In a battle between two of the hottest teams and best quarterbacks in the NFL, the Packers won for the eighth time in nine games as quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 368 yards and two touchdowns.
Needing a touchdown on a possession that started with 8:35 remaining, Patriots coach Bill Belichick rolled the dice on fourth-and-3 near midfield. The Packers rushed six but quarterback Tom Brady hit receiver Julian Edelman for a gain of 5. Then, on third-and-7, Brady connected with tight end Rob Gronkowski for 10. LaGarrette Blount then thundered for 12 to the Packers’ 21.
Green Bay’s defense held, though. Brady almost hit Gronkowski for a touchdown, but safety HaHa Clinton-Dix ripped the ball loose as both players tumbled to the ground in the end zone. That set up third-and-9, with linebacker Mike Neal and defensive tackle Mike Daniels combining for the sack. Stephen Gronkowski missed a 47-yard field goal with 2:40 remaining.
New England, with two timeouts and the two-minute warning, needed a stand to give Brady one more chance. However, on third-and-5, Rodgers threaded a ball to receiver Randall Cobb for a gain of 7 against tight coverage from cornerback Kyle Arrington and safety Devin McCourty for 7 yards and the first down to clinch the game.
The Packers, Eagles and Cardinals are all 9-3 and atop the NFC.
New England (9-3), which had blown out first-place teams the past three weeks, had its seven-game winning streak snapped. Brady threw for 245 yards.
The Patriots pulled within 23-21 with 13:51 remaining in the game. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Blount converted a third-and-1 with a leg-churning, pile-moving 12 yard run. He followed that with a hard-charging 13-yard run to the 15, which set up Brady’s play-action touchdown to Brandon LaFell.
The Packers appeared to have the answer. However, on third-and-5 from the 10, receiver Davante Adams beat cornerback Logan Ryan but dropped a perfect pass for what should have been an easy touchdown. Green Bay settled for Mason Crosby’s 28-yard field goal to lead 26-21 with 8:41 remaining.
In a key moment before halftime, Rodgers completed a 45-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson to give the Packers a 23-14 lead. The play came on third-and-2, with Nelson running a slant against cornerback Darrelle Revis and catching the ball at the 35. Cobb blocked Revis at the 25 and Nelson beat McCourty to the end zone, with Nelson extending the ball and hitting the pylon just before going out of bounds.
It was a huge play given Green Bay’s problems when in scoring position. The Packers scored on their first four possessions but led only 16-14 because they went 0-for-3 in the red zone. Runs of 13 and 24 yards by Lacy set up Mason Crosby’s 32-yard field goal to open the scoring. Rodgers’ 33-yard completion to Adams set up Crosby’s 35-yard field goal to make it 6-0.
Green Bay extended the lead to 13-0 on Rodgers’ 32-yard touchdown pass to tight end Richard Rodgers just before the end of the first quarter. Aaron Rodgers pumped to his right, then threw across the field to Richard Rodgers, who caught the ball at the 2 against safety Patrick Chung.
New England got on the board on Brandon Bolden’s back-to-back runs of 12 yards and 6 yards for the score. He entered the game with 15 carries for 25 yards with a long run of 8.
The Packers had to settle for another red zone field goal on a drive in which Randall Cobb had four receptions, including a 33-yarder and a third-and-12 conversion to the Patriots’ 8. Dont’a Hightower came in almost untouched on an A-gap blitz to drop Rodgers on third-and-goal from the 6.
New England capitalized with a touchdown to cut the deficit to 16-14 with 1:09 to go in the half. Brady hit running back Shane Vereen for 26 yards to the 20 and Gronkowski on a punishing third-down conversion to the 2 before hitting LaFell for a 2-yard touchdown on third down.
The Packers had 347 yards at halftime, including 273 through the air. The Patriots had allowed that many passing yards only twice all season.
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