It wasn’t a fair fight.
Bashaud Breeland made his season debut Sunday night and all the cornerback was asked to do was scrap with Josh Gordon. Welcome to the Packers. Now go out and try to put the wraps on Gordon while the country watches in prime time.
Breeland got picked on plenty (some solace: he wasn’t the only one) as Gordon delivered body blow after body blow to a depleted and eventually defeated Packers secondary. Gordon had his most productive day as a Patriot, collecting five catches for 130 yards and a touchdown.
Gordon’s exceptional size (6 feet 3 inches, 230 pounds), speed, strength, and ability to shield opponents from the ball make him a scary matchup for any defender.
In addition to his physical skills, Gordon showed his toughness Sunday night, playing most of the second half after dislocating a finger on a third quarter catch. According to Gordon, he “popped it back into place a couple of times during the game — it’s fine.’’
Things started slow for Gordon, who went catchless on a pair of targets in the first quarter. On the first, the was double covered by Breeland and Tramon Williams and couldn’t get under Tom Brady’s deep ball. On the second, the timing was off as he was jostled by Jaire Alexander.
To open the second quarter, Gordon beat Breeland down the left sideline and out-jumped him for a 29-yard reception.
Breeland tried to slow Gordon with a stiff arm to the chest at the line but the receiver was nonplussed. He steamed by him and made the catch before safety help arrived.
Gordon made his most acrobatic play of the night on New England’s next possession but it didn’t count. Gordon drew Kevin King in single coverage and made another leaping catch at the sideline but it was ruled his second foot came down just a smidgen out of bounds.
If the game had been on the line at that point, it probably would have warranted a review.
On the second play of New England’s initial second-half drive, Gordon flashed one of his patented moves. He threw a little inside juke step on Breeland and ran a slant across the middle. He caught Brady’s laser in stride before Breeland brought him down after a 17-yard gain.
This was the play Gordon jammed his finger on. He left briefly, returned, then left briefly again after an incompletion. This was the drive on which Cordarrelle Patterson’s apparent touchdown was overturned and it ultimately ended when Gordon fell in the end zone on fourth-and-1 target.
Gordon saved his best for last, making a pair of fourth-quarter catches that helped ice the game for the home team.
The offense, seizing on the momentum provided by the defense’s third-down sack of Aaron Rodgers, took just three plays to score.
Running the no huddle, the Patriots flashed a familiar look that fooled the Packers into thinking they were running a bubble screen.
Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, and Gordon all lined up left. At the snap, Hogan stepped back, Edelman went to the flat, and Gordon snuck up the sideline. Brady quickly looked to Hogan drawing the defenders up, before firing to a streaking Gordon, who was left uncovered. He caught it and sidestepped the late-arriving safety Williams before heading to the end zone.
In added piece of deception, Edelman, who was running parallel to Gordon feigned as though he was the target, slightly freezing another Packer defender.
“Ooooh that Tom Brady is a sneaky little devil,’’ was how Cris Collinsworth described the play on the broadcast.
For his final catch, Gordon was in as the sole receiver in what looked like an obvious run formation (three tight ends, one back) as the Patriots looked to run out the clock.
Instead, Gordon beat Josh Jones on another inside slant for a 15-yard gain. It was the final pass as the Patriots then kept it on the ground until the final whistle.
On a night when the Patriots were missing go-to guys Rob Gronkowski and Sony Michel, Gordon showed plenty of fight and the Packers could land very few counterpunches.
Upon further film review, here are some other things that stood out as the 7-2 Patriots ran their winning streak to six.
■ Tricks of the trade.
Josh McDaniels dug into his bag of tricks a couple of times — perfect times, actually — as the Patriots pulled off a flea-flicker in the second quarter and a double pass in the fourth.
On the flea-flicker, James White gave new meaning to the phrase “delayed handoff.’’ After getting the ball from Brady, White sold the run for an extra second or two before turning and shoveling it back to his quarterback. This gave Edelman time to streak across the field uncovered for the 33-yard gain.
The same trio connected again in the fourth quarter.
This time Brady faked a handoff to White and instead lateralled to Edelman. The former college QB then placed an on-the-money toss to White, who had a convoy of blockers (including Brady) in front of him that would have made the Bandit jealous.
“You get out in space, I have no idea what the hell’s going on,’’ Brady joked about his lead-blocking ability.
“We saw that type of stuff on film,’’ said Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels. “That’s what they do, they know that we are prepared for it and then they lull us to sleep just playing regular football. Then all of the sudden they throw one out on us and we got caught.’’
■ Turnover time.
Lawrence Guy — perhaps the most underrated guy on this defense — made the momentum changing play of the night with his backside hustle.
As Packers running back Aaron Jones knifed through a hole at the line, Guy disengaged from Jason Spriggs’s block and pursued Jones, diving in from the side and knocking the ball free and into Stephon Gilmore’s clutches.
The turnover came just eight seconds into the fourth quarter and sucked the life out of the Packers, who then gave up 14 straight points and never threatened on offense again.
■ Sack lunch.
The final nail in the Packers’ coffin was hammered home by Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn, who finally put Rodgers on his backside on a third down after the Patriots had seized a 24-17 lead.
The Patriots applied good pressure on Rodgers all night, actually landing six hits on the deceptively elusive QB but wasn’t until Flowers and Clayborn teamed up that it counted.
Flowers just bull rushed guard Lane Taylor up the middle while Clayborn looped around into the open lane created by Flowers. They arrived in Rodgers’s face at the same time.