Flynn nearly leads Packers to shocking win over Patriots

Here are five quick-hit observations on the Patriots’ narrow 31-27 win over the Packers on Sunday night.

1. Flynn’s outstanding effort falls short.
In the end, Matt Flynn’s inexperience cost him as he couldn’t get his offense lined up for the team’s final play. One of the broadcasters said it perfectly when they noted that Aaron Rodgers would have had the play, gotten his team lined up and not wasted nearly 20 seconds (or what-have-you) of the clock. And because of Flynn’s inexperience, he was sacked on the final play instead of heaving one towards the end zone to give the Packers a chance to win. That said, nobody can knock the youngster’s effort. He completed 21-of-33 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns and while the one interception he threw was costly (the Patriots returned it for a touchdown to take a 21-17 lead early in the third quarter), he never seemed rattled. His performance was a stark contrast from his effort last Sunday in Detroit, when he looked befuddled and lost. He showed tonight that with a full week of preparation, he can certainly give the Packers a quality start. He was impressive to say the least.

2. Teams will be less scared of the Patriots after this.
If the Packers can waltz into Foxboro with their backup quarterback and nearly beat the Patriots on their home turf, opponents will have more confidence against New England heading into the postseason. Everyone was ready to crown the Pats Super Bowl champions coming into this game but their play on Sunday night (particularly on defense) reminded everyone that they have weaknesses, too. ESPN will make this out to be another dazzling fourth quarter comeback by Tom Brady but the fact is that the Patriots were on their heels for most of the game. Credit the Pats’ offense for making plays when they had to but this team was largely on cruise control because they knew they were facing a backup quarterback who stunk the week before. From the opening kickoff (a successful onsides kick by the Packers) to the final whistle, the Packers were the more inspired team. The Patriots just made more big plays.

3. The Patriots’ defense still needs some work.
The Patriots’ offense is incredibly scary but their defensive effort was a joke. This was a Green Bay team that couldn’t gain two yards on the ground if you spotted them one and yet they managed to rush for 143 yards. Furthermore, you’re telling me that Bill Belichick couldn’t come up with a better game plan to stop the Packers’ underneath passing game? Flynn was impressive but it must have been easy for him to wait for his receivers to clear out the secondary and dump the ball off to one of his backs or tight ends for seven yards every time he needed it. Belichick won’t enjoy watching the film from this game because he’ll see plenty of poor tackling and shoddy execution from his defense.

4. Putting Connolly’s return into perspective.
I thoroughly enjoyed watching New England guard Dan Connolly truck down the field right before halftime, carrying the ball like a loaf of bread on his way to the end zone. I also thoroughly enjoyed the three replays they showed following the play and I’m going to enjoy watching the 52 highlights tomorrow of it on SportsCenter. But looking back, Connolly’s 71-yard kickoff was more than just an a knee-slapper that has surely already gone viral. It was a huge play in the landscape of the game, too. Green Bay had just taken a 17-7 lead and they had stolen the momentum. Maybe Brady runs the Pats’ two-minute drill to perfection and they score anyway, or maybe the Packers’ defense continues to stifle New England and Green Bay takes a 17-7 lead into halftime. But thanks to Connolly’s return, the Pats were set up at the Green Bay 4-yard line and wound up punching it in for an easy six. That made the score 17-14 at half and all of a sudden, New England was right back into the game. It was a great play by Connolly and a brutal one by Green Bay’s kickoff team, which somehow failed to lay a hand on the offensive lineman for nearly 60 yards.

5. The Packers are still very much alive.
This loss hurts but the Packers are still alive in the NFC playoff hunt thanks to Tampa Bay and New York’s losses earlier in the day. Green Bay hosts the Giants and Bears over the next two weeks and if they win out, they’re in regardless of what the Bucs do. The Pack are in control of their own destiny and after a season of severe ups and downs, that’s all they could ask for at the moment.

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