Monday, December 20, 2010

Packers vs. Patriots: Tom Brady Barely Outlasts Upstart Matt Flynn

As soon as Green Bay Packers quarterbackAaron Rodgers was ruled out of Sunday night's game at New England, odds makers jacked up the line to the high double figures. The line of thinking was how could Matt Flynn, making his first NFL start, dream of keeping pace with Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium?

There was one slight problem. Nobody bothered to tell Flynn that he was supposed to fold like a cheap tent under the lights in front of a national television audience.

Flynn, who starred at LSU and was taken in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft by thePackers, went toe-to-toe with New England's future Hall-of-Famer and had his team ahead 27-24 midway through the fourth quarter. Even though the Patriots managed to pull out the 31-27 victory to improve to 12-2 on the season, Flynn opened some eyes around the league and might have earned himself a bump in pay via free agency in the offseason.

Flynn threw three touchdown passes to one interception, including a 66-yard scoring strike toJames Jones early in the second quarter as Green Bay (8-6) indicated a vast improvement offensively from the 7-3 loss at Detroit. However, he also threw an interception that was returned 34 yards for a touchdown by Kyle Arrington early in the third quarter, and took a sack on the final play of the game deep in Patriots territory. 

Some thoughts on the game:

• Patriots right guard Dan Connolly made the play of the night and one of the plays of the year when he rumbled 71 yards after scooping up Mason Crosby's kick late in the first half. The 6-foot-4, 313-pound wrecking ball set a new NFL record for the longest kick return by an offensive lineman and set up Brady's 2-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez that made it 17-14 at the half in favor of Green Bay.

• Brady put his name in the record books once again as he passed Bernie Kosar for the most consecutive pass attempts without throwing an interception. Kosar's streak was 286 attempts, and Brady almost had a few picked off but kept his poise and led his team back from a 10-point deficit.

• The Packers stole a page from the New Orleans Saints at last year's Super Bowl by pulling a surprise onside kick on the opening kickoff. Nick Collins recovered it for Green Bay, after which Flynn drove the offense into scoring territory to set up Crosby's 31-yard field goal.

• Flynn caught a huge break with the clock winding down and his team down by four points when what would have been an interception was nullified by a hands-to-the-face penalty on New England's Tully Banta-Cain. That kept Green Bay's last-ditch drive alive, but Banta-Cain made amends by sacking Flynn and stripping him of the ball on the last play of the game.

• One look at the final statistics reveals a dominant performance by the Packers as they owned a 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession (40:56 to 19:04) and nearly a 2-to-1 advantage in first downs (26-14). Running back Brandon Jackson helped matters with a solid rushing performance. He finished with 101 yards on 23 carries.

• New England clinched a playoff berth with the victory and moved a step closer to clinching home field advantage. Brady is a perfect 27-0 at Gillette Stadium in his last 27 home games.

• Green Bay dropped to 8-6 and as of Sunday night is on the outside looking in as far as the NFC playoff race.

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