Tom Brady was sacked once against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, but timing was everything.
The New England Patriots’ offense was moving, 10 plays into what would be its final drive of the game, and what could have been the deciding drive of the game. From its own 28-yard line to the Green Bay 20-yard line New England went. Yet with Brady and the attack went six minutes of game clock.
And all that remained in the 26-21 game was 3:25 in the fourth quarter. Play No. 11.
“I’ll have to see it. Things always happen pretty quick out there,” Brady said of the play in his postgame press conference.
The Patriots were working quick out of “12” personnel, with halfback Shane Vereen motioning in to join Brady in shotgun.
Flex tight end Tim Wright loomed out right in the seam as part of a trips set, all while “Y” tight end Rob Gronkowski loomed out left as the split end, and wideouts Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman loomed off the line. But only Wright was prepped to run a vertical route beyond the marker; Gronkowski was prepped for a stop route, Vereen an outlet, LaFell a quick out and Edelman a stab.
But the Green Bay 4-1 dime defense was prepped for otherwise.
The second level was waiting to disperse in zone, with linebacker Clay Matthews covering the pipe. And all the while, the front line was waiting to disperse in a stunt off its left side, with part-time outside linebacker Julius Peppers and defensive end Datone Jones carving around right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and right guard Ryan Wendell.
Only there was more to it.
It wouldn’t be about the zone look or the left half of the Packers’ front so much as it would be about the right half. It would be about where the 6-foot-3, 285-pound Mike Neal was standing off the edge, and where the 6-foot, 305-pound Mike Daniels was crouched in the three-technique.
Between them, there was less deception. There was less for left tackle Nate Solder and left guard Dan Connolly to account for. But the two Patriots would have to account for their counterparts, and they’d have to do so one on one.
Brady took the snap as the play clock struck zero. His targets made their way through their respective patterns as the QB eyed the trips side of the field. One second passed and he waited.
Neal established his inside shoulder around Solder, while Daniels established his bull rush around Connolly’s collar.
Two seconds passed. Solder was unable widen his stance in time versus Neal’s bend around the arc. And Connolly, meanwhile, was unable to maintain his footing without overextending versus Daniels’ downhill push.
The Packers were about to break through. Brady just didn’t see it yet.
Daniels ripped out of engagement, swarming into the right B-gap to close on the pocket. Yet before he could, his teammate beat him to it around the back side of the pocket.
One hit home, then the other followed.
The two Packers beat their assignments and collaborated to take down Brady as the third second passed. And whether it was the pressure, sensing the pressure, or a lack of openings down the field despite the pressure, the end result was the same.
It was a sack for a loss of nine when New England needed a gain of nine. It was the first time Brady had been sacked since Week 9 against the Denver Broncos.
“It was zone coverage and I was trying to find somebody, and just – they got ahold of me,” Brady said. “Really hate to take the sack in that situation. I would have liked to score. That’s what I really would’ve liked to done.”
The Patriots would not score on 4th-and-18, as the 47-yard field goal attempt from Stephen Gostkowski faded right. Yet even if the drive ended in three points, it would have likely remained the last one the offense would get at Lambeau Field.
Two handoffs to running back Eddie Lacy, a seven-yard completion to wideout Randall Cobb, and three kneel-downs with Aaron Rodgers expired the final 2:40.
The Packers would not give the away team another opportunity.