Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers lived up to the hype in the sense of it being a compelling game into the fourth quarter.
Costly mistakes were bound to catch up with the Green Bay Packers, however, and right on cue, 14 unanswered points in the game’s final period propelled the New England Patriots to a 31-17 victory on Sunday Night Football.
The Patriots improved to 7-2 on the season with the win and remain a game back of the Kansas City Chiefs for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff structure.
New England turned a Green Bay fumble at the Patriots' 34-yard line into points, as James White scored on the drive which followed Lawrence Guy’s forced fumble and Stephon Gilmore’s recovery of an Aaron Jones error.
White's run put New England ahead for good, 24-17, with 10:06 to go in the fourth quarter.
Rodgers was sacked by Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn on third down on the next possession for the Packers, forcing Green Bay to punt.
"The way he plays quarterback, how he's able to extend [plays] with his legs and continue to look downfield," Flowers said of Rodgers' ability to keep broken plays alive. "Being able to rush him aggressively but also contain him, we were definitely conscious of it. I think we did an alright job."
"They just adjusted really well," Rodgers said, complimentary of New England's defense. "We got some things going and then they adjusted. We had some momentum there in the third quarter and the fourth and then obviously the unfortunate fumble and then we just didn’t – I missed a couple opportunities there in the fourth quarter to get the ball to 'Te [Davante Adams], probably would have given us a better chance."
Three plays later, Tom Brady threw his only touchdown pass of the game to Josh Gordon, a 55-yard strike which exposed all kinds of blown coverages in the secondary for the Packers. Green Bay corner Tramon Williams badly whiffed trying to tackle Gordon, who finished with five catches for 130 yards -- his most in a Patriots uniform. He continues to earn his way into Brady's circle of trust, earning crucial targets on third and fourth downs throughout the game.
"We made some plays in the fourth quarter when we needed to, and anytime you beat a good football team, it feels good," Brady said. "So, 7-2, it’s a long ways from 1-2 where we were. We strung together a lot of wins playing good football and we’ve got to keep it going."
None of this is to say that New England's offense gelled throughout the game. An easy opening drive, which also ended in a rushing touchdown for White, didn't fortell the struggles the Patriots would encounter without Rob Gronkowski, Sony Michel and Shaq Mason available.
The absence of the skill position players is obviously something that can't be seen as a positive moving forward, but it did one player an opportunity to shine at various points in the game.
Cordarrelle Patterson is now the featured back for the Patriots, apparently. He had a 5-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter to help give New England a 17-10 lead heading into the break, finishing the game with 61 yards on the ground in all.
"He's a versatile guy," Bill Belichick said of Patterson. "He can play receiver, he can certainly carry the ball, he can return kicks and also play in other areas of the kicking game."
In terms of the Brady vs. Rodgers duel that was highly anticipated, neither quarterback fully delivered gaudy numbers on the stat sheet. Brady finished the night 22 for 35 for 294 yards and a touchdown, while Rodgers was 24 for 43 for 259 yards and two touchdowns.
White finished the game with six catches for 72 yards, giving him 61 on the season -- a new career high. He's tied for second overall in the NFL in receptions with Eagles tight end Zach Ertz and Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. He's on pace to finish the season with 108 catches, which would establish a new record for NFL running backs. The record is currently held by Matt Forte, who caught 102 passes out of the backfield in 2014 with the Chicago Bears.
The loss dropped the Packers to 3-4-1, 1 1/2 games out of first place in the NFC North.
The Patriots aren't home again until Sunday, Dec. 2, when they host the Minnesota Vikings. They travel to Nashville next weekend to take on the Tennessee Titans at 1 p.m. before their bye week, and return from the bye over Thanksgiving weekend in New Jersey against the New York Jets.