TiVo Time: New England Patriots
It’s like t-shirt time, only better, because no one from Jersey is involved. Shawn Neuser takes a look at the Green Bay Packers 31-27 loss to the New England Patriots.
After losing four games this season by three points, the Green Bay Packers have now lost two in a row by four points. It seems to me things are going in the wrong direction.
15:00, 1st quarter — When is the last time you’ve seen a game start with an onside kick? Mike McCarthy deserves credit for the call, but the kick was executed so well it wouldn’t have mattered if the Patriots knew it was coming. Mason Crosby kicked a bullet that hit Nick Collins in stride up the near sideline. After momentarily dropping the ball, Collins corrals it at the Packers’ 47.
8:50, 1st quarter — The Packers turn the onside kick into a 31-yard field goal — 3-0, Packers. The 40-yard drive featured mostly runs, including a shocking run on third-and-3 where John Kuhn hurdled his way to five yards. The drive ends when the Packers go empty backfield on consecutive plays after reaching the 8. The Patriots blitzed five on both plays and the Packers’ offensive line failed to handle either blitz. As a result, Matt Flynn got sacked on the first play and had to throw it away on the second. I don’t know if Flynn failed to call protection or the offensive line just blew it, but going to an empty backfield with a backup quarterback is a poor strategy.
6:19, 1st quarter — The Patriots quickly answer with a 33-yard touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis. This disgraceful display of defense immediately followed a Patriots’ conversion on third-and-17, where Dom Capers rushed three and covered with eight. Sam Shields allowed a 17-yard catch by Deion Branch. On second-and-17 Charles Woodson dropped an interception that hit him right in the hands. On the run itself, Charlie Peprah crashed inside for some unknown reason and was walled off by Wes Welker. Both the Packers inside linebackers shot gaps and missed, and Collins failed to close enough ground, allowing Green-Ellis the option of cutting either way. He fortuitously cut left where a block by Branch on Tramon Williams broke him for the touchdown — 7-3, Patriots
14:51, 2nd quarter — James Jones hauls in a 66-yard TD from Flynn on a stutter and go, and the Packers suddenly lead 10-7, much to the shock of announcer Cris Collinsworth. On third-and-7, the Packers line up in the shotgun with Kuhn in the backfield. With a blocker in the backfield, the Patriots back off and only rush three. Flynn had plenty of time to throw a perfect pass to Jones who had two steps on Devin McCourty. The play goes the distance after Brandon Merriweather comically takes out McCourty, giving Jones a free pass down the sideline.
2:17, 2nd quarter — After both teams trade a couple punts, the Packers end an impressive 82-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings. The drive featured McCarthy’s best play calling of the night. Perhaps having learned their lesson, the Packers lined up with at least one and sometimes two blockers in the backfield on passing plays. People wondered why the Patriots stopped blitzing. This is the reason they stopped blitzing. With time to pass, Flynn threw short passes on three third-and-short situations and kept the drive moving. The best play call came on third-and-10 from the 14, where a screen to Kuhn got the Packers to the 2-yard line. It’s now 17-7 Packers. Al Michaels would spend the next couple minutes trying to explain how improbable this is.
2:04, 2nd quarter — The turning point in the game comes when the Packers’ not-so-special teams allows a 300-pound right guard to rumble 71 yards to the Packers’ 4 with the kickoff return. As unacceptable as the play is, it wasn’t necessarily the Packers’ fault. Quinn Johnson was obviously shoved in the back and it sent him barreling into two other Packers right in the middle of the field. This popped Dan Connolly free, much to his own surprise, I’m sure. The disaster was compounded when Peprah took a terrible angle on the play and failed to make a tackle around the Packers’ 40-yard line. Crosby cut the run off, but was also blatantly blocked in the back right in front of the ref, who was probably too amazed at the play to notice. Atari Bigby overran it. Yes, overran the 300-pound offensive lineman. The Packers were only spared the ultimate embarrassment by the twice cut Robert Francois, who never gave up on the play after Johnson crashed into him at the start of it.
1:08, 2nd quarter — On third-and-goal, the Patriots capitalize on their big return. Tom Brady has too much time to throw and eventually finds Aaron Hernandez for a two-yard TD. The Packers sent four rushers, but Ryan Pickett fell down and left a wide throwing lane for Brady. The Packers could have called a timeout and got the ball back after the score with around 1:40 left in the half. Considering how the game ended, the coaches should be more cognizant of the time and take advantage of every opportunity they have to score. If the Packers use that last 1:40 to get a field goal before the half, there’s a possibility they could have kicked a field goal to win the game. It’s standard coaching philosophy to let the half run out when you have the lead. Bill Belichick is probably the only coach in the league that might have called a timeout here. It’s conservative crap, especially when you’re on the road, but it isn’t just McCarthy.
