Two field goals by Mason Crosby and a touchdown by rookie tight end Richard Rodgers started it.
It was 13-0 through the first quarter versus the New England Patriots on Sunday, as the Green Bay Packers picked up on the Lambeau Field ground they left off on.
The NFC North leaders extended their home scoring mark to 79-0 through their last five first quarters there. But that mark was one the AFC East leaders would contest in the second quarter and thenceforth.
Only one side continued to spark fires, while the other side continued to put them out in the 18-degree wind chill.
New England ignited with a six-yard touchdown run from running back Brandon Bolden with 12:59 remaining in the second quarter. Yet the Packers extinguished New England’s spark once again with a field goal.
That kind of response continued to be the case, even after Patriots wideout Brandon LaFell hauled in his sixth touchdown of the campaign on a back-shoulder throw with 1:09 left in the first half.
It wasn’t a lot of time for Green Bay to answer. It was just enough for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to find receiver Jordy Nelson slanting over the middle versus cornerback Darrelle Revis on third down.
New England’s Cover-1 defense found itself undershot as Nelson broke open out of his inside release. He broke free from the press. He broke free from the overhead help of free safety Devin McCourty. And 45 yards later, the 6-foot-3, 217-pound “X” target broke into the end zone with the score suddenly stretched to 23-14.
The Packers would only tack on three more points in the Week 13 tilt. Even so, a 26-21 win over the Patriots was the outcome.
Along the way, Rodgers stretched his prolific season to 32 touchdown passes and only three interceptions, with 20 touchdowns and no picks coming at home in front of the Lambeau faithful.
Yet in front of them on Nov. 30, neither side could connect with points in the third. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady did, however, connect with LaFell for a second time as the fourth quarter opened up, notching the 15 yards on the way to a touchdown. But a corresponding 10-play drive by the Packers concluded with Crosby connecting on a 28-yard field goal.
That was enough.
New England saw a 3rd-and-9 from the Green Bay 20 slip away with a sack on QB Tom Brady on the next series. And on the ensuing 4th-and-18, kicker Stephen Gostkowski saw his second missed field goal of the season sail wide right from 47 yards out.
The Green Bay offense would not relinquish possession over the final 2:40 of game clock. New England’s second timeout was spent, then its third as Green Bay picked up a first.
Three kneel-downs were all that was left. The Packers had secured a 9-3 record. The Patriots had fallen to 9-3.
1. Patriots Unable to Hit Home: Rodgers finished 24-of-38 passing with 368 yards and two touchdowns through the air, yet Green Bay’s No. 12 also made the most of it on the ground, scrambling five times for 22 yards. Though he was sacked three times for 22 yards, his comfort in the pocket – and out of it – was not conducive to New England’s defense stopping him. He bought time, extending plays while keeping his eyes down the field, and he distributed the ball to eight different recipients. And while right defensive end Akeem Ayers, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive end Chris Jones were able to get home for sacks – Ayers’ was negated due to a penalty – there was a lack of consistent pressure from the front seven. Rodgers waited to find his spots, and it was the first time the defensive line across from him looked like it was waiting for pass-rusher Chandler Jones to return. But if there was a silver lining to the lack of heat, the defense was able to hold the Packers 0-for-4 in the red zone.
2. Adams, Cobb Isolate: Credit to Rodgers for finding the open man. And quite often, the open man was rookie No. 3 receiver Davante Adams, who started against cornerback Logan Ryan, then Kyle Arrington, then Alfonzo Dennard and then Revis. The second-rounder caught six passes and led the Packers with 121 receiving yards, all while drawing multiple targets down near the red zone. His element added a dynamic to the Green Bay passing attack, yet the same could also be said of Randall Cobb. The wide receiver’s versatility left him generating favorable matchups as the flanker, as the slot receiver, and as the interim halfback. Cobb caught seven passes for 85 yards and carried the ball twice for eight yards Sunday, but the 5-foot-10, 192-pound Kentucky Wildcat isolated himself with Ninkovich out of the backfield as well.
3. Packers Power to Start, Finish: Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy posted 21 carries for 98 yards, and added two catches out of the backfield for 17 yards. But the Alabama product’s influence was perhaps most visible on the game’s first three plays from scrimmage, as he netted a 12-yard catch in the flats, a 13-yard run off the right end, and a 24-yard run off the left end. With Hightower, as well as defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Alan Branch, New England was able to close down the inside lanes, but the Packers returned to acquire lucrative gains on the ground in the fourth. In all, the offense acquired six first downs on the ground, aiding a 10-of-17 overall conversion rate on third down.
4. Offensive Uncertainty for New England: The Patriots began the game in a two-back set with Bolden and Shane Vereen, yet the offense was quick to change identity with LeGarrette Blount and a power set behind a six-man offensive line with eligible tight end Marcus Cannon. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Co. continued to shift over the duration, as Bolden finished with three carries for 17 yards and his first score of the year, Blount finished with 10 carries for 58 yards, and Shane Vereen finished with three carries for six yards as well as one catch on a wheel route for 26 yards. All the while, however, Jonas Gray – two weeks removed from 201 yards and four scores – finished with one carry for four yards. It was hard to tell where the Patriots wanted to go via ground, and it was hard to tell which runner would get them there. The Packers headed into the game with a 30th-ranked run defense, but the Patriots ran the ball just 17 times for 85 yards. Trailing early was a factor in that.
5. Injuries Resonate: The run game wasn’t the lone uncertainty for the Patriots. Active for the first time since Week 6, 2013 second-round receiver Aaron Dobson limped off the field following a target and was ruled out with a hamstring injury. Fellow receiver Julian Edelman also hobbled off with a thigh injury – after being listed as probable with a thigh issue – but did return after being ruled questionable to do so. Hightower and strong safety Patrick Chung were also impacted by ailments in Green Bay.
Time will tell how long the impact remains.