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Sunday, December 19, 2010
Wrap-up: Patriots 31, Packers 27

By Kevin Seifert

Some thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' closer-than-expected game at Gillette Stadium:

What it means: The events of earlier Sunday left this game with limited meaning for the Packers. No matter what they did against the New England Patriots, the Packers knew they would be able to clinch at least a wild-card playoff berth with victories in their final two games. Sunday night's loss means the Chicago Bears can clinch the NFC North with a victory Monday night over the Minnesota Vikings. But at 8-6, the Packers can control their postseason chances. How much easier would it have been had they pulled a monumental upset Sunday night? Let's not even bother.

Flynn's final minute: On Saturday, the Packers ruled out quarterback Aaron Rodgers because of a concussion. For the most part, backup Matt Flynn played about as well as you could have hoped, and he finished with 247 passing yards and three touchdowns. I don't know whom to blame for the final-play confusion that cost the Packers at least a few chances at the end zone, so I'll just say this: It's hard to imagine that sequence going the same way if Rodgers had been in the game. Facing fourth-and-1 at the Patriots' 15-yard line, the Packers lost about 21 seconds while trying to sort out their next move. Flynn finally rushed the Packers to the line for a disorganized play that ended in a sack.

Starting point: Knowing the stiff climb his team faced, coach Mike McCarthy opened the game with an onside kick. Safety Nick Collins recovered and it led to Mason Crosby's 31-yard field goal, but the big impact was adding an additional possession and setting the tone for a game in which the Packers would possess the ball for about 32 of the first 45 minutes of the game and a total of 40 minutes, 12 seconds. As it was, the Patriots totaled 24 offensive points in that brief period, even while managing only 249 total yards and 14 first downs.

Two big ones: The Patriots got 14 of their points during a critical sequence at the end of the second quarter and the start of the third. After taking a 17-7 lead, the Packers' beleaguered special teams allowed a 71-yard return to offensive lineman Dan Connolly on what was supposed to be a squib quick. I'm no expert, so I'll just point out that Quinn Johnson and Diyral Briggs collided just as Connolly broke open the return. And we won't send any kudos to Charlie Peprah for the weak arm tackle he attempted on Connolly. Then, on the fifth play of the third quarter, receiver James Jones stopped running on an in-cut and Flynn's pass was intercepted by cornerback Kyle Arrington. I counted three missed tackles as Arrington returned it 36 yards for a touchdown.

More misses: Poor tackling also played a big role in the Patriots' eventual game-winning score. Cornerback Sam Shields couldn't bring down tight end Aaron Hernandez on a 10-yard touchdown pass with 7:14 left.

What's next: The Packers will return to Lambeau Field for the first of two consecutive games there to end the regular season. They'll host the New York Giants in a game that will at least have tremendous wild-card playoff significance.