12:04, 3rd quarter — The game has completely turned in four minutes. The Patriots take the lead on a pick six by Kyle Arrington — 21-17, Patriots. The play happens on third-and-3 from the Packers’ 30, and follows several good runs by Brandon Jackson and Kuhn. If you watched the game or heard any media commentary afterward, you heard the interception was James Jones’ fault. Jones said it himself after the game. Well, it wasn’t Jones’ fault. It was Flynn’s fault. First of all, the Packers were in an empty set again, even though it’s third-and-3 and they were running the ball well. Second, Jennings is uncovered in the middle of the field, except for a safety coming late, and has an easy first down. Jordy Nelson, running out to the sideline, also likely had a first down — the safety covering him got partially rubbed off by Jones. So, of the three receivers on the left side of the field, Jones was the only one who was well covered. Collinsworth blamed Jones for not finishing his route. That’s hard to do when a safety, Patrick Chung, cuts you off. If Jones doesn’t stop running he and Chung would have collided, which would have left Arrington standing there, ready to pick off a pass that never should have been thrown in the first place. Collinsworth was right about one thing, though. That was some of the worst tackling you’ll ever see.
5:08, 3rd quarter — The Packers end a 69-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown pass to Kuhn — 24-21, Packers. The drive is almost entirely runs and passes to the running backs. The Patriots have not been covering the Packers backs well all game and have had trouble tackling them, as well. Jackson is getting good yardage nearly every time he touches the ball and is being pulled for Dimitri Nance too often, but the drive gets in the end zone and takes seven minutes. The pressure is back on the Patriots.
13:52, 4th quarter — Crosby kicks a 19-yard field goal to make it 27-21. The Packers again rely mostly on runs and passes to the running backs to move the ball. The drive stalls after the Packers get a first-and-goal at the 2. Kuhn got one yard on a first-down plunge. The Packers try the same play again on second down, but unfortunately McCourty dove inside to blow it up. McCourty conceded the outside of the field on the play, but the Packers never attack the outside near the goal line, so it was a good call. The third-down play was on Flynn. It appears Jackson has a touchdown out in the flat and the play was primarily designed for him, but for whatever reason, Flynn doesn’t pull the trigger. Flynn throws the ball away, but Kuhn is standing a couple yards in front of him, wide open for an easy score. The drive should have resulted in a touchdown. Flynn probably remembered the pick he threw at Detroit in the same situation. I can’t fault the play calling, but it would have been nice to see Jackson get the ball, considering how well he was running.
9:38, 4th quarter — After a field goal by the Patriots makes it 27-24, the Packers go three-and-out. It was an awful series for Flynn. On first down, the Patriots blitz McCourty, who gets blocked by Jackson. Flynn steps out of the pocket to his right, directly into the arms of McCourty. Replay shows Donald Driver crossing the field wide open, with no Patriot within 10 yards of him. I have no idea how Flynn didn’t see this.
7:14, 4th quarter — The Patriots score to take the lead 31-27. The drive is nearly entirely runs and short passes to Danny Woodhead, who finally makes an impact. The drive also included a tremendously lucky catch by Branch, after Brady’s arm was hit by Woodson. The ball fluttered out and somehow Branch still caught it. The touchdown was an out to Hernandez, who Shields failed to cover and then failed to tackle.
4:34, 4th quarter — The Patriots go three-and-out and have to punt, but their third-down play typifies the entire Green Bay season. On third-and-6 from the Patriots’ 15, the Packers send both inside linebackers and Woodson on a blitz. A.J. Hawk deflects the ball up in the air and jumps to intercept it at the Patriots’ 10. The Patriots’ second-string right guard, Ryan Lindell, who was completely unaware the ball was even deflected, slides off his block on B.J. Raji and knocks Hawk to the ground before he can collect the football. Raji had his best game of the year against New England. On this play he saw the ball deflected and stopped his pass rush to look for it. That allowed Lindell to hit Hawk, stopping the interception. No fault of his, but if Raji just keeps rushing the passer, Hawk has an easy pick and a good shot at a TD.
Game Over. The Packers were in great shape at the two-minute warning. They were at the Patriots’ 35 with two time outs. At that point, it appeared time wouldn’t be a factor. In fact, the only concern with the clock was to make sure to use as much time as possible before scoring. Unfortunately, the Packers would net three yards in the next 1:07 and use both their timeouts.
Here is how that fateful 1:07 went.
