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8 instant observations from the Patriots 31-17 victory over the Packers

Here’s our immediate analysis in the wake of the Patriots’ victory.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots were short-handed without Rob Gronkowski or Sony Michel, but there are simply too many playmakers on the offense. Tom Brady and company took their time, but eventually broke out in the fourth quarter to defeat the Green Bay Packers 31-17.

Tom Brady had a fine day

Brady did enough on Sunday night for the Patriots to win. I wouldn’t say it was a great outing and I would argue that calling it “very good” might also be a stretch. Brady completed 22 of 35 passes (62.9%) for 294 yards and 1 touchdown and a 99.0 passer rating. My expectations are high and he benefit from a lot of yards after the catch.

Brady continues to miss some passes and have miscommunications with his receivers. He’s reacting more to pressure and he really struggled in the red zone, completing 2 of 9 for 9 yards, adding 1 rush for 2 yards and a first down. Part of the issue was the absence of Rob Gronkowski (and Gronk’s limitations all year), but Brady’s red zone production is a major red flag that has to be fixed over the second half of the season.

Cordarrelle Patterson needs to stay on the field

Patterson finished the day with 61 rushing yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and added a 7-yard reception. When the Patriots signed Patterson, Bill Belichick told the receiver, “We’ll make you the player you should be.”

I think we know what that player should be.

Patterson ran hard and slashed his way down the field and his versatility is hard to defend. If you’re a defensive coordinator and Patterson’s in the backfield, you have to keep an extra defensive back on the field because you don’t want to have a linebacker responsible for covering Patterson in the open field. But the defensive back will likely be a weaker run defender, giving Patterson a clear advantage in the box.

Even when Michel returns, Patterson should stick around on the field for New England and I would love to see some 2-running back sets with Patterson and either Michel or James White in the red zone to stress the edges of the opposing defense. The Patriots need to get Patterson 5-10 touches a game.

James White is the heart of the offense

Move over Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, White is the most important non-Brady player in the Patriots offense. White had 12 carries for 31 yards and 2 touchdowns and added 6 receptions for 72 yards.

This was White’s third multi-touchdown game of the season and he’s racked up 765 yards and 10 touchdowns this year, both career highs.

Brady continues to look to White when all else fails in the offense and the running back’s reliability gives him the edge as the most important skill player in the Patriots offense.

Josh Gordon is here

Gordon finished the day with 5 catches for 130 yards and an impressive 55-yard touchdown. This was Gordon’s second 100+ yard game, both in the past three weeks, and he’s really emerged as Brady’s most productive receiver.

He now has 396 yards and 2 touchdowns in 6 games with the Patriots. He’s on pace for 875 yards and 5 touchdowns this year, which would be the second-best of his career, behind only his 2013 All Pro season.

He’s going to keep getting better. Gordon is here.

Brian Flores coached a heckuva game

We can talk about how the Packers gained 368 yards on the day, and that Marquez Valdes-Scantling had 3 back-breaking catches for 101 yards, and that the Packers averaged 4.7 yards per carry, but I think Brian Flores coached the Patriots defense to one of their best performances of the year.

The Patriots defense reminded me of their performance against the 2013 Denver Broncos, where they allowed the opposition to gash them on the ground to take the ball away from Peyton Manning and the potent receivers.

Packers running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams gained 110 yards on 21 carries (5.24 YPC), but outside of Scantling’s 3 incredible catches, Aaron Rodgers threw for just 158 yards. Rodgers completed a mere 55.8% of his passes.

That means that the Patriots did a great job limiting the best player from the Packers offense and it was clear that Rodgers never felt comfortable all day.

Adrian Clayborn had his best day at the office

Clayborn finished the day with half a sack and a forced fumble, but he was much more active. He chipped in a pair of quarterback hits and had another forced fumble called back due to a penalty. While Clayborn’s struggled at times with gap integrity on the edge and allowing quarterbacks and running backs to turn the corner, that wasn’t an issue today and Clayborn kept Rodgers inside the pocket.

Clayborn played at the level the Patriots need him to play at in order to complement Trey Flowers and force opposing teams to respect multiple players on the Patriots defensive line.

Stephon Gilmore is an All Pro cornerback

Gilmore had a pass defended and a fumble recovery, but more importantly he did an outstanding job of removing Packers top receiver Davante Adams from the game. Adams had 6 catches for 40 yards and a touchdown with the majority of those catches coming on crossers against zone defenses. The Packers moved Adams to the inside of formations to try and get him away from Gilmore- and Gilmore managed to get under Adams’ skin late in the game.

Gilmore’s been the Patriots best defensive back all season and he’s passed this test with flying colors. He’s playing the cornerback position as well as any cornerback we’ve seen under Bill Belichick- and an All Pro caliber cornerback is an ingredient on every Patriots Super Bowl team.

Patriots have one more test before their bye week

New England is limping with so many injuries and they have one more test before they have a pretty favorable home stretch. The Patriots are on the road next week with a 1:00 PM game against the Tennessee Titans, losers of three straight and playing on Monday Night Football this week- so the Titans will face the Patriots while coming off a short week.

The Titans are 3-4, but they’re a couple bounces away from being 0-7...and they’re also a couple bounces away from being 5-2.

If the Patriots can get past the Titans, they’ll get the bye week and hopefully everyone will be able to rest and get healthier for the final six games. The Patriots have four games against their AFC East rivals, including a pair against the New York Jets; they host the Minnesota Vikings in week 13; and they’re on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 15.

It wouldn’t be shocking if the Patriots win out, although a loss or two wouldn’t be surprising. If everyone can get healthy over the bye week, then the Patriots will be in great position to challenge for homefield advantage in the AFC.