Flynn, making his first NFL start after Pro Bowl starter Aaron Rodgers was not cleared to return from a concussion, helped the Green Bay Packers go toe-to-toe with the Patriots, who are heavy favorites to win this year's Super Bowl. Flynn completed 24-of-37 passes for 251 yards, with three touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 100.2.
However, Flynn's chance to do what he set out to do – beat the mighty Patriots and give the Packers a huge lift in the playoff race – ended 15 yards short of his goal as the Packers fell 31-27.
Trailing by that margin, Flynn and the offense trotted onto the field needing to travel 57 yards in the final 4:22. Given a reprieve after an interception was nullified by a penalty, Flynn helped move the Packers to a first down at the Patriots' 24-yard line with 1:05 remaining.
In a battle of rookies on first down, undrafted Dane Fletcher recorded his first career sack because the Packers' first-round pick, Bryan Bulaga, blew the protection. Bulaga, the right tackle, and Josh Sitton, the right guard, blocked Tully Banta-Cain, with Fletcher going untouched on the outside past Bulaga.
"Obviously, on the last sack we took there, no disrespect, but that wasn't a real exotic blitz by them, for sure," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said.
The 8-yard loss was bad enough; that the Packers let 7 seconds tick off the clock before coach Mike McCarthy elected to bite the bullet and burn his final timeout was worse. The lack of time and timeouts would weigh heavily in the outcome.
On second-and-18, Flynn hit James Jones for 7 yards. On third-and-11, Flynn hit Driver for 10 yards. Driver was tackled with about 23 seconds remaining.
"We couldn't really tell if we got the first down or not," Flynn said. "We would have gone up and clocked the ball and had an opportunity to call a better play. But once they spotted it that way, it was fourth down and we just had to go. I don't feel like it was inexperience because I've been around the game and we work two-minute drills all the time."
Driver said it was a bad spot by the officials but the replays showed that he clearly was stopped a full yard from the first-down marker.
"If we get that (spot), we've got 15 seconds left on the clock," Driver said. "If you clock it, you still get 12, 13 seconds, you can run two plays and try to win."
Instead, with the clock tick-tick-ticking away, Flynn and the offense stood as if they were caught in a time warp. McCarthy, who calls the plays, said he had to wait to see if it was first down or fourth down before calling a play. And when he was told it was fourth down, he had to call in a play and Flynn had to relay the information to the offense.
By the time the ball was snapped, only 4 seconds remained on the clock – not close to enough time to get the first down and then get off another play.
"It takes the referee time to make a decision (on spotting the ball)," McCarthy said. "And it was a clear fourth-and-1, so you have to get up on the ball and take a shot at the end zone. I think it's a very clear situation and I think Matt operated it properly in a three-man rush and they sacked us. So, the mechanics of it, I thought, was very well done by Matt Flynn."
What wasn't done well was the execution. The Patriots rushed just three. In that situation, with the four receivers all going to the end zone, Flynn said a quarterback has "to move around and try to make something happen." Flynn stepped up in the pocket, but that allowed Banta-Cain to spin off of Bulaga and sack Flynn to end the game.
"Immediately, you can see that they're only rushing three and they're dropping everyone into the end zone and that's one of those things that usually there isn't going to be anybody open, right off the bat," Flynn said. "It's one of the things where you just have to try to work people with your eyes, try to work the defenders with your eyes and try to get them going one way and get someone else out the backdoor, but it didn't happen."
The result notwithstanding, Flynn performed admirably by going throw-for-throw against Brady, who is on course to be recognized as the best quarterback in NFL history. Twice, Flynn rallied the Packers from deficits, with touchdowns to take 10-7 and 24-21 leads.
"Well, we lost, so it has to be a losing performance," Flynn said when asked for a critique. "We did some good things offensively. We moved the ball but, when it counted, we didn't get it done."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.