FOXBOROUGH — Instant Analysis from the Patriots’ 31-17 win over the Packers:
■ Conflicting emotions about the Patriots’ performance. On one hand, a win is a win, and this could be considered a good win considering that they did it without Rob Gronkowski and Sony Michel, two of their biggest offensive weapons. They had to rely on no-huddle and some gimmick plays just to move the ball, and handed the ball off to Julian Edelman late in the game to seal it.
On the other hand, the Patriots let the Packers hang around far too long. They had trouble punching the ball into the end zone from inside the 10, had some questionable play-calling along the goal line, and were facing a Packers team that was also hurt badly by injuries, especially on defense.
But the game gets chalked up in the “W” column, and the Patriots’ record says 7-2, so ultimately that’s all that matters.
■ The Packers also gave the game away. The roughing-the-punter penalty by Green Bay’s Robert Tonyan on Ryan Allen was questionable, but the Packers never should have put themselves in that position. The penalty gave the Patriots a fresh set of downs, and allowed them to milk some time off the clock. Packers running back Aaron Jones also fumbled away a golden opportunity at the beginning of the fourth quarter, coughing up the ball deep in Patriots’ territory. Nice play by Lawrence Guy, an unheralded member of the defense, to punch it free.
■ Tom Brady did not look comfortable all night. Obviously, he missed having Gronk open up the field for the other receivers, especially in the red zone, where the Patriots struggled all night. Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine also deserves a lot of credit for making Brady uncomfortable in the pocket and giving him happy feet on a lot of his throws. The Packers rarely blitzed, and when they did, they seemed to get free shots on Brady. At one point in the second half Brady missed six consecutive throws, and on the ill-fated series along the goal line, he missed an open Chris Hogan in the end zone, throwing it way too late.
The offensive line likely deserves some of the blame, too. Ted Karras, playing right guard for Shaq Mason, whiffed badly on one sack. And there were communication issues on Antonio Morrison’s sack.
Brady’s final numbers look OK — 22 of 35, 294 yards, one touchdown — but 26 of his 34 targets went to Josh Gordon, James White, and Edelman. Brady’s touchdown to Gordon midway through the fourth quarter was his first TD pass since the fourth quarter of the Bears game two weeks ago.
■ In fact, the whole Brady-Aaron Rodgers duel was a bit of a dud. Rodgers was OK, completing 24 of 43 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns, and he had a beautiful 51-yarder down the seam to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. But he didn’t look like his usual dynamic self with the scrambling and improvising and acrobatic throws. The Patriots’ defense deserves credit for containing Rodgers and not letting him run wild, but he clearly looked affected by his knee injury, even though he wasn’t wearing a brace for the first time since Week 1. Rodgers probably missed one of his top receivers, Geronimo Allison, as well.
■ Cordarrelle Patterson gets a game ball for stepping up as a running back. He rushed for 51 yards on his first five carries, ripping off runs of 11, 10, 17, 8, and 5 yards, and running with great vision, speed, and power. He slowed down in the second half, rushing five times for 9 yards, but Patterson gave the Patriots a semi-credible rushing threat and a semblance of offensive balance.
■ White also gets a game ball for toughing it out in the second half. He suffered some sort of left leg injury in the first half and was flexing his leg on the sideline for much of the night. But the Patriots were thin at running back and needed him, and White stepped up for his team. He took six handoffs in the second half (12 total), and he finished the game with 19 touches for 103 yards and two rushing touchdowns. White now has 10 touchdowns to lead the Patriots, and has arguably been the team’s MVP. Playing hurt on Sunday night adds to his résumé.
■ Usually not one to criticize play-calling too much — we have no idea the dozens of variables and situations running through Josh McDaniels’s head on each play — but he got too cute along the goal line in the third quarter, calling passes on third and fourth down from the half-yard line. At least one of those plays should have been a run, even though the Patriots didn’t have a traditional “goal line” running back available. And McDaniels knew it, because the next time the Patriots got down to the goal line, he handed the ball to White three straight times, and the third try was finally successful.
■ And you’ve got to love the call of the double pass in the fourth quarter. The Patriots were struggling to move the ball, but Edelman’s 37-yarder to White midway through the fourth quarter set up the winning score. When you’re shorthanded with personnel, you have to get creative, and no one does that better than McDaniels.
■ Gordon does things that no other Patriots receiver can do. That jump-ball catch in the first half, and 55-yard catch-and-run in the second half, were special plays. That 15-yard slant pass in traffic to gain a crucial first down at the end was also a heck of a catch.
■ Adrian Clayborn, who has mostly been a disappointment, finally played his best game of the season. He had half a sack, two quarterback hits, and a forced fumble, and seemed to be flying around the field.
■ The Patriots had some substitution issues that need to get cleaned up. They got busted once for having 12 men on the field, and almost got dinged a second time, but Duron Harmon sprinted off the field. We never expect to see that from a Bill Belichick-coached team.