Patriots escape with 31-27 win over Packers

191543.jpg

Patriots escape with 31-27 win over Packers

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- Talk about a reality check.

The Patriots, who looked all but unstoppable over the last 10 quarters, came crashing back to Earth Sunday night against Green Bay and its second-string quarterback, Matt Flynn. The New England rout that was predicted far and wide over the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers not only never materialized, but never came close to materializing.

In the end, they survived; they came away with a 31-27 victory that increased their record to 12-2 and all but clinched both the AFC East title and No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. But it literally went down to the last play, and wasn't settled until Tully Banta-Cain sacked Flynn -- who, in the last 20 seconds, finally showed the inexperience he'd hidden brilliantly for the first 59 12 minutes -- on a fourth-down play in the red zone, ending the game.

"It certainly wasn't one of our better games," said a somber Bill Belichick, "and obviously I have to do a lot better job preparing the team than what I did this week. We couldn't handle a lot of the basic things they did and, I don't know, it was disappointing.

"But we had a few big plays there; it was a game of big plays. Fortunately, we were able to make a few more than they did."

The first inclination that the pundits might have been wrong about this one came on the very first play: A surprise onsides kick that Nick Collins recovered for the Packers on the Green Bay 47. It led to a 31-yard field goal by Mason Crosby and a 3-0 Packers lead . . . the first time the Patriots found themselves trailing since Thanksgiving Day in Detroit.

Still, when the Pats went 73 yards in 7 plays on their first possession, capped with a 33-yard touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis -- sprung by a devastating Deion Branch block on Tramon Williams -- it seemed the game would settle into the same, dominating pattern New England had demonstrated over the last three weeks. Especially considering the untested quarterback on the other side of the ball.

But -- when added to what Cleveland's Colt McCoy did to them on Nov. 7 -- it appears the days of Bill Belichick defenses being too baffling a puzzle for inexperienced QBs are over. Consider:

The Packers went 69 yards in 3 plays, with a 66-yard touchdown pass from Flynn to James Jones early in the second quarter giving them a 10-7 lead. That one, though, could be considered a fluke; even though the third-down pass down the right sideline would have been good for a first down, Jones was sprung when Brandon Meriweather -- taking a bad angle to the ball and again looking to make a devastating hit instead of simply breaking up the play or making a tackle -- crashed into Devin McCourty instead of Jones, resulting in both of them falling to the ground and giving Jones a clear path to the end zone.

The Packers went 82 yards in 13 plays, eating up 6 minutes and 26 seconds, and moved ahead 17-7 on a one-yard scoring pass from Flynn to Greg Jennings. The Pats' defense helped the Pack's drive, as an offsides penalty on Vince Wilfork negated that rarest of occurances: An actual third-down stop by New England. The Pats didn't stop the Packers on four other third-down plays during the drive.

The Patriots scored the next two touchdowns -- more on them in a moment -- but Flynn rebounded by directing a clock-consuming 13-play, 69-yard drive that culminated with a six-yard TD pass to John Kuhn that put them back in front, 24-21.

Then, after the Packer defense forced a three-and-out and a short punt gave Green Bay good field position, Flynn ran off 11 more plays before the Pat defense finally stiffened and authored a goal-line stand that forced the Pack to settle for a 19-yard Crosby field goal and a 27-21 lead.

That the Patriots were still in the game at this point was the result of two plays: One good and one incredible.

The incredible play was a 71-yard return of a squibbed kickoff by offensive lineman Dan Connolly to the Green Bay 4-yard line, which you'll be seeing on highlight films forever. The sight of the 310-pound Connelly lumbering down the field, shedding would-be tacklers and nearly bringing it to the house, is something NFL Films will show for . . . well, for as long as there is an NFL Films.

Three players later, Tom Brady threw two yards to Aaron Hernandez for the touchdown that narrowed the Pats' deficit to 17-14.

Then, on the Packers' first possession of the third quarter, came the good play: A 36-yard interception return for a touchdown by Kyle Arrington, in which he broke four tackles en route to the end zone, that put New England in front, 21-17.

