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The New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers have played nine times since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Counting Super Bowl XXXI, the Packers have won five games. The two teams are split 2-2 for games played in Foxborough. Let’s look back at all nine match-ups, ranked semi-arbitrarily by order of importance and quality.
Easily the worst of the nine Packers-Patriots games so far. Patriots quarterbacks Steve Grogan and Doug Flutie combined to go 19-40 for just 195 yards, no touchdowns and a whopping five interceptions. But the inadequacies don’t stop with the offense. The Patriots’ defense allowed the Packers to rush for 207 yards and five touchdowns, including three by Green Bay running back Brent Fullwood, who picked up 118 of those 207 yards. All this while committing 11 penalties for 75 yards. What’s even more stinging about this loss was that it came at the hands of a Packers team that lost 12 games that season. The Patriots, on the other hand, finished at 9-7, one game out of a wild card spot. A dark day in Patriots history, one might say.
Another instance of a bad Packers team (5-11 in 1979, coming during the Bart Starr coaching era of 1975-1983, in which the Packers went 52-76) beating an ultimately 9-7 Patriots team in a season where the Patriots finished one game out of a playoff spot. Games like this are where the term “trap game” comes from, because the better team doesn’t focus mentally in the face of a mediocre non-conference road opponent, then loses, then the loss comes back to haunt them. In this particular iteration, Grogan went 17-33 for 255 yards, two touchdowns- both to tight end Russ Francis- and three interceptions. His late game replacement, Tom Owen, threw two more interceptions on just four passing attempts. The Patriots also fumbled the ball once, bringing the turnover total to six. Every interception was picked off by a different Packers defender, making it an all-around defensive beat-down.
The Packers hurt the Patriots on two levels in the 2002 season. First, they defeated the Patriots in Foxborough. Then, they finished their season by losing to the New York Jets. That left the Patriots, Jets and Miami Dolphins all tied for first in the AFC East, but tie-breaking procedures awarded the division title to the Jets and the last wild card spot to the Cleveland Browns (better conference record). Had either of those two games gone the Patriots’ way, they would have at least had a chance to defend their Super Bowl XXXVI title. But the Patriots lost a game that may be one of Tom Brady’s worst to date. Brady went 24-44 for just 183 yards and three interceptions. He also threw a touchdown pass, but it came during garbage time in the fourth quarter, with the Packers up 28-3. Brett Favre, on the other hand, played a low-throwing game, going 17-27 for just 147 yards. But when Favre threw he made it count, throwing three touchdown passes. Ahman Green was the Patriots-killer that day, picking up 157 all-purpose yards to go along with his two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving. The only silver lining to this game is that the Packers’ loss to the Jets cost them a first-round bye, and they lost their wild card game against the Atlanta Falcons.
This game was billed as the rematch of Super Bowl XXXI, and the result was more or less the same. Favre went 23-44 for 239 yards and three touchdowns, and Drew Bledsoe went 20-36 for 248 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. The lone bright spot for the Patriots was wide receiver Terry Glenn, who caught seven passes for 163 yards. Both the Patriots and the Packers followed up their Super Bowl seasons in fine fashion. The Patriots, coached by the incompetent Pete Carroll, won the AFC East, ultimately losing in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Packers returned to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Denver Broncos, 31-21.
This was the first ever meeting between the Patriots and Packers, but there is little else to distinguish this victory. Both teams finished their seasons with just five wins, well out of the playoffs. The Packers were already five years removed from their last Super Bowl win, and the Patriots were still 12 years from their first appearance. Neither team was good, nor would be good again for decades. The Patriots quarterback for this game was Jim Plunkett, who finished the game 18-32 for 348 yards. He rushed for a touchdown and threw for two more, including a 63-yarder to wide receiver Reggie Rucker in the third quarter. Plunkett was also picked off by Green Bay defensive back Ken Ellis in the third quarter, who returned the interception 47 yards for a touchdown. Overall, a forgettable game in a forgettable season.
