BOSTON — The Patriots lost on Sunday, which was kind of expected. The way they got there, though, was a bit surprising.
Already without Mac Jones, the Patriots lost Brian Hoyer early to a head injury. Despite having a rookie quarterback playing at Lambeau Field, the Patriots actually played so well that they held a lead in the fourth quarter.
It was short-lived, and they couldn’t capitalize on good field position in overtime, ultimately falling to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, 27-24 as the final seconds ticked off the clock in OT.
Such a game obviously had its share of highlights and lowlights. So here are the Four Ups and Four Downs.
The rookie cornerback played sparingly in his first three weeks, but he got his first start on Sunday. He made the most of it.
Jones forced a fumble on the Packers’ first possession of the game, and he recovered it himself.
Jones did himself one better later in the half by picking off Aaron Rodgers and returning it 40 yards for a defensive touchdown.
It was just the fourth pick-six of Rodgers’ entire career.
“Personally, I feel like it’s disrespectful to throw an out route on me,” a confident Jones said after the game. “If you can throw the ball past me to get to the receiver, I’m no good.”
Jones wasn’t perfect on the day, as he was the outside corner on the jet sweep that resulted in the Packers’ first touchdown. But he made a significant impact and filled in admirably for the injured Jalen Mills.
Let’s keep it with rookies named Jones, as the punt/kick returner had his first impactful game as a pro, too.
If the Patriots did pull off a scoring drive in OT, Jones would have been a major reason why, as he broke off a 20-yard return to set the Patriots up a yard shy of midfield in the extra period.
Earlier in the game, he had a 29-yard punt return, setting the Patriots up for possession at the 50. He also had a 37-yard kick return at the end of the third quarter, which helped set up the go-ahead touchdown drive, and he had another 32-yard kick return, though a holding penalty pushed that one back from the 39-yard line to the 25.
Like Jack, Marcus wasn’t perfect, as his decision to not fair catch a Green Bay punt just inside the 10-yard line resulted in the Packers being able to down the ball at the 2-yard line late in regulation. Nevertheless, he showed flashes of what make him an intriguing player in the kicking game.
The Running Game
It would be wrong to spotlight any one player, so this acknowledgment goes to the offensive line, the tight ends, and the running backs. (And even Bailey Zappe, who threw a block on a reverse to Kendrick Bourne.)
Damien Harris ran for 86 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Rhamondre Stevenson ran for 66 yards on 16 carries, an average of 4.7 yards, while also catching four passes for 23 yards. The offensive line — including rookie left guard Cole Strange — was overpowering the Green Bay defense, even though the Packers knew that the Patriots would be relying heavily on the run game.
It wasn’t quite the same performance as last season in Buffalo in that cyclone, but the 167 yards on the ground were huge in keeping the Patriots in the game.
The pass rusher sacked Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter, making him just the second Patriots player to ever record at least one sack in his first four games of a season. Hall of Famer Andre Tippett is the other one. The sack came on third down and forced a Green Bay punt.
Judon also got after Rodgers in overtime, helping to force a three-and-out to start OT.
Honorable Mention: Bailey Zappe
You can’t ignore the 23-year-old rookie who was thrust into action under adverse circumstances. Zappe wasn’t supposed to play at all this year, but Hoyer’s injury forced him into the game in Week 4. Zappe hadn’t even dressed on game day prior to Sunday in Green Bay.
He was pretty good, completing 10 of 15 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. But when everything is considered, the poise he showed in that spot was pretty special.
The left tackle-turned-right tackle’s bad season worsened on Sunday, as he achieved the rare feat of giving up a sack, committing a false start, and committing a holding penalty on three straight plays in the first quarter. The sack knocked Brian Hoyer out of the game, and it came when Wynn was just slow to get out of his stance. He couldn’t slow down Rashan Gary one iota.
Later, Wynn allowed a strip-sack.
With veteran tackle Marcus Cannon elevated from the practice squad for this game, Wynn spent some time on the sideline. That may be a move with some more permanence moving forward, based on Wynn’s play this year.
Mack Wilson was caught grabbing Aaron Jones’ facemask in the first quarter. Brenden Schooler was penalized for a horse collar tackle after an otherwise great tackle in punt coverage. Cody Davis was penalized for an illegal blindside block on a Packers punt, a punt which wasn’t even returned. All three penalties went for 15 yards.
Raekwon McMillan also had a holding penalty on a kick return, moving the Patriots’ starting field position from their own 39 to their own 25. A third-down pass interference penalty on Myles Bryant kept a Packers drive alive.
The seven enforced penalties cost the Patriots 75 yards. That’s not the recipe for winning on the road, ever.
Jake Bailey’s Late Punt
Fourth quarter. Tie game. Less than four minutes to play.
After the Patriots failed to convert a third-and-15 from their own 20, Jake Bailey entered the game for his fifth punt of the game. But he shanked it, sending the ball just 31 yards before it sailed out of bounds.
The Packers didn’t capitalize on their field position, eventually punting just before the two-minute warning. But they did capitalize on the beneficial field position, as Packers punter Pat O’Donnell pinned the Patriots at their 2-yard line with 1:52 to play.
That drive only moved nine yards, which sent Bailey back into the game again. He managed just a 44-yard punt, which would have given the game’s greatest Hail Mary maestro a shot at throwing the game-winning touchdown, if not for the bailout of an illegal low block penalty on Green Bay.
Situational punting doesn’t make SportsCenter, but it’s something that rears its head in a tight game on the road.
Conservative Choices In Overtime
This one may be controversial. And really, wanting an offense with a rookie QB surprisingly thrust into action to go for it on fourth-and-5 in overtime might be unfair. Fine.
However. The issue with the Patriots’ conservative choices in overtime started before the decision to punt the ball to Aaron Rodgers from Green Bay’s 46-yard line.
After Marcus Jones’ 20-yard return to the New England 49-yard line, the Patriots only needed about 15 yards to get into Nick Folk’s field-goal range. Yet Matt Patricia went with a run up the gut on first down, followed by a stretch run to the left side on second down. On third-and-5, they finally called a passing play, but the Packers had it well defended and forced a throwaway.
From there, the Patriots punted. Would going for it on fourth down have been risky? Of course. Is giving Aaron Rodgers a second chance to beat you in overtime equally risky? Well, yes.
“In the end, Rodgers was too good,” Bill Belichick said after the loss. “He made some throws that only Rodgers can make. We had pretty good coverage on some of those and he was just too smart, too good, too accurate. In the end, he got us.”
That he did. The best defense against that happening was likely to do whatever it took to keep the ball out of his hands.