FOXBOROUGH — A defensive struggle. Just like everyone thought.
OK, maybe not. After all, 48 points were scored Sunday night.
But the video game-like numbers that were predicted never materialized as the Patriots’ defense stiffened at the right times in a 31-17 win over the Packers before the liveliest crowd of the season at Gillette Stadium.
There were some gaudy numbers achieved, as Tom Brady became the first player in the NFL history to crack 80,000 combined passing, rushing, and receiving yards — that’s regular season and postseason.
The fourth-quarter fireworks show that most prognosticators predicted ended up being all sizzle for the Patriots and all fizzle for the Packers.
Deadlocked at 17-17 early in the final period, the Patriots erupted for 14 straight points that were sparked by their opportunistic defense.
With the Packers on the move and the faithful starting to fret, Lawrence Guy stepped into running back Aaron Jones and separated the running back from the ball. It squirted forward and was smothered by Stephon Gilmore.
“That was big, that was really big. Lawrence made a great play on the ball,’’ said Gilmore. “I happened to get on it and cover it up and they were trying to take it from me in the pile — that was a great play.’’
The Patriots, who have at least one turnover in every game this season, responded with a 10-play, 76-yard drive that James White capped with his second touchdown run of the night.
The journey was highlighted by Julian Edelman’s 37-yard pass to White.
As Aaron Rodgers buckled his chinstrap to lead the Packers on a equalizing drive, the Patriots defense buckled down. Again.
Brian Flores’s crew forced a quick three-and-out and Josh McDaniels’s charges fed off the momentum.
The Patriots needed just three plays to move 72 yards with Brady connecting with Josh Gordon on a 55-yard touchdown pass to give the hosts a 31-17 lead.
Rodgers again had a chance to get his club back within striking distance, but again the rejuvenated New England night watchers defended their wall, stopping the Pack in their tracks on a fourth and 4.
“They made the key plays at the end there and we obviously didn’t in the fourth quarter,’’ said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who called the fumble the “turning point” in the game.
With the ball back in Brady’s hands, the NFL’s most prolific offensive performer went about salting away a victory with visions of Cheeseheads streaking for the exits.
The Patriots came out at warp speed, putting together a 10-play, 59-yard, no-huddle drive to land the first punch on the chin to their visitors from the Midwest.
Exclusively using 11 personnel (1 back, 1 tight end, 3 receivers) on the march, the Patriots featured a heavy dose of James White, who had six touches on the drive.
White fittingly capped the drive with and 8-yard untouched scamper around left end.
Aaron Rodgers completed 24 of 43 passes for 259 yards but was just 3 of 8 for 39 yards in the fourth quarter when the Patriots’ pass rush really brought the heat and finally sacked him.
“I thought our front did a good job of rushing him . . . He’s just so hard to get,’’ said Bill Belichick, who praised Rodgers’s elusiveness all week. “It looks like we had him on a lot of plays, to be honest with you. He’s just so good.’’
Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn combined to finally get Rodgers on his fanny.
“It was fun, our whole defense was clicking and we had a big turnover,’’ said Clayborn. “We just had it going. We just had to close the pocket as much as possible and to get him to throw off the back of his toes and get him down.’’
Stephon Gilmore matched up a majority of the game with the Packers’ top receiver and pretty much blanketed him. Davante Adams, who said last week he didn’t “feel like anyone can guard me right now,’’ finished with six catches for 40 yards.
Gilmore, who broke up a pass to Adams in the end zone in the first quarter, said he heard about the receiver’s comments and used them as fuel.
“He was pretty good, but I was going to play my game regardless,’’ said Gilmore. “I didn’t like what he said earlier in the week and I kind of took it personally.”
REVERSAL OF FORTUNE
The Patriots appeared to take a 24-17 lead in the third quarter after Cordarrelle Patterson looked like he crashed over from the 1-yard line. However, upon further review, the ball never cracked the plane and the Patriots never really recovered.
They failed four times to get in the end zone, the final play a Brady pass that fell incomplete in the end zone after Josh Gordon fell down.
It was a tremendous defensive stand, but the Packers weren’t able to seize any momentum from it.
“That was good football there,’’ said McCarthy.
BEST BACKUP BLOCK
Kenjon Barner didn’t get a lot of touches (one carry, 4 yards), but the second-string tailback landed one of the best blocks of the night.
The 5-foot-9-inch, 195-pounder stepped into the A gap and into blitzing Packers linebacker Nick Perry, stopping the 6-3, 265-pounder dead in his tracks and allowing Tom Brady the split second he needed to complete a pass to James Develin.
“It’s fight or flight,’’ said Barner. “Obviously I’m not a big guy, so most guys probably look at me like they’re going to run me over, but it doesn’t matter how you get it done as long as you get it done. My job is to keep 12 on his feet and fortunately I did that.’’
SLAP IN THE FACE
Packers safety Jermaine Whitehead was ejected late in the first half after slapping Patriots center David Andrews across the helmet.
After hitting Andrews, Whitehead was hit with the 15-yard personal foul penalty and then after a long conference among the officials, was shown the door.
It was an inexcusable loss of temper by the Green Bay starter but the punishment didn’t fit the crime. Yes, Whitehead should have been flagged. No, he should not have been banned.
Whitehead’s ejection left the Packers without both of their normal starting safeties. Ha-Ha Clinton Dix was traded last week.
TRICK WAS A TREAT
The double pass from Tom Brady to Julian Edelman to James White was a “perfect call,” according to White.
Edelman (you may have heard he played quarterback in college) took the backward pass from Brady before sending a pretty tight spiral across to White for his first regular-season pass attempt.
White cradled it and darted through a maze of blockers and defenders before getting tripped up at the 1. He eventually scored.
“It was just a great play call at the right time. I just have to try and score the next time,’’ White said with a laugh.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“[Our momentum] stalled after that. A big part of it was that fumble. It was my fault,’’ Packers running back Aaron Jones on his fourth-quarter fumble.
The Packers lost Bryan Bulaga after the starting right tackle injured his knee in the first half. It’s unknown when he was injured but he was on the receiving end of a hard-charging hit from Trey Flowers that sent him reeling backward. Green Bay also lost cornerback Kevin King to a hamstring injury.
The Patriots will be catching the Titans on a short week as Tennessee faces Dallas on “Monday Night Football.”
They might not receive a lot of Southern hospitality but they sure will see a lot of familiar faces in Nashville.
The 3-4 Titans are coached by former New England linebacker and occasional touchdown-scoring tight end Mike Vrabel and feature ex-Patriots Dion Lewis on offense and Malcolm Butler on defense.
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.