Although Favre out-dueled Bledsoe twice in three games, in their first encounter it was Bledsoe who had the better game. Bledsoe went 29-53 for 354 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Favre went 25-47 for 294 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Neither quarterback was quite at the peak of his powers yet. Green Bay was leading 16-14 late in the game, but New England won on a last-minute 33-yard field goal by Matt Bahr. New England went on to win the AFC East for just the second time in franchise history. Green Bay finished the season 9-7, secured a wild card, got to the second round of the playoffs, and lost.
This time, the higher-caliber Patriots avoided getting trapped against a Packers team that finished the season just 8-8. The game was a defensive triumph for the Patriots. New England sacked Green Bay quarterback Lynn Dickey seven times, including three by Hall-of-Fame linebacker Andre Tippett, and three by linebacker Don Blackmon, once for a safety in the third quarter. The Patriots also dominated the ground game, out-gaining the Packers 208-59 in rushing (they each rushed for two touchdowns). Patriots’ quarterback Tony Eason had a competent game, completing 75 percent of his passes for 241 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. The Patriots finished their season with an appearance in Super Bowl XX, where they were destroyed by the Chicago Bears, 46-10. Still, 1985 was easily the best season in Patriots history up until that point, and this game was emblematic of what made them so dominant all season.
Of the nine face-offs between Green Bay and New England, this the only one where both teams were playing at their peak of ability. The Packers were lousy from the mid-60s to the mid-90s, as were the Patriots, with 1985 as basically the only exception. But the 1996-97 season was the height of Favre’s career, long before it plummeted into team-killing, injury-dramatizing, alleged penis-texting mediocrity. And for the Patriots, this was Bledsoe’s best year, before he jumped off the stage at an Everclear concert and landed on a girl, forcing her to have emergency neck surgery. The Patriots put their best team in years up against the Packers, and it wasn’t enough. Favre hit wide receiver Andre Rison for a 54-yard touchdown pass on the Packers’ second offensive play of the game, and they never looked back. Favre went 14-27 for 246 yards and two touchdowns. Bledsoe threw two touchdowns of his own and put up comparable numbers (25-48, 253 yards), but he killed the Patriots’ offense with four interceptions. The Patriots also gave up three sacks to the legendary Reggie White, and Green Bay’s Desmond Howard was a special teams menace, returning four kickoffs for 154 yards and a touchdown, plus six punt returns for 90 more yards. But Super Bowl XXXI may have given Patriots fans a glimmer of what was to come: rookie Tedy Bruschi sacked Favre twice. The Packers finished off a tremendous season with a convincing victory, but their reign ended in the 20th Century. The 21st has belonged to the Patriots. Which leads us to…
A nice bookend to the #9 game. Never was the descent of one franchise so starkly contrasted with the ascent of another. Unlike 10 years before, this time it was New England that dominated on both sides of the line. Brady was on, going 20-31 for 244 yards. He threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers. The Patriots also ran for 122 combined rushing yards and a touchdown. The defense sacked Favre and second-year backup Aaron Rodgers five times, including 1.5 sacks each by Mike Vrabel and Ty Warren. And the defense held Favre and Rodgers to a combined 9-27, 105-yard performance. In winning this game, the Patriots snapped a string of three straight losses to the Packers, going back to 1994. It was also their first victory at Lambeau Field. The Packers finished the 2006 season 8-8, not good enough to make the playoffs. The 2006 Patriots made it to the AFC Championship, where they lost to the Indianapolis Colts. The loss highlighted the lack of receiving talent on the Patriots roster, and it paved the way for the featured-receiver offense the Patriots used from 2007 until Randy Moss was traded after Week Four in the 2010 season. With his departure, the Patriots have returned to the spread offense that won them three Super Bowls and seems likely to carry them to another this February. But first, they’ll have to take care of business on Sunday against Green Bay.