Flynn is a starter
Matt Flynn missed on several opportunities that could have won the Detroit game, but with a full week of practice under his belt, Flynn looked much more polished and sure of himself against the Patriots.
Flynn completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 251 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
Where quarterbacks make their money — and show that they are legit NFL starters — is on third down. Starting with his 66-yard touchdown pass to James Jones on third-and-7 to open the second quarter, Flynn completed 9-of-12 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns on third down. The first eight of those completions moved the chains, including a 6-yard touchdown to Kuhn.
"I don't know that we learned anything," quarterbacks coach Tom Clements said. "I think it just confirmed our belief that he would be able to do well when he had the chance. It's a credit to him. I think it confirmed what we thought we had — we had a guy who was a competitor, who could make some plays, and could manage the team and run the team well."
The only statistical blemish on third down was Flynn's pick-six to Kyle Arrington. That one was out of Flynn's hands, with a defender who was running to cover Jordy Nelson impeding Jones' path and resulting in an easy interception.
"I think you've got to keep running, run into the guy and maybe there might be illegal conduct or something," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said of Jones. "You can't quite stop like that, I don't think."
Defense, then criticism
Leaping tall players in a single bound ...
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With that said, why did John Kuhn disappear from the offense for a few games and why hasn't he consistently been a bigger part of the game plan? Ever since Ryan Grant went down, Kuhn had provided a boost as a change-of-pace runner. While the frequently indecisive Brandon Jackson has run hot or cold, Kuhn has been providing consistent production all season.
After carrying 13 times for 50 yards against Dallas, the Packers came out of their bye and didn't give the ball to Kuhn at Minnesota. In the loss to Atlanta, Kuhn had no carries and one reception. McCarthy rediscovered Kuhn briefly, with six move-the-chains carries against San Francisco, but in the 7-3 loss at Detroit, Kuhn had no carries and one reception.
Against New England, Kuhn was superb, with six carries for 21 yards and three receptions for 27 yards and a touchdown. Kuhn isn't fast and he's not quick, but the Patriots had no answers for him in the open field. The only thing Kuhn couldn't do was punch it in on two carries near the goal line in the fourth quarter, though Philbin chalked that up to poor execution.
Good isn't good enough
Considering the Patriots led the NFL in scoring and were averaging almost 40 points per game during their five-game winning streak, defensive coordinator Dom Capers was relatively happy with his unit's performance.
"I didn't like the way we played the first series," he said. "After that, I liked the way we played the rest of the half and I liked better the way we played the second half. The no-huddle, hurry-up tempo got us on a couple of plays (on the Patriots' winning touchdown drive). We had four three-and-outs and one four-play-and-out series in a nine-series game."
With that said, Capers could only lament missed opportunities. Charles Woodson dropped an interception on the first series, with the Patriots turning that drive into a touchdown. On the first drive of the second quarter, Desmond Bishop blew through untouched on a blitz and sacked Tom Brady, knocking the ball loose. Brady recovered; had the Packers pounced on the ball, they would have the ball at the New England 20-yard line. Early in the fourth quarter, Brady's pass fluttered in the air but it dropped through Erik Walden's hands. On the next play, the Patriots kicked a field goal to narrow the deficit to 27-24.
"When you're playing against a team like the Patriots, we've got to find a way to come up with two or three of those balls (and) it's a different game," Capers said.
Packers will make playoffs
The Packers are 8-6. They've lost three of their last four games and been ravaged by injuries.
Still, they will find a way to make the playoffs, with a victory next week over the Giants and over Chicago in Week 17 meaning a rematch at Chicago in the wild card round of the playoffs.
I don't know that the Giants will be suffering from a post-Philadelphia hangover. I don't know that the Bears will be playing for a first-round bye or whether the game will be meaningless.
I just know that the Packers proved something on Sunday night. The Patriots are the best team in the league but the Packers went toe-to-toe against them with their MVP-candidate quarterback wearing a stocking cap on the sideline. There are lessons to be learned from how the offense functioned so well with Flynn at quarterback. They showed they can run the ball when that's their mind-set. They showed that, when their backs are against the wall, that they'll come out fighting.
Their backs are firmly against the wall entering these final two games. Look for the Packers to come out swinging.
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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.