If this was a Super Bowl XLIX, we should all be so lucky. Today, the New England Patriots dropped a nail-biter to the Green Bay Packers 26-21. A potential game winning drive by the New England offense was halted in the red zone with just over three minutes remaining, and the Patriots could not get the ball back. Here are five things we learned from the game:
Aaron Rodgers is the league's MVP, for now. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a good game. He was poised in the fourth quarter, threw a touchdown to Brandon LaFell in both the first and second half, and kept the chains moving. However, Aaron Rodgers was unstoppable. Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner were both terrific in coverage throughout the day (aside from Revis' one lapse - a touchdown allowed in man on Jordy Nelson - a score that would have been prevented if not for a poor angle taken by Devin McCourty after the catch). Aaron Rodgers simply picked apart every mismatch. He had all day to throw, and when the pocket eventually broke down, he made plays on his feet. He was incredible.
Patriots front four needs to be better getting to the quarterback. The biggest weakness of the Patriots today was their inability to get to the quarterback. It cost them in multiple situations. Aaron Rodgers had all the time he needed to throw, and had it not been for such good coverage on the back-end, his numbers could have been a whole lot better. The Patriots got virtually no rush from either of their primary two edge rushers: Rob Ninkovich and Akeem Ayers. This team desperately needs to get Chandler Jones back, and until then, they need to find ways to generate pressure even if their front four can't produce it organically.
LeGarrette Blount is the lead back going forward. After two straight weeks of him playing over Jonas Gray, that much seems clear. He had a strong game today, bulldozing his way through Packers defenders on multiple occasions. He picked up 58 yards on only ten carries, but seemingly every one of those yards came after first contact. Funny enough, it was Brandon Bolden that had the Patriots' first touchdown of the day, and their only on the ground.
Protection still an issue for the Patriots. The Packers' brought a lot of pressure tonight. The game winning drive was brought to a holt by a Mike Neal sack earned on Nate Solder. Marcus Cannon struggled in the few snaps he saw in place of the injured Cameron Fleming. By the third quarter, Brady seemed a bit skittish in the pocket and missed some throws as a result. The Patriots have done a great job with their playcalling to mask the weaknesses on the offensive line, but those issues showed up again tonight.
There are positives to take from this loss. Tonight's loss to the Packers drops the Patriots to 9-3, but they are still in control of their own destiny for the #1 seed in the AFC, thanks to a tiebreaker they own with the Broncos. This game definitely exposed some weaknesses. One that comes to mind: the Patriots were exposed by inside breaks in man coverage (see: the WR slant). The Patriots need to find ways to generate pressure. Fortunately, the Patriots still have time this season to make adjustments. They still control home field advantage throughout the playoffs. And they nearly beat perhaps the NFL's best team in what is perhaps the most difficult environment to play in. The Patriots hung in there, and on a neutral field in Arizona in February, things could just go differently.