Bill Belichick told us all week that he isn't a doctor. On Sunday, he reminded that he is - almost - a magician.
Despite being down to third-string rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe and facing a two-time reigning NFL MVP that almost never loses at home, the New England Patriots forced the Green Bay Packers into overtime before losing a heartbreaker, 27-24, at Lambeau Field.
The Patriots, who entered the game without starting quarterback Mac Jones and lost No. 2 Brian Hoyer on the second series, moved as close to Green Bay's 46-yard line in overtime. But Zappe's third-down pass to tight end Hunter Henry was deflected incomplete by Packers' cornerback Kevin King. After a New England punt - as he's done countless times during his future Hall-of-Fame career - Aaron Rodgers then dinked-and-dunked Green Bay down the field 77 yards in 12 plays to set up Mason Crosby's 31-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.
“In the end, Rodgers was just too good," said Belichick, whose clever game plan to bleed the clock and take away Green Bay's deep passing game almost worked. "He made some throws that only Rodgers can make. We had pretty good coverage on some of those and he was just too smart, too good, too accurate. In the end he got us.”
The Patriots came into the weekend as the NFL's biggest underdog (9.5 points) and by crunch time were playing without - in addition to Pro Bowler Mac Jones - leading receiver Jakobi Meyers and tight-end weapon Jonnu Smith. They leave after the stinging defeat with only one all-time win at Lambeau, and with a 1-3 record for the second consecutive season.
New England, which held leads of 3-0, 10-7, 17-14 and 24-17, forced a three-and-out on Green Bay's first overtime possession. But after it punted the ball back to Rodgers he moved the Packers from their 10-yard to the Pats' 14 on completions of 22 yards to receiver Allen Lazard and 11 to Randall Cobb on a key 3rd-and-4.
In his last 26 games at Lambeau, Rodgers is 24-2 with 61 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
Despite being undermanned and underdogs, the Patriots played well enough to win. Almost.
After Hoyer was sacked and injured by Packers' defensive end Rashan Gary early on, Zappe entered and impressively kept his team in the game. The rookie fourth-rounder from Western Kentucky completed 10 of 15 for 99 yards and a score.
The Patriots surprisingly stayed in the game behind a pair of rookie Joneses - 160 return yards by Marcus and two first-half turnovers by Jack.
The Patriots, who led 24-17 early in the fourth quarter, dodged losing late in regulation when Green Bay receiver Romeo Dobbs hauled in what initially appeared to be a 40-yard touchdown pass with 2:02 remaining. But after catching ball and getting both feet down, Doubs did not "survive the ground" as the ball jostled free when his left elbow hit the end zone.
Despite losing Hoyer on their second possession, the Pats shockingly led 10-7 at halftime behind Jack Jones' ball-hawking brilliance.
They took a 3-0 lead after a 10-play drive on their opening possession. But on the second drive offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn was beaten around the edge by Gary for a violent sack of Hoyer. The starting quarterback went to the medical tent, then the locker room with a head injury.
Zappe was ineffective early and it appeared the Packers would take a 7-3 lead into halftime after a 15-yard touchdown run by rookie receiver Christian Watson. But Jack Jones, who created a first-quarter turnover with a strip-and-recovery fumble of Doubs, shocked Lambeau Field by intercepting a Rodgers pass and returning it untouched for a 40-yard touchdown just before intermission.
It was only the second Pick-Six of Rodgers at Lambeau in 3,511 passes.
Before Jack Jones' interception the Patriots were seemingly driving for points, but Wynn - who also committed two first-half penalties - continued his nightmarish performance by allowing another sack by Gary off the right edge. He strip-sacked Zappe and recovered the fumble.
The turnover was New England's ninth, the franchise's most through four games since 1994.
The Packers regained the lead out of halftime on Rodgers' 20-yard pass to tight end Robert Tonyan. But New England struck back, scoring to re-take a 17-14 lead on Zappe's perfect pass to receiver DeVante Parker from 25 yards.
It was the first touchdown pass thrown by a rookie quarterback in the NFL this season.
New England's running game took over on its next drive, gaining 41 yards on six attempts by Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris. The Pats built a 24-17 lead on Harris' 5-yard run up the middle with 11:14 remaining as they scored on consecutive drives.
The Packers tied it at 24-24 on a 13-yard pass to Doubs from Rodgers, who became the fifth quarterback in NFL along with Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre to throw 500 career touchdowns.
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