2:00, first-and-10, Patrtios’ 35 — Run by Jackson for six yards. The Packers intentionally run the clock after this play.
1:30, second-and-4, Patriots’ 29 — Flynn scrambles left for some unfathomable reason and throws the ball away.
1:18, third-and-4, Patriots’ 29 — Pass to Driver for five yards. Timeout Packers. Jones was open on the out five yards further down field and he would have gotten out of bounds. Calling the timeout after this play is the only criticism of McCarthy I have during this series. All the Packers receivers were near the line of scrimmage and they could have quickly gotten to the line and run another play. How about a quick swing pass to the running back, who picks up a couple yards and gets out of bounds? At worst, the Packers should have spiked the ball.
1:05, first-and-10, Patriots’ 24 — Flynn is sacked for an eight-yard loss when Bryan Bulaga blocks down and lets the outside linebacker run past him. Timeout Packers. It seems like the Packers offensive line has a habit of blowing assignments late in games. However, Jennings was also wide open in the middle of the field and immediately looked to Flynn for the ball. Not only was the play there, but Flynn cannot take a sack in that situation. There’s no argument about the timeout here. The receivers were all down field. It would have taken at least 15 seconds off the clock if the Packers tried to line up for another play.
0:53, second-and-18, Patriots’ 32 — So, there you go — three net yards in 1:07. Time is now a factor. Flynn’s priorities needed to be first down, out of bounds, end zone. The next play was nearly as painful as the sack. Flynn throws to Jones for seven yards. Jones is tackled in bounds. Meanwhile, Jackson was alone on the sideline to Jones’ left. If Flynn throws to Jackson, he gets a couple more yards and gets out of bounds with 45 seconds left. Instead, another crucial 16 seconds run off the clock.
0:29, third-and-11, Patriots’ 25 — Flynn completes a 10-yard pass to Driver to the 15. Driver is tackled in bounds and the clock runs. Spiking the ball is not an option because it’s fourth-and-1. The game is over if they go for the first down and fail. Even if they get the first down, there was only time for one or two more plays because the Packers wouldn’t have been able to snap the ball until around the :16 mark. The best option here is to simply go for the end zone. The Packers run the same play they did on fourth down against the Atlanta Falcons, which Nelson caught for the tying score. Unfortunately, Flynn doesn’t have the feel for the pocket Aaron Rodgers does, and he jogs out to his right, right into a defender. There were no defenders in the middle of the field. The proper move would have been to step straight ahead up to the line of scrimmage, leaving the entire field open, and fire into the end zone.
Replay of the third-down play shows Jackson had beaten coverage and was open as he crossed toward the right, behind Driver. Jackson would have gotten the first down and out of bounds. Even if Jackson was forced out before the first down, the clock still would have stopped with around 23 seconds left, and the Packers would have had some time to consider their options.
Despite a backlash similar to the one following the Chicago game, I find no criticism of the coaching other than the timeout used at 1:05. In the end, it was Flynn’s inexperience that made the difference. He had multiple chances to throw to guys who would have gotten out of bounds. The tape shows the Patriots were dropping back about eight yards in their zone. A five-yard out or a swing pass to a running back could have been thrown on any play. Frankly, a review of the last couple Packer drives shows Flynn became extremely tentative in the fourth quarter. He missed seeing wide open receivers in a couple crucial situations and three times took sacks that could have been avoided.
The announcers made much of the final 20 seconds, but facing fourth-and-1 with the clock running, the Packers didn’t have much choice but to throw the ball to the end zone. Simply trying to get the first down would have been an unwarranted gamble, considering it would only have gotten the Packers one more play, anyway. Since it was the last play of the game, it didn’t matter if the Packers got the play off with 10 seconds or one second to spare. It was the sack and the two plays that followed that ultimately ended the game for the Packers.
Flynn proved himself a capable backup, but the difference in velocity between him and Rodgers is obvious and it was especially telling on throws over 30 yards. This was McCarthy’s best-coached game of the year, and I don’t believe it’s any coincidence his best game coincides with the one he actually committed to the running game. Jackson was the best running back on the field, and it was unfortunate he was rotated with Nance. Kuhn also had a very nice game.
Obviously, the Packers’ offensive line run blocked better, but they have to improve their pass blocking, as the Giants come calling this week. Jones had a good game, but Jennings was underutilized and definitely needs Rodgers back.
The defense did what they’ve been doing lately. They held their own, but were unable to come up with a single turnover despite multiple chances.
The special teams contributed to another close loss. If the Packers don’t make the playoffs, next to injuries, this is the biggest factor why.
Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.