Monday, December 20, 2010

Night of the Unexpected: Pats over Pack

Nearly nothing went to plan, but the Patriots showed they aren't picky in how they get their wins...

After blowing out two of the best teams the NFL had to offer, the Patriots close 4 point victory over the Aaron Rodger-less Packers came as quite a surprise. A Green Bay onside kick to start the game was revealing of what the night would be. One of the unexpected.

Entering last night's game, the Packers' defense was first in the league in fewest points allowed per game and they were in the top 5 in sacks. A close game should have been expected. However, those stats seemed almost irrelevant when matched up against the Patriots offense who had been decimating the league's best defenses the last half of the season.

It was not the case this time. Though the Patriots were able to keep Clay Matthews' name from being mentioned, Brady did get sacked 3 times. The offense struggled to consistently move the ball all game and constantly found itself in third and long situations.

"They made it tough on us. It's a damn good defense, real good secondary, good defensive front. They gave us all we could handle tonight, so you give them a lot of credit", said Tom Brady after the game. "I wish we could, as an offense, stay out there to get us in a rhythm. Part of us not being on the field was our lack of execution. We need to go out there and execute better in order to stay on the field and get our defense off the field. I'm sure we lost the time of possession. I'm sure we lost the field position. I don't think we were great on third down by any stretch. It was really not a great offensive effort".

Yet, one of the biggest surprises of the game wasn't the poor performance of the Patriots' offense, but the excellent one by Green Bay. When back up quarterback, Matt Flynn, was announced as the starter many believed that the Pats had this one wrapped up in the bag.

Matt Flynn?..Really??..
Flynn and the Pack gave New England all they could handle, however. One of the worst rushing offenses in the league, the Pack were able to gash New England for 144 yards on the ground and held a 40:48 - 19:12 advantage in time of possession. A lot of it was due to the surprising performance of Matt Flynn, who nearly had his team taking the victory with the final seconds ticking away.

"Flynn did a hell of a job. Looking at this week he ran the offense pretty well", said Patriots nose tackle, Vince Wilfork. "We weren't shocked that he was going to come out and perform well"

"That's about the way we've seen him play", echoed coach Bill Belichick. "He played in the preseason. [He] does a good job managing the game. He's a good quarterback."

The Patriots may not have been shocked by Flynn's performance but everyone else was. Flynn outperformed Tom Brady, throwing for 251 yards and 3 touchdowns.

In the end though, it was Flynn's inexperience that cost Green Bay the game. With :29 seconds still remaining and Green Bay at the New England 15 yard line, Flynn couldn't get a play in quick enough, using up the whole clock. The Packers were forced into one final play where they could've had several. Flynn was sacked by Tully Banta-Cain and fumbled as time expired.

"Obviously it wasn't the most pretty game but we ended up getting it done", said running back, Danny Woodhead.

After blowing teams out and playing near perfect football, the Patriots found a way to win ugly. Perhaps a play that defined the night for the Patriots was one of the most bizzare events to ever occur in the National Football League's history, and it certainly wasn't pretty.

Down 17-7 with just over 2 minutes left in the first half, the Patriots got a spark from the most unlikely source. Intending to keep the ball away from New England's dangerous returner, Brandon Tate, Green Bay kicked the ball short. Dan Connolly, a 6'4" 313 pound right guard, ended up making the catch. No one could have expected what happened next. He returned the kick 71 yards - an NFL record for an offensive lineman. Sluggishly running down field while holding the ball nose up like a loaf of bread, Connolly even stiff armed a defender and made a cut to make guys miss.

"I've never seen anything happen so slow in my life", joked Tom Brady. "It was an unbelievable play. I can never imagine anything like that is going to happen...They won't be kicking to him anymore, I'll tell you that".

"He should get the game ball, I am telling you that right now. To do what he did", said Vince Wilfork, a 300 pounder himself. "He really got us pumped. Just to see a big guy running down the field like that - if it were me I would have had to take a time out or get subbed in or something but he went out and finished the series [on the next possession]".

It was a night of the unexpected. It wasn't the blowout that Patriots fans had grown used to seeing in recent weeks. It wasn't pretty and it wasn't perfect but the Patriots still found a way to win a game in which they didn't play anywhere near their full capabilities. Last night's game was a show of resiliency and proof of the team's ability to overcome adversity. It's another serving of humble pie. You are only as good as your last game, a lesson the Patriots learned in November against the Browns. At least this time the Patriots got a win out of it.

"Do I want to blow [teams] out every time? Yeah, but it doesn't happen like that", said Wilfork. "We got the W. There are some things that we can definitely learn from in this game but I am not taking back that we played our tails off."

The Pats aren't picky about how they get their victories. Even if they have to do it like this:

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