At this point, the same people who expected this to be a New England rout -- which is to say, virtually everyone -- now expected the Patriots to take command of the game. Instead, Flynn and the Packers gashed the New England defense with two straight scoring drives that not only put 10 points on the board but consumed the entire third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, though, the Patriots regained their footing at last.

"I think you have to give the players a lot of credit for playing 60 minutes, fighting through some adversity," said Belichick.

Brady took them 53 yards in 7 plays and, though the drive stalled in the red zone when Julian Edelman couldn't handle a Brady bullet inside the 15, a 38-yard Shayne Graham field goal cut the Packers' lead to 27-24.

Then he drove them 63 yards in 6 plays and fired a 10-yard TD pass to Hernandez to put them ahead, 31-27.

But he couldn't put together a clock-killing drive late in the fourth quarter and the Packers had one last chance. An illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty on Banta-Cain negated a potentially game-clinching interception by Meriweather ("That was bull," Banta-Cain said of the penalty, though replays indicated it was legitimate), but a sack by Dane Fletcher with 51 seconds left forced the Packers to use their final time out.

And in the end, Flynn and the Packers were (finally) betrayed by his lack of experience. He completed a third-and-11 pass to Donald Driver over the middle for 10 yards, setting up a fourth-and-one at the Patriots' 15. But -- unable to call the play himself and waiting for one to be signaled in -- he ate up 19 seconds barking instructions to his teammates, not taking the final snap until there were only four seconds left. The haphazard play never developed, and Banta-Cain sealed it with a sack as the clock struck zero.

The feeling at the end, though, was relief instead of jubilation. When you consider the final numbers -- 369 total yards for Green Bay to 249 for New England, 26 first downs to 14, 40:48 possession time to 19:12, not to mention the Packers' mind-bending 11-of-19 success rate on third down as the Patriot defense once again found itself unable to get off the field -- relief was about the best you could hope for.

And there's plenty of trepidation, as well.

"In the end it worked out, but we obviously have a lot of work to do," said Belichick. "I think we have to play better than this or our season won't last much longer."

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Has Brissett removed Patriots' need for veteran quarterback help?

patriots_jacoby_brissett_082716.jpg

Has Brissett removed Patriots' need for veteran quarterback help?

FOXBORO – Talked to Jacoby Brissett on Sunday. His session with the media was as efficient and frills-free as his Friday night performance against the Carolina Panthers.

Brissett, the third-rounder From NC State, keeps improving. From 7-for-13 for 63 yards in the first game of the preseason to 9-for-13 for 87 yards Week 2 to a 9-for-9, 85-yard, one touchdown performance against Carolina.

He’s completed all manner of passes – inside, outside, checkdowns, tight windows – and looked preternaturally comfortable doing so.

Maybe I have a little recency bias working, but I don’t recall a drafted quarterback looking as poised and in command in his rookie preseason as Brissett has so far. Jimmy Garoppolo may have had more impressive game-by-game numbers, but Brissett oozes composure that that I don’t think Garoppolo matched.

Encircled by a media horde Sunday, Brissett was pleasant and perfunctory when asked about his performance.

“Definitely it was progress,” he said, adding that he’s, "still learning. I’m sure I’ll be learning until I leave here."

 Even though he was 9-for-9, Brissett said that watching film he could see “things you messed up on and could have done better.”

Asked for an example, Brissett talk about speed. At the line of scrimmage, going through progressions and delivering the ball, Brissett said all of it can improve.

The interesting question the Patriots face now is whether they are prepared to allow Brissett to be the lone backup to the still relatively green Garoppolo. Or does the team need an experienced backup to call on if Jimmy melts down?

Thursday night could be a telling evening for that. With Garoppolo unlikely to play a ton so the team can make sure he’s good to go for the opener, it comes down to who benefits more from reps against the Giants, Tom Brady or Brissett?

It shouldn’t be close. Brissett needs the reps.

Meanwhile, we made mention of Brissett’s relationship with Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells after he was drafted and I figured revisiting that on Sunday wouldn’t hurt.

