New England. Matt Flynn will start -- the first start of his three-year NFL career. 

Rodgers, who suffered his second concussion of the season last week in Detroit, did not practice at all this week and was not cleared by Green Bay's medical staff -- the decision was in their hands. 

Graham Harrell, an undrafted rookie out of Texas Tech, has been activated from the practice squad and will back-up Flynn. Rodgers will also make the trip and help on the sidelines where he can. 

While it's certainly the right move to sit Rodgers if he still has lingering effects from his concussion, it does hurt the matchup of the Packers offense versus the Patriots defense, something that has both reporters and fans disappointed (via Pats Pulpit):

... the football fan in me really wanted to see a Rodgers-Brady duel on Sunday Night Football. Without Rodgers and without a reliable running game (24th in the league), the Patriots defense, which has allowed just 10 points over the last 9+ quarters, should have an easier time.

While Matt Flynn is probably an above average backup quarterback, he will not be able to do some of the things that Rodgers can do, in terms of mobility, and making something out of nothing. While Flynn was a decent game manager against the Lions last week (throwing just one interception and completing 57% of his passes, although scoring just three points), the Packers offense will be a lot more conservative. This certainly should work in the Patriots favor.

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Aaron Rodgers Officially Listed As 'Doubtful' For Sunday Night's Packers-Patriots Game

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers did not practice on Friday and is officially listed as "doubtful" for Sunday night's game against the Patriots, per tweets from the Globe's Greg Bedard.

Rodgers, recovering from his a concussion suffered on Sunday, his second of the season, has not practiced at all this week, but will still make the trip to New England this weekend. Additionally, he'll be wearing a new helmet going forward. 

Even though he has yet to practice, head coach Mike McCarthy has not ruled out Rodgers from playing Sunday night. 

"I'm not confirming the starting QB at this point...The door is open for Aaron Rodgers to play in the game."

If Rodgers does not play, Matt Flynn will make his first ever NFL start. 

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Aaron Rodgers' Status For Sunday Still Unknown, Mike McCarthy Hints Matt Flynn Will Start

Though the Green Bray Packers won't make an official decision regarding their starting quarterback for Sunday night's game against the New England Patriots until Saturday, it's looking more and more likely that it will be Matt Flynn who gets the nod. 

Rodgers, who suffered his second concussion of the season in last week's loss to the Lions, already had a "slim" chance of practicing at all this week, and now the Globe's Greg A. Bedard (and former Packers beat writer) is saying that he has "Been hearing all week the Packers knew early on Rodgers wouldn't play."

We'll know a lot more when Friday's practice report is released, and learn what Rodgers' participation was (or was not). In the meantime though, head coach Mike McCarthy is singing the praises of Flynn, a third-year pro from LSU, and hinted that he would get the start Sunday.

"He's had a good week of practice, and this is always a big hurdle for a quarterback when he gets his first start. This is something he'll really benefit from. He's actually put together two good days of practice. I'm impressed with the way he has thrown the ball."

While Flynn doesn't have much pro experience -- he's only attempted 46 passes and has yet to throw his first NFL touchdown -- but that doesn't mean he won't be able to give the Patriots' secondary some trouble, says Bill Huber of Packer Report, Scout.com and FoxSports.com (via NESN):

First, some history: Flynn took over at LSU after JaMarcus Russell went No. 1 overall to Oakland. All he did was lead the Tigers to the national championship during his only year as the starter. So, the guy knows how to play. The Browns wanted him during the offseason to be their starter, but the Packers wouldn't listen to any offers.

I think I was the only guy in the media to be tough on Flynn after the Detroit game. He blew a few chances to make plays that might have led to a different outcome. With that said, now that he'll have a week's worth of practice reps, that obviously will help with the timing with his receivers.

As for the scouting report: Decent arm, decent mobility, but a real gamer. He won't wow anyone with his skill-set, but he knows how to play.

Read more on Flynn at Pats Pulpit.

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Packers Vs. Patriots: Tom Brady, Devin McCourty Return To Practice On Thursday

Thursday's Patriots practice in Foxoboro saw the return of Tom Brady and Devin McCourty, both in a limited role, though. Brady is listed with his now regular right shoulder and foot injuries. The more important news was the return of McCourty. 

McCourty was forced to leave Sunday's game with the Bears because of a rib injury but signs are beginning to indicate may not have been that serious. Monday's tests brought no bad news and although he sat out Wednesday's practice, he was at least back on the field on Thursday, which is a good sign for his possible return Sunday night when the Packers come to town. 

The complete Thursday injury report for the Packers and Patriots

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (11-2)
Out
Player Position Injury
No players listed    
 
Did Not Participate
Player Position Injury
Ron Brace DL Concussion
Myron Pryor NT Back
Gerard Warren DL Knee
Mike Wright DL Concussion
 
Limited Participation
Player Position Injury
Tom Brady QB Right Shoulder/Foot
Deion Branch WR Knee
Devin McCourty CB Rib
 
Full Participation
Player Position Injury
Kyle Arrington CB Elbow
 


GREEN BAY PACKERS (8-5)
Out
Player Position Injury
Cullen Jenkins DE Calf
 
Did Not Participate
Player Position Injury
Aaron Rodgers QB Concussion
Frank Zombo LB Knee
 
Limited Participation
Player Position Injury
Daryn Colledge G Knee
Clay Matthews LB Shin
Ryan Pickett DE Ankle
Anthony Smith S Ankle
Charles Woodson CB Toe/Ankle
 
Full Participation
Player Position Injury
Atari Bigby S Hamstring
Chad Clifton T Knees
Korey Hall FB Knee
Pat Lee CB Ankle
Josh Sitton G Knee

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