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In between those obnoxious Hyundai commercials, the Patriots were able to squeak out a victory on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, edging out Matt Flynn and the Green Bay Packers, 31-27 at Gillette Stadium. That’s right… Matt Flynn, household name, right? There hasn’t been a quarterback that’s looked that good against the Patriots since… well… Cleveland’s Colt McCoy, another household name?
The saying tells me that “a win is a win,” but really, the Patriots were not the better of the two teams for much of that game Sunday night. Green Bay’s running game was able to rack up 143 yards on the evening, their second highest total of the season, helping the Packers stay on the field for extended drives. The Pats’ defense was atrocious on most third down plays, with the Pack moving the chains and converting 11 of their 19 third downs into firsts. If it weren’t for some bad mistakes by the Packers (dropped passes early, dropped interception opportunities on defense, and a total flub job in the final seconds of the game, not being able to manage the clock properly), it’s possible that Pats fans would’ve been heading to bed earlier than they did, with nothing to stay up late for.
Nonetheless, the Pats found a way to improve to 12-2, staying in the driver’s seat for the top spot in the AFC, and that’s all that matters. This week’s “PATS on the Back” gets thrown to a few Patriots for the first time this season, with key contributions coming from some unlikely sources Sunday night. So without further ado, let’s roll out the red carpet for this week’s “PATS on the Back”…
No, that play wasn’t in slow motion. That was just 313-pound offensive guard Dan Connolly, scooping up a squib kick on special teams in the final minutes of the first half, and rumbling, bumbling, and stumbling down the field for 71 yards, like a fat kid running home from the supermarket with a fresh box of Twinkies. The play that everyone’s talking about set up the second New England touchdown of the game and gave the Patriots back the momentum heading into halftime, down just three points instead of ten. For Connolly, it was a play that he will remember forever and tell his kids about, his grandkids about, and any kid who will listen about. It was the longest return by an offensive lineman in NFL history, and NFL history goes back quite a ways. He ended up leaving the game early and not playing in the second half due to an undisclosed head injury, but there wasn’t a play in the game with more impact than what Connolly had on that singular play before the half. Just ask Cris Collinsworth… I think he’s still raving about it with a pants-tent fully pitched.
Two touchdowns on the night for the rookie… not too shabby. The first came with just 68 seconds left in the first half, on a two-yard bullet pass from Tom Brady that pulled the Pats within a field goal going into the locker rooms at the half. The second score was the final score of the game, a 10-yarder with just over seven minutes left, to give New England a 31-27 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Hernandez now has six TDs on the season, and teamed up with Rob Gronkowski who has seven on the year, the pair became the first rookie tight end teammates with at least five TDs each in a single season in NFL history. And like I said, NFL history goes back quite a ways. In a game where Wes Welker and Deion Branch were covered very well and had just five short catches between them, it was nice to see Hernandez and the supporting cast step up and deliver on key plays.
One broken tackle… two broken tackles… three… FOUR! Score! Kyle Arrington’s third quarter interception of Matt Flynn was the big defensive play the Pats needed. Simply intercepting the ball and giving the Pats’ offense a short field to work with would have been plenty, but the improbable 36-yard return that Arrington made, breaking at least four tackles on his way to the end zone, gave New England their first lead of the game, and kept the momentum swinging in the right direction. As a whole, the Patriots secondary didn’t have their best game this season, but you have to give it up for Arrington, who was able to force the game’s only turnover (other than the lost fumble to end the game) at a very opportune time, and turn it into much-needed points to put towards New England’s 12th victory of the season.