With Bill Belichick on the sideline, the New England Patriots have squared off with the Green Bay Packers just five times. But back in 2010, one of the most memorable plays from those matchups came from a surprising candidate.
With Aaron Rodgers sidelined with an injury, back-up quarterback Matt Flynn got Green Bay off to a hot start in Gillette Stadium. Going up 17-7 over New England just before the two minute warning, the Packers seemed to be ready to enter half time with all the momentum.
Then came Dan Connolly.
As the Packers squibbed kicked on the following kickoff to run the clock, the ball landed in the arms of Connolly. The 310-pound lineman followed an array of blockers before finding daylight. 71 yards later, the Packers finally caught up to Connolly inside the five-yard line. Three plays later, New England found the end zone to cut the lead to 17-14.
While the play was a surprise to everyone on the field, it wasn't a complete shock to the Patriots and Bill Belichick - who cracked a smile on Friday when asked about the return.
“Very unexpected. It’s funny though. We just coincidentally had talked about that the week before,” Belichick explained. “I forget if it was that week, or the week before. But it was recently. Then it actually happened in the game. But the whole point of the guy catching the squib kick handles it. The other guys get in front of him. Not stand there and watch him handle the ball. They get in front of him. Then the guys behind him come up in case he muffs it or it gets by him. Then the deep returners come up and protect him. Then they’re usually faster than the guy who’s getting the ball.
“So, once Dan picked it up, they were able to scoot in front of him and create a little friction between the coverage. Dan just kind of hit the seam and rolled with it. But it was interesting how that play had actually popped up in practice.”
The play was perhaps a turning point for New England, as they outscore Green Bay 24-10 from there on out en route to a 31-27 victory.
Throwback to one of the greatest kick returns of all time!#NEvsGB on @NFLonCBS on 10/2 at 4:25 PM pic.twitter.com/Pr7UYhCOq8— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 29, 2022
While Connolly’s return was a bright spot in the Patriots vs. Packers recent history, Belichick made sure to mention how the memories aren't all fond.
“There’s been some good memories. Then there’s the memories back in what was it ‘02? Where they had their whole secondary out there. They had like four guys on injury reserve, and two of their guys were hurt and they came in here and [we] couldn’t move the ball. [We] Couldn’t get a first down. It was brutal. It goes both ways,” he explained.
Preparing for the trip to Lambeau Field this week — where the Patriots last played in 2014 — has provided quite the refresher in terms of NFL history for Belichick. Throughout his weekly press conferences, Belichick often mentioned Green Bay greats such as Curly Lambeau, Clarke Hinkle, Cecil Isbell, Don Hutson, and of course Vince Lombardi.
The New England head coach even mentioned he showed his players some of the Packers legends throughout the week.
“Some of our players, honestly, they don’t know who some of these people are. I mean, this is 80 years ago or more,” Belichick said. “Lot of tradition there, lot of tradition going into Lambeau. Seeing those names up on the stadium.”
Throughout all the history between the Patriots and Packers, Connolly’s 71-yard kick return will always stand out.