Brissett said he’s circled up with Parcells “here and there” but smiled knowingly and said, “He’s not the head coach here so you kinda need to listen to what your coach here is saying.”

Ex-Patriot Ridley signs with Colts

ridley_benched.jpg

Ex-Patriot Ridley signs with Colts

After being cut from the Detriot Lions last week, Stevan Ridely has signed with the Indianapolis Colts.

The running back played for the Patriots for four seasons (2011-2014), averaging 4.3 yards per carry while scoring 22 touchdowns in 52 games. He only played in six game in his final year with New England as a result of a torn ACL and MCL.

Ridley played for the AFC-East rival New York Jets in 2015 with a limited role in the nine games he played.

 

Belichick discusses risk of exposing players to waiver claims

Belichick discusses risk of exposing players to waiver claims

Bill Belichick knows the data. Knows the risk involved in exposing a player to a waiver claim at this time of the year and long ago came to the uneasy truce that you can’t keep ‘em all and somebody else might snag ‘em.

This summer, the Patriots don’t have a mass of easy releases, especially among their rookies and first-year players.

There are a lot of very intriguing players who’ve looked good either in practices, games or both. Good enough to make the Pats think twice about whether they want to leave them exposed.

Top of mind for me there are corners Jonathan Jones and Cre’Von LeBlanc, linebacker Elandon Roberts, wide receiver DeAndre Carter, defensive lineman Woodrow Hamilton and running back D.J. Foster who appear to be right on the roster bubble but are impressive.

“It’s something you take into consideration, it’s a hard thing to predict,” Belichick said when asked about weighing the risk of a released player the Patriots would like to re-sign to their practice squad getting claimed. “There’s going to be, I don’t know, certainly going to be a lot of players, probably over 1,000 players that will be exposed to waivers in the next eight calendar days or whatever it’ll be. I think the average claim is somewhere in the high 20s there…so that’s what the odds are. We’ve had years where we haven’t had any of our players claimed and we’ve had years where we’ve had multiple players claimed. I think at the end you just have to do what you think is best for your team.”

Belichick has given us terrific insight this week into how he and Nick Caserio strategize their roster decisions. When asked about the team’s releases in advance of the cutdown deadlines, Belichick mentioned the team wanted to have the ability to accommodate new players who may come available.

Enter the Barkevious.

He also got into projecting young players against established performance levels of veterans and weighing current contributions against future ones.

"That’s the $64,000 question," Belichick said on Tuesday. "That’s what it is. It’s been like that since the day I got into this league. From all of the personnel meetings I’ve ever been in it’s a [matter of] a player who’s more experienced [and] more ready to help the team now, versus a player that’s not as ready now but at some point you think the pendulum will swing in his favor. Will you do that? Can you do that? What are the consequences of making that move? What are the consequences of not making that move? How likely, as you said, is it that you could keep both players in some capacity?

"That’s what it’s about, trying to balance now with later. We’re going to field a team in November, we’re going to field a team next year, we’re going to field a team in 2018. Not that we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves, but we’re going to be in business in those years, so we have to sort of have an eye on those moving forward and a lot of the other factors that go into that. Those are all tough decisions. They’re all things that you really have to think about."

As is the risk of having a player scooped.

“It’s pretty hard to predict what’s going to happen when you put players on the wire because in all honesty, you don’t know what the other [31] teams are going to do and who they’re going to put on the wire,” Belichick explained. “Even though you put a player out there that you don’t want to lose, if another team happens to put a player out there that may be a team that needs that position and would be better with your player, your player gets claimed. Sometimes we waive players that we didn’t think would get claimed and they were, so that’s really hard to predict.

“In the end, you’ve got to make the decision that you feel like is best for your football team, and if you really want that player and you just can’t bear to live without them, then you shouldn’t be exposing them to the wire,” he concluded. “That’s the reality of it. We keep an eye on them, but I don’t think it’s an overriding factor. If you’re prepared to waive them, then you’ve got to be prepared to lose them. That’s just the way it is.”