GREEN BAY, Wis. — Only the Legend of Bill Belichick could be enhanced in a loss.
The Patriots’ 27-24 overtime loss to the Green Bay Packers had all the markings of a Bill Belichick masterclass and masterpiece. Down to his third-string quarterback, facing one of the most decorated quarterbacks in NFL history, coaching in a stadium dripping with pro football history, Belichick was outsmarting and outmaneuvering the Packers. He gave his team an edge — and a chance — against all odds.
The Patriots had no business being in this game and nearly won it because of their sideline seer.
In the end, it was all for naught because Aaron Rodgers is what Belichick used to brandish, a game-changing, generational quarterback. Boxed in and embarrassed in the worst first half of his career (4 of 11 for 44 yards with an interception for a touchdown), Rodgers — aided by Green Bay’s ground game — negated a brilliant coaching performance from Belichick.
If ever there was irrefutable evidence for why Tom Brady was the more important piece of The Dynasty it was Sunday at the Football Fenway Park.
“In the end, Aaron Rodgers was just too good,” said Belichick. “He made some throws that only Rodgers could make. We had pretty good coverage on some of those. He’s just too smart, too good, too accurate.”
This unforeseen barnburner was the Patriots’ first trip to this storied stadium since 2014, and it brought out vintage Belichick — like Michael Jordan bringing his ‘A’ game for Madison Square Garden.
With Mac Jones out with a high ankle sprain, Patriots Nation turned its lonely eyes to nomadic backup quarterback Brian Hoyer — briefly. Hoyer completed 5 of 6 passes and led the Patriots to a field goal on their opening possession. But his return to starting was short-lived. He was knocked out of the game with a head injury by a Rashan Gary sack on the second possession.
(It continued Hoyer’s horrible luck. He entered losing his last 11 starts and 13 of 14. The last time he started a game here in 2016 he broke his left arm.)
Rookie Bailey Zappe was pressed into inopportune action. Like the aura of hallowed Lambeau Field, it felt like New England’s chances were history.
Somehow, in a piece of Belichickian mastery, the Patriots found themselves banging on the door of ending Green Bay’s 14-game home winning streak.
“You can say what you want about Bill Belichick. He’s the best coach that has ever coached,” said longest-tenured Patriot Matthew Slater. “I mean his résumé speaks for itself.
“As soon as people want to get back and start firing their shots, there is a reason they’re doing that. There is a reason they fire shots at him. You don’t fire at JAGs. You fire them at the GOAT.”
This was a Belichickian work of art, especially given the Lambeau tableau.
Belichick nearly took down the two-time reigning NFL MVP with a QB the rest of the country had never heard ofwhile making Rodgers look like a mediocre mortal for 30 minutes.
It was reminiscent of past genius-level game plans he unfurled to give outmanned teams a chance or a win — 2008 in Indianapolis with Matt Cassel vs. Peyton Manning, the 2018 AFC title game against the Kansas City Chiefs, and last season’s embarrassment of the Buffalo Bills on a windy night.
Even when Rodgers was on the money, throwing an apparent 40-yard touchdown pass to rookie Romeo Doubs with 2:02 left, the ball was dropped by the rookie as he went to the Unfrozen Tundra as if willed by Belichick.
Maybe the Hoodie’s Horseshoe is back in circulation after being seemingly buried in the recesses of Fort Foxborough.
That drop set up overtime in this see-saw affair.
The Fightin’ Belichicks enjoyed a 3-point halftime advantage after rookie Jack Jones, starting for injured top corner Jalen Mills, returned an interception 40 yards for a score with 13 seconds left in the first half.
CBS flashed that it was only the second A-Rod interception returned for a touchdown at Lambeau in 3,511 pass attempts.
Score one for Belichick against a famed No. 12. He loves those victories.
It was the capper to a horrendous half for Rodgers that produced a QB rating (11.2) lower than his jersey number.
However, Rodgers rediscovered his touch, finishing 21 of 35 for 251 yards with two TD passes.
Meanwhile, the Patriots perfectly managed the rookie from Western Kentucky, Zappe (10 of 15, 99 yards and a TD). They insulated him with a rollicking run game (33 carries for 167 yards and a TD) and play-action. The Packers had zero answers for the combo, a weakness exploited ad nauseam.
Zappe’s first career touchdown pass, a 25-yarder to DeVante Parker that put the Patriots up, 17-14, came via play-action that created a coverage bust.
Frank Zappa could’ve thrown it.
Packers fans will hear the spine-shivering chorus of “No. 61 is eligible” in their sleep. It was the soundtrack of getting beat repeatedly strategically by the maestro Belichick and physically by tackle-eligible Marcus Cannon.
Belichick was on his game-management game, too. He alertly called a timeout when his defense was about to be caught with 12 men on the field on fourth and 3 at their 20, which would’ve handed Rodgers and Co., a free first down.
Instead, the Pack had to settle for a 38-yard field goal that tied the game, 17-17, with five seconds left in the third quarter.
Belichick and de facto offensive coordinator Matt Patricia pantsed Packers defensive coordinator Joe Barry on the next drive to seize a 24-17 lead. The seven-play drive featured six consecutive plays with Cannon (No. 61) as a tackle-eligible/tight end.
However, Belichick’s brilliance and luck ran out in OT when Zappe’s limitations became spotlighted as night fell on Lambeau, and Rodgers and the Green Bay ground game (35 rushes for 199 yards) got too many chances.
That robbed Belichick of the best tie he would’ve ever worn. It prevented him from claiming a victory that would’ve been his version of Harvard “beats” Yale, 29-29, in 1968.
In the NFL, an all-time quarterback is a card that trumps the best hand of even the best head coach.