GREEN BAY, Wisc. – Your record says who you are. Usually.
The Patriots stand at 1-3 after four weeks, which is better than the 0-4 many experts predicted (or feared). On Sunday at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, the Patriots lost, 27-24 to the Packers to drop to 1-3. Woe is us. The Patriots will soon become the Red Sox of the AFC. Another loss. How many 1-3 teams make it to the Super Bowl?
That’s enough of that. First of all, the 2001 Patriots started 1-3 and won the Super Bowl. That said, here is what really happened on Sunday at what is often referred to as the Frozen Tundra.
The Patriots took the Packers to the very end of overtime before succumbing to a 31-yard field goal by Mason Crosby. The Patriots were forced to start Brian Hoyer at quarterback following the high ankle sprain Mac Jones sustained at the end of last week’s loss at home to Baltimore. But at the end of the second offensive possession, Hoyer was sacked by Rashaan Gary and had to leave the game on concussion protocol. So rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe had to come in for the next series.
In his preseason summation of the Patriot roster heading into the regular season, Ben Volin of the Globe said this about Zappe, to paraphrase: “If Zappe has to play one down this season, something has gone terribly wrong.” That moment arrived in Week 4, first quarter. So, here comes Zappe into his NFL debut at the cathedral of the NFL, Lambeau Field.
At this point, even with the Patriots leading at the time, 3-0, did you envision the game taking all of overtime before finally being decided?
Zappe came into a frying pan, and came out of it not victorious, but with a ton of respect from his teammates and coaching staff, and hopefully, the fan base. In the end, the Patriots were very careful with Zappe and did not put him into a position where he had to win the game, and it may have possibly cost the team a win. But there is no second guessing of Bill Belichick or any other assistant coach that is in order for this game. Zappe was handled perfectly given the situation, and it is to the credit of the entire team that they were in a position to win the game in overtime but simply fell to a team which made just a few more plays than the Patriots did.
The Patriots stood toe to toe with the favored Packers all game long. What many people thought would be a Packer blowout win with Hoyer at quarterback instead turned into a gritty game much like the win two weeks ago at Pittsburgh. The Patriot running game was effective for most of the game, Jack Jones pulled off a pick-six, and the defense harassed Aaron Rodgers for much of the game. The second half was a marvelous exchange of the two offenses clicking, and the fact that it had to go overtime is a major tip of the hat to the undermanned Patriots.
If you want to dissect this game and look at key moments as to why the Patriots ultimately lost, none of them involve Zappe. The Patriots led early, 3-0 thanks largely to a lost fumble by rookie wideout Romeo Doubs, and it was 17-14 Patriots at the end of the first half just after Jones pulled off his 40-yard interception return. The Packers took the kickoff to begin the second half, and Rodgers (11.2 passer rating in the first half) misfired on his first two throws. The next play woke up the Packers for the second half, as Rodgers managed to hit Allen Lazard down the right sideline for 32 yards despite Jonathan Jones in good coverage. That propelled the Packers to a touchdown pass to Robert Tonyan from 20 yards out to give the Packers the lead.
The next play which greatly hurt the Patriots was early in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots leading 24-17. On third and seven at their own 32, Rodgers rolled to his left, threw off his back foot, but managed to find an open Randall Cobb for 24 yards with Myles Bryant in futile pursuit. This propelled the Packers to a touchdown as Rodgers hit Doubs for 13 yards, which was the 500th touchdown pass of Rodgers’ career.
Take away these two long third down conversions, and the Patriots win this game. Neither of these plays are attributed to Zappe. It was a great throw by Rodgers and bad coverage by Bryant.
Zappe finished 10 of 15 passing for 99 yards, one touchdown and a very respectable 107.4 passer rating. He was sacked three times but did not throw any picks. His one touchdown was a gift from the officials when he hit DeVante Parker for a 25-yard pass despite the play clock running out and Zappe getting two extra seconds to snap the ball (a delay was called on the previous play). It was a lob pass to Parker, and it did find its target instead of getting picked off.
Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson carried their weight today. Harris had 86 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown, while Stevenson had 66 yards on 14 carries. They both averaged almost five yards a carry.
Rodgers shook off his abysmal first half and finished 21 of 35 passing for 251 yards, two touchdowns, one pick and an 89.1 passer rating. Lazard led the Packers with 116 yards receiving on six catches. Aaron Jones had 110 yards rushing on 16 carries, while former Boston College running back A.J. Dillon had 73 yards on 17 carries. The Packers averaged 5.7 yards per carry, which in the end helped Rodgers make more hay in the second half.
The last two drives by the Patriots might suggest that Belichick was too cautious with Zappe. With two minutes left in regulation, the Patriots were pinned back at their own two-yard line. Belichick called for three runs and punted, but Green Bay had no time to do anything other than a Hail Mary. In overtime, the Patriots forced a three and out and had the ball at their own 49. Given a decent chance to gain just a few yards for Nick Folk to win the game, Harris was held to five yards on the first two downs, and Zappe was forced to throw the ball away on third down. Zappe isn’t quite in the “drop back and sling it” mode yet. It is hard to criticize this or try and suggest what more the Patriots could have done which would have gotten the Patriots a decent field goal try. The Packers had the means to win this game, while the Patriots didn’t.
Next week the Detroit Lions come to Foxborough as the Patriots enter a stretch of games where they can get back into a good frame of mind and turn their season around. Don’t waste your time trying to figure out who will play quarterback for the Patriots next week. You really don’t have any idea, and Belichick certainly won’t tell you.
But Zappe played well in his NFL debut. Given how things unfolded, he deserves praise. Now, if he has a week to prepare for Detroit next week, then you might come away from that game smiling instead of being a bit disconsolate.
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