Much maligned Patriots defense comes up big in win over Packers
Jim Davis/Boston Globe
It was billed as Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers, and for good reason.
And while that match up didn't excite the masses the way it should have, Patriots fans may have been treated to something much better than a shootout between two incredible quarterbacks - a championship-level defensive effort.
New England's defense, which is now seventh in the NFL against the pass based on opponents passer rating (86.2), limited Rodgers to a season low 259 passing yards and were able to limit him from scrambling when the play broke down or he couldn't find an open receiver. The unit allowed just seven points in the second half.
Trey Flowers, who is widely considered one of the NFL's best pass rushers, was especially effective. He and Adrian Clayborn combined for the team's lone sack of Rodgers and was responsible for eight of the team's 22 hurries.
Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty were able to limit the combination of Davante Adams and Randall Cobb to just under 70 yards on 11 combined receptions. All of this was just a matter of time, as the players on the defense have preached getting better every week and keeping an open line of communication.
"We played together," said linebacker Kyle Van Noy. "We've seen this in the making. We've been a couple plays off here and there. In the past, it was a couple of turnovers here and there and off that it would be penalties in the red zone to extend and then they score. We know we're so close but we still have a lot of work to do but we're excited because we see the making of something special."
“We always talk about progression. It’s that time of year where you want to see some of those improvements,” said safety Devin McCourty, one of the team’s captains. “When you go against the greats, it’s hard to be perfect, but you got to be close if you want to have a chance to win.”
With this performance now in their back pocket, the Patriots should feel confident about themselves heading into the home stretch of the season. Outside of Ben Roethlisberger, none of the quarterbacks left on New England's regular season schedule come anywhere near the talent level of Rodgers.
Yes, they were shredded by Patrick Mahomes a couple of weeks ago in a big game. Yes, Green Bay had some mental lapses. And of course not all of their problems are solved. But last night's effort was one we can all feel pretty good about.
Last night proved this defense, unlike last year's, can be championship worthy.