Packer's Defense Coordinator Mike Pettine knew what he needed to do to slow down the Patriots on Sunday night. Green Bay reloaded its secondary with five or more defensive defenders and dared Tom Brady to plunge into the Pettine No-Fly Zone without Rob Gronkowski harassing double-team or rookie striker Sony Michel to pay his team for it did not work out mass in the box.
And it worked – until Bill Belichick hit back by putting his all-pro-kick-returner in the backcourt and crushing the packers near the scrimmage line.
The Patriots used Pettine's easy line-up with a series of games to bring the blockers of the team forward and the main beneficiary was Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson, who was listed as a broad receiver, but earns his streak as Belichicks Swiss Army Knife, paired with the seasoned veteran Julian Edelman, to give the attack in New England a new dimension. He used his years of comfort with long-playing games and anticipated holes to turn a series of sweeps and off-tackle carriers into 61 rushing yards, a real touchdown, another overturned, and a glowing testament to how the patriots fare every inch can turn around from their roster to beat you.
Belichick beat the Packers with opportunistic play near the scrimmage line
Brady had little trouble finding open receivers in the field on Sunday night. The Packers defense was loaded with defensive defenders, who relied on a secondary-heavy system that brought four cornerbacks to the field for more than half of the team's 71 defensive moments.
The strategy paid off in the second half of the game. In the wake of the Pats' stone wall for four straight games in Green Bay's 1-yard line, the Packers kept Brady in a spot where he only completed one of eight passes for 7 yards, losing 11 more sacks. There were no big games in the downfield, and even short ways across the middle to players like Chris Hogan and Edelman saw double coverage across the board. Pettine did everything he could to confuse Brady as he passed the Downs and even pulled his nose back to Kenny Clark.
Running between the duels did not work – James White would finish the game at just 2.6 yards per shot, as the team's traditional topback was the case – but there was still room for Green Bay's lack of linebacker support take advantage of his line of defense. In the first half, this was Patterson, who had carried his team 40 meters late in the second quarter of a 69-yard touchdown ride. But the pack had adjusted to his presence; in the second half, he only cashed six for just 10 yards.
The efficiency of Patterson had diminished, and White's never really started. A nickel-intensive secondary stage was too risky for traditional deep games, but there was still an advantage to gain in this second stage. And Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels started with a tricky series of screens.
New England's biggest fourth quarter games were built with passes barely exceeding the limits of the thrimmage. First, a throw came to Edelman, who became a kick-back screen, somehow putting four of the team's five offensive linemen (and Brady, who blocked no one) in White's command on the opposite sideline:
He has gained 37 meters while catching and running. Three games later, he dives into the end zone to resolve a draw.
The short-pass threat – Brady had also spread five more receptions to White for a total of 35 yards – shook the Packers young secondary. And when the patriots faked a broad reception screen for Hogan, two different cornerbacks gave up their task to devote themselves to the game. This gave Brady the opportunity to beat either Edelman or Josh Gordon for a likely touchdown; Gordon would break a duel and jog 55 yards to make two of this game.
These two pieces were turning points for the Patriots, but they would not have been possible without the work that McDaniels, Belichick and Brady had previously done in the game. New England could not stretch the field vertically, so they did it horizontally to move its blockers down and clear the defensive-strong defense of Green Bay. It worked on a big screen, and then as those backs chased forward to deal with the threat of another.
And then the patriots lowered the clock to zero without a backlog
The Packers scored 3:48 on Downs, but two layoffs and the New England bouts running the ball suggested that Aaron Rodgers would have at least one more chance of leading his team to an unusual comeback. Instead, the Patriots ran the clock with a pair of First Downs, for whom White did not even need a carry.
First came a 4-yard transport to Patterson. Brady then identified too many Packers in the field and selected a free pass for Gordon, who went another 15 yards. Patterson got another attack but the game was not sealed until Edelman needed an eleven-meter penalty to close the door and win a 14-point Patriot.
The Patriots burned almost four minutes before the end of a meaningful game without a single handover to a player listed in the depth chart. More importantly, though, they missed an important victory over an increasingly desperate Packers team, despite missing their top goal (Gronkowski) and number 1 (Michel).
It took a bit of creativity, and it would not have been worth it if it had not been for Jermaine Whitehead's injury to linebacker Blake Martinez and a foolproof ejection for safety reasons, but it worked.
Good luck, defenses. These patriots are still the football MacGuyvers who have turned a Moribund franchise into a dynasty. And after six wins in a row, they win another AFC East title.