Nobody said it was easy to win in the NFL. On Sunday the Green Bay Packers found that out against a New England Patriots team using their third-string quarterback for the majority of the game.
While it wasn't a stroll in the park and it took overtime, the Packers came out victorious and they're just fine sitting at 3-1 through the first four games even though it hasn't always been the flashiest.
Green Bay's run defense struggled mightily for stretches against a Patriots offense that was clearly sticking to the run with rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe tossed into action after quarterback Brian Hoyer left early.
The Packers struggled to adjust and were often bailed out by big plays from outside linebacker Rashan Gary.
Gary was in demon mode again for the Packers and his tag-team partner Preston Smith, on the other edge, split a sack with defensive tackle Dean Lowry.
On offense there were moments for Green Bay like the touchdowns from rookie wide receivers Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson but there were also plenty of careless and reckless mistakes.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had an insanely uncharacteristic interception at the end of the first half that was taken back for a touchdown by Patriots cornerback Jack Jones. It catapulted New England in front 10-7 at halftime.
Sprinkle in a Doubs fumble in the first half and a dropped touchdown in the second half and there's still plenty for the Packers to clean up on offense.
Nobody is claiming this team is perfect but had you told the Packers they could be 3-1 through four weeks, surely they'd sign up for it.
Here's a recap of Sunday's wacky win at Lambeau Field:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
It's Gary, point blank. The ferocious outside backer for the Packers recorded a strip sack of Zappe with 1:04 left in the first half and the Patriots knocking on the door right outside the Green Bay red zone. Not only did Gary bury Zappe into the ground, he recovered the fumble as well. If that's not enough, Gary had another sack in the game and finished with seven combined tackles. Gary now has at least one sack in each of the first four games and on Sunday, he single handedly stalled out the Patriots offense on multiple occasions when they were starting to find a groove. It was Gary's sack in the first half on a big third down that knocked the Patriots out of field goal range and knocked starting quarterback Brian Hoyer out of the game. Gary is emerging into a superstar real fast, it's time to jump on the wagon if you haven't already.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
They call him the Lizard King for a reason and on Sunday, Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard balled out. Lazard finished with six catches for 116 yards with a couple coming at key junctures. After a stunning pick six by the Patriots to end the first half, Green Bay got the ball first to start the third quarter. Two incompletions set Green Bay up with a third-and-10 and a momentum shifting moment. Rodgers took the snap, immediately looked right and flicked his wrist downfield. Lazard sprawled out to make a sensational catch for a gain of 32 yards and move the sticks for the Packers. Green Bay went on to score a touchdown on that drive. Lazard has lived up to the billing of being the top wideout on the depth chart for the Packers so far this season and Rodgers continues to go to him in big spots. With the rookies Doubs and Watson still being brought along and getting their feet beneath them, it will continue to be critical for Lazard to step up and make plays. He appears up for the task.
New England started the fourth quarter with a fresh drive and shoved it right down the throats of the Green Bay defense going 66 yards on seven plays with six of those plays coming via the run. The Patriots didn't try masking anything and ran it right at the Packers. All of a sudden Green Bay was staring down the barrel of a 24-17 deficit. They responded in a major way, going 75 yards on nine plays topped by "that moment" when Rodgers connected with Doubs on a 13-yard touchdown. It was a vintage back-shoulder throw from Rodgers that he had perfected with past wide receivers like Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Davante Adams. Rodgers has made that throw seem impossible to defend throughout the years and Doubs did his job perfectly in securing it. It knotted the game up in the fourth and reignited Lambeau Field.
Green Bay has seven turnovers through four games including three interceptions from Rodgers. Last year, the Packers had 13 turnovers total for the entire season. If that isn't enough of a sample size, in 2020 Green Bay had 11 turnovers in the regular season and in 2019 it was the lucky number 13 again. This year the Packers are on a far different trajectory if they don't tighten things up. The 3-1 record is great but the offense has yet to really fire on all cylinders and part of that has been the costly turnovers that they can't seem to clean up. Green Bay is currently 29th in turnover differential at minus three and the hope is that this is just an early season hiccup that will be resolved. Sunday's game against the Patriots didn't help with the Rodgers interception and the Doubs fumble.
THEY SAID IT
“This is a game we had to win, for sure. We can’t be 2-2 losing to a third-string quarterback.” -- quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the win
"I'm not too proud of that moment. That was an emotional decision. And I think it's a great learning lesson that, you know, you can never make those emotional decisions in the heat of the battle.” -- head coach Matt LaFleur on his lost challenge on Romeo Doubs' drop
“They never do (get old). Just celebrating with the team … gosh, what a game. We get the ball there at the 10-yard line in the second possession of overtime, and it’s amazing to have no doubt that we’re going to have an opportunity to try to win it. Snap, hold, protection, everything was great all day. So, yeah, it’s nice to be able to finish that thing off.” -- kicker Mason Crosby on his game winner
"I've thrown four pick-6s (in his career) and at least two of them on that route. So those are frustrating. I almost missed the throw so badly that he overran it, which would've been nice." -- Rodgers on his interception
“We’ve just got to be sound and on our fundamentals. It’s all plays where I miss one, someone else misses one. So, we’ve just got to tighten up. It’s plays that they’ve been running all game, it’s just we had a breakdown in our technique. So, we’ve just got to go back, watch film and correct it.” -- outside linebacker Rashan Gary on some of the defensive lapses in the running game
"In the end, Rodgers is just too good. He made some throws that only Rodgers can make." -- Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
Green Bay heads across the pond to take on the New York Giants. The Giants are coming off a 20-12 win over the Chicago Bears and like the Packers, New York is 3-1. Quarterback Daniel Jones hobbled off the field against the Bears on Sunday and was replaced by Tyrod Taylor. When Taylor also went down with an injury, Jones came back in. The status of both quarterbacks is something to monitor throughout the week.