Report card vs. Patriots

Packers offense, coaching receive failing grades in whipping

An insulting performance was added to two significant injuries. Perhaps affected by a sore groin that cropped up toward the end of last week, Brett Favre started the game by short-hopping an intermediate throw to an open Greg Jennings and was progressively worse before an injury to his right elbow knocked him out late in the first half.

Favre had at least four overthrows and completed only five of 15 passes for 73 yards. Left tackle Chad Clifton lost containment on linebacker Tully Banta-Cain that led to the initial wrap-up of Favre in the pocket and the fateful takedown to the ground by linebacker Tedy Bruschi. In stepped Aaron Rodgers for his long-awaited chance to play in a situation that was anything but mop-up time. He had little chance to thrive, however, with poor protection in front of him and was sacked three times with a lost fumble while connecting on just four of 12 throws for 32 yards. All of those unsightly numbers paled in comparison to the season-ending broken foot on which Rodgers played until the end. The Patriots effectively rolled their coverage to Donald Driver, who had a season-low two catches.

The line was equally dismal in run blocking. Although the emphasis from the outset was to throw the football, the offense got next to nothing with its season-worst 17 rushing attempts, finishing with 43 yards. Ahman Green had seven carries for 5 yards until late in the third quarter. In fact, Rodgers was the team's leading rusher for a stretch with two scrambles that amounted to 11 yards. Green's three-game run of 100-yard efforts just a few weeks ago seems like a distant memory. He followed up a 55-yard comedown at Minnesota with a season-low 28 yards in 13 carries Sunday. Vernand Morency was limited in his return from a two-game absence because of a back injury and toted the ball only once.

Safety Marquand Manuel and linebackers Brady Poppinga and Nick Barnett were the goats in the latest installment of the Packers' pass coverage gone bad. Manuel got turned outside in picking up Reche Caldwell flying down the middle of the field, allowing Caldwell to get open to the outside for a 54-yard touchdown grab. Manuel also allowed an 8-yard touchdown throw to Benjamin Watson on a well-placed ball by Tom Brady to the outside.

Meanwhile, all the praise Poppinga had been receiving of late for the strides he had supposedly made in coverage since a disastrous start to the season rang hollow because the Patriots picked on him with abandon with quality tight ends Watson and Daniel Graham. Poppinga made a wrong coverage read on a 36-yard play action strike from Brady to Watson in New England's first series. Brady later baited Poppinga into pass interference defending Graham in the end zone with a deep lob to set up another touchdown.

The Patriots had the last laugh on Barnett, who took an improper angle on a flare pass to running back Laurence Maroney and then was mercilessly faked out by the rookie's stop-and-go run for a 19-yard touchdown. There was no pass rush to speak of, giving Brady ample time to pick his spots on the way to a 20-for-31, 244-yard, four-touchdown effort.

The Patriots managed an average of only 3.1 yards per carry, but their reliance on chipping away with 40 attempts on the ground served a dual purpose. They were able to prey on the Packers' overzealousness with the play-action pass. Plus, for as much damage as New England caused through the air, it controlled the football for more than 39 minutes. Green Bay had to contend more with Maroney because of an early injury to Corey Dillon, but they combined for 113 yards in 31 carries -- putting an asterisk next to the Packers' streak of not allowing a 100-yard rushing game by one individual this season.

Punter Jon Ryan was one of the team's few standouts. He took advantage of his most field time in his first year in the league with 10 punts for a gross average of 45.9 yards -- the net wasn't too shabby, either, at 38.4. It wasn't a perfect 10 day for Ryan, who shanked a fourth-quarter kick that enabled Kevin Faulk to rip off a 36-yard return. Otherwise, the hang time was commendable, as Faulk gained all of 19 yards in six other returns.

Dave Rayner had a streak of eight successful field goals, dating to Oct. 8 against St. Louis, end when he pushed a 44-yard attempt wide right in the first quarter. The Packers still aren't getting much out of their return units.

Plain and simple, Mike McCarthy and his staff were out-coached by Bill Belichick and his associates. With Favre less than 100 percent physically because of ankle and groin injuries, McCarthy erred in abandoning his run-first philosophy and thinking he could go one-dimensional against a banged-up Patriots defense -- 12 of the first 15 plays were passes.

All Belichick did was find enough guys, including receiver Troy Brown, to double- and triple-team Driver. The offensive game plan was in flames before Favre was injured, with five three-and-out series in the first six possessions.

The Packers remain a mess in pass coverage, all the more magnified because they were playing against a productive offense for a change after getting some reprieve the previous few weeks. Two losses by shutout at home, which hadn't happened since 1934, is an utter embarrassment.

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