FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With the Packers coming into Sunday night’s game without starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers available to play, many expected the Patriots to easily handle backup Matt Flynn, making his first career start.
Instead, the Patriots, who held their previous two opponents to one touchdown, found themselves behind the Flynn-led Packers, 17-14, at halftime.
“The plan was to go out there and cut it loose,” Flynn said. “We went out and went after them.”
The tide of the game, which had favored the Packers for much of the first half, turned on an improbable 71-yard kickoff return by Patriots guard Dan Connolly late in the second quarter.
“It was poor tackling by us. It was poor coaching,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s a hell of a job [though], and it’s probably the best play I’ve seen an offensive lineman make [on a kickoff return] in my career.”
The Packers likely targeted Connolly, part of the Patriots’ kickoff return wedge unit, to keep the ball away from explosive returner Brandon Tate.
“We tried to do a hook shot kick, but we lost the contain,” Packers safety Charlie Peprah said. “I tried to go for the ball thinking he was a big man without ball skills. I should have just made the tackle and you just saw a big dude rumbling down the field.”
Despite the return, which led to a Patriots touchdown, the Packers still held a 24-21 lead going into the fourth quarter. A key Packers three-and-out set up another Patriots touchdown, and with less than five minutes remaining, Flynn was tasked with mounting the potentially game-winning drive.
“I didn’t feel as though inexperience [was a factor],” Flynn said. “I’ve been around the game and we work two-minute drills all the time.”
After using all of their timeouts, the Packers were forced to hurry to the line and take one shot at the end zone with time expiring.
“It was a very clear situation, I think Matt [Flynn] operated properly,” McCarthy said. “They brought a three-man rush and they sacked us. The mechanics of it I thought were very well done by Matt Flynn.”
Flynn was sacked on the play, sealing perhaps the Patriots’ most poorly-played victory of the season, and leaving the Packers to wonder what could have been.
“It’s a tough one to swallow,” Flynn said. “It kind of makes you sit there and think what we could have done differently.”
“It hurts. We came so close,” Packers wide receiver James Jones said. “They have a better record, but we feel like we match up real good and I felt like we should have won that game.”
After two convincing wins by the Patriots which helped to thrust quarterback Tom Brady to the head of the league MVP race, the Packers may have helped bring the Patriots back down to earth just two weeks from the playoffs.
“They’re good,” Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “Probably one of the best, if not the best, but nobody’s invincible.”