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Best Team in the AFC? Brady and the Patriots Stake Their Claim With Win Over Rodgers, Packers

Sunday night’s extremely hyped matchup between two of the game’s best quarterbacks largely came down to the other players on the field, and as New England walked away with a win, we know one thing is for certain: Brady and the Patriots are the class of the AFC.

The narrative of quarterback duels never holds up to inspection. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady never share the field at the same time. One is not looking to sack the other. If quarterback wins are overblown, head-to-head quarterback statistics are certainly useless. Rodgers didn’t fumble early in the fourth quarter. He didn’t defend a trick-play screen pass where James White went 37 yards to the two-yard-line. He couldn’t stop pass rushers in the first half or when they returned in the fourth quarter with a two-possession lead.

This Battle of the GOATs had been downplayed by Rodgers earlier in the week as he (correctly) deferred to Brady’s five championships. But Sunday night’s tilt proved what should have been known going into the game: no matter how great these two are, the game would be decided more by the 21 other starters on each team.

And so the Patriots beat the Packers 31–17 Sunday night for their sixth straight win. New England remains in the quartet of top-tier teams along with Kansas City, New Orleans and Los Angeles while the Packers, a preseason Super Bowl contender, sit under .500 halfway through their season.

There was no game NBC coveted more than this one, according to reports. The Packers and Patriots were sure to draw the ratings of a mini-Super Bowl, and surely Monday morning we will hear how the epic quarterback battle became the most-watched regular-season game of 2018. Michael Jordan wouldn’t agree to participate in a promo for anything less, of course.

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The Patriots’ up-tempo offense led the team to the end zone after just 10 plays to open the game, and by halftime the Pats led 17–10 with Cordarrelle Patterson playing as their big running back with Sony Michel inactive and James White hurt. A third quarter that never seemed to end only resulted in seven points on two possessions for each team. Green Bay tied the game on their first possession of the half and then stopped New England at the one-yard-line after an overturned Patterson touchdown.

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Aaron Jones’s fumble to start the fourth quarter stymied a classic Rodgers’ series, who had taken the Packers from the seven-yard-line to the doorstep of the red zone when Jones coughed up the ball on a weak punch by Lawrence Guy. This was, no doubt, the turning point in the game.

Brady engineered a 10-play, 76-yard touchdown drive highlight by a 37-yard screen pass from Brady to Julian Edelman to White that got them to the goal line. A three-and-out by Green Bay was then followed by a three-and-score from New England thanks to a 55-yard touchdown throw-and-catch from Brady to Josh Gordon. Last week in Los Angeles, Rodgers was robbed of a chance to make a Hollywood comeback. Down 31–17 with seven minutes left in Foxboro, it’d be next to impossible.

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There’s still hope in Green Bay. The Packers still have Rodgers, who appears to get healthier each week since his opening-night knee injury. And in 2013 they rallied from 5-6-1 to win the NFC North in Week 17 and make the postseason. But the Packers aren’t instilling fear in anyone right now, and they have just one win against a team with a winning record.

Meanwhile, New England could legitimately lay claim to being the best team in the NFL. There appear to be just two more tests on their schedule—Week 13 vs. Minnesota and Week 15 at Pittsburgh—that will stand in their way of challenging Kansas City for the top seed in the AFC.

And they have the GOAT, as if anyone needed one game in early November to convince them even more of that.