Starting in place of Aaron Rodgers (concussion), Flynn threw three touchdown passes but the Packers lost 31-27. Green Bay has lost two straight and three of its last four to fall to 8-6.
Trailing by four, the Packers got the ball at their 43-yard line with 4:21 remaining. Flynn got a reprieve when an interception into double coverage was nullified by a penalty. Flynn snuck for a first down and hit Donald Driver for 5 yards for another first down to the Patriots' 24, with a timeout with 1:05 to play.
On first down, Flynn was sacked for an 8-yard loss, and coach Mike McCarthy called the Packers' final timeout with 53 seconds remaining. After a 7-yard completion to James Jones, Flynn hit Driver for 10 yards to the 15-yard line with 24 seconds to go.
It was fourth-and-1, so Flynn couldn't sprint to the line and spike the ball and it took far too long for him to get the play and get the offense lined up. Finally, the ball was snapped with about 5 seconds to go. Tully Banta-Cain rushed upfield against right tackle Bryan Bulaga. When Flynn stepped up in the pocket, Banta-Cain spun away from Bulaga and dropped Flynn as time expired.
With Flynn starting, McCarthy was anything but conservative. He called for an onside kick on the opening kickoff, which was recovered by Nick Collins and helped the Packers take a 3-0 lead.
Flynn was shaky early, especially against the Patriots' pressure, but he got into a groove starting with the first play of the second quarter. On third-and-7, Flynn hit Jones deep, and when cornerback Devin McCourty and safety Brandon Meriweather collided, Jones was on his way for a 66-yard touchdown and a 10-7 lead.
It became 17-7 when Flynn converted four third-down plays on passes, the last of which a 13-yard screen to fullback John Kuhn on third-and-10 from the Patriots' 15. On first-and-goal, Flynn hit Greg Jennings for a touchdown against cornerback Kyle Arrington with 2:17 to go until halftime.
But Patriots offensive lineman Dan Connolly shockingly returned a squib kick 71 yards to the 4. He was barely touched while juking past safety Charlie Peprah and later stiff-arming Peprah. That set up the first of Tom Brady's two touchdown passes to rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez.
The Patriots made another big play to open the second half. On third-and-3, Flynn was looking to Jones but safety Patrick Chung got in the way of Jones' route, and Flynn's pass went right to Arrington, who broke four tackles on the way for a touchdown that put New England on top 21-17.
Flynn responded with a 13-play scoring drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kuhn, who juked two defenders on the third-and-5 play to put Green Bay back in front 24-21.
The key sequence might have come on the next drive. After B.J. Raji's second sack of the night forced a three-and-out punt, the Packers took possession at their 46 with 3:59 to go in the third quarter. Kuhn converted another third down with surprisingly nimble feet, juking past two defenders to turn a third-and-6 into a first-and-goal at the 2. But Kuhn netted no yards on two runs and Flynn had to throw it away on third-and-goal, so the Packers had to settle for a 19-yard field goal to extend the lead to 27-21 with 13:49 remaining.
The lumbering kickoff return was a huge play, but who's to say Tom Brady doesn't lead a touchdown drive in a two-minute drill, anyway. No, the huge play was on the opening possession of the third quarter. The Packers, who were 6-of-9 on third down during the first half, faced a third-and-3. The Packers got unlucky, with safety Patrick Chung knocking James Jones off his route while chasing Jordy Nelson. Matt Flynn threw the pass to where he thought Jones would be but the only player in the area was cornerback Kyle Arrington, who scored on a 36-yard return in which he broke tackle attempts from Jones, Flynn, Nelson and Brett Swain.
Flynn was brilliant, completing 24-of-37 passes for 251 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. So much for that blowout that even many diehard Packers fans expected.
Six: Consecutive games the Patriots have gone without a turnover, extending their NFL record. That was the difference on a night when Flynn threw a pick-six and fumbled on the game's final play.
Coach Mike McCarthy, on his team's performance as a 14.5-point underdog: "I don't care what you guys think. We came here to win. We're nobody's underdog. We are 8-6. So, we need to get ready for the Giants and we need to get our ninth win. That's the focus of our football team."
The Detroit Lions stunned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in overtime, 23-20, doing the Packers a huge favor by knocking off one of the NFC wild-card contenders. NFC North-leading Chicago plays at Minnesota on Monday night.
The other things you might have missed
-- Safety Nick Collins exited in the second quarter with injured ribs. X-rays were negative. Charlie Peprah and Atari Bigby were the safeties without Collins. Tight end Tom Crabtree (knee bruise) and linebacker Diyral Briggs (ankle) also did not return.
-- The Packers frequently lined up in their dime defense, with inside linebacker Desmond Bishop replacing new starter Erik Walden at outside linebacker. Jarrett Bush was the sixth defensive back.
-- Tom Brady broke Bernie Kosar's single-season streak without an interception, 292 attempts and counting. However, the Packers missed four chances for picks: Charles Woodson dropped an easy one on the Patriots' first drive, and New England made the Packers pay by scoring a touchdown. Later in the first quarter, Sam Shields had a chance but it came on a long third-down pass and probably was just as well that he didn't make the play. The two others came in the fourth quarter: Walden dove for a batted ball but couldn't make the play. New England scored a field goal on that drive. And on a third down on the Patriots' final possession, A.J. Hawk batted a Brady pass but got knocked to the turf by a lineman to prevent the interception.
-- On lineman Dan Connolly's stunning, 71-yard kickoff return, Peprah took the blame by going for the strip rather than the tackle. Kicker Mason Crosby was blocked in the back and sent flying out of bounds at about the 15-yard line but no flag was thrown.
-- Thanks in part to the game-opening onside kick, the Packers hogged the ball for 40 minutes, 48 seconds.
-- New England entered the game with the worst third-down defense in the league, and the Packers did just what they hoped to do by converting 11-of-19 (58 percent).
-- Greg Jennings topped 1,000 receiving yards. His 1,026 yards for the season mark his third consecutive 1,000-yard season, and his 12 touchdowns matched his career high (2007) and gave him 40 for his career.
-- Brandon Jackson rushed for 99 yards on 22 attempts, John Kuhn added six for 21 and Dimitri Nance six for 11.
-- Speaking of running backs, rookie James Starks was inactive, as were Aaron Rodgers (concussion), Pat Lee (ankle), Josh Gordy, Frank Zombo (knee), Marshall Newhouse, Nick McDonald and Cullen Jenkins (calf).
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.