Playing an Aaron Rodgers-led Packers team in Green Bay is never an easy task, especially when your starting quarterback will be absent due to injury. A blanket of pessimism covered the New England Patriots throughout the week knowing that seasoned backup, Brian Hoyer would be tasked with playing under center in week four.
With an already struggling offense, the consensus was the visiting team would be completely demolished in this game. Taking the field as 9.5-point underdogs, it’s safe to say not a single person believed New England had a chance.
But from the very first quarter until the very end of overtime, the Patriots surprised everyone as they took their opponent to task for over 60 minutes. Despite the loss and the usual dislike of moral victories, New England’s performance in this game proved they could be a true threat and win games against tough opponents.
Who performed the best for the Patriots?
When it was announced that Mac Jones would miss this game, it came as no surprise when Bill Belichick chose to go with Hoyer in his place. Regardless of the negative reactions to the news, deciding to have the seasoned veteran play was not a shock, especially given the tough environment of playing on the road in Green Bay.
But the first start for Hoyer in two years came to an end quickly when he was sacked in the first quarter and led to the locker room shortly after. He was downgraded to out not long after with a concussion, leading rookie Bailey Zappe to take the field.
In his NFL debut, Zappe showed poise and potential throughout and helped keep the team in the game. He became the first rookie to throw a touchdown in the 2022 season on a great 75-yard drive in the third quarter. DeVante Parker made a 25-yard touchdown grab to put the Patriots above the Packers 17-14 after their first drive of the quarter.
Zappe took the team down the field for another touchdown on the next drive as well, to once again flip the score to put the Patriots on top.
Regardless of the loss, Zappe’s debut and chemistry with the offense showed encouraging progress for all. It’s obvious with some fine-tuning he is set to be an exciting quarterback to watch in the future. And if he is needed to play in place of Hoyer or Jones, the offense demonstrated they can be successful under his leadership.
Right before the start of the game, it was announced that Jalen Mills would be out as he continues to deal with a hamstring injury. In his place, rookie Jack Jones would get the start and quickly stood out with his incredible performance.
On the Packers’ first drive, after a big completion to Allen Lazard, Jones displayed great awareness and forced the fumble and recovered the football from Romeo Doubs. The Patriots’ offense would take over at Green Bay’s 49-yard line, thanks to the fantastic play made by their rookie corner.
A few drives later, Jones would have a stretch of struggles against the run game, allowing plays of seven, ten and fifteen yards. But in pass coverage, he continued to build a great debut for the Patriots.
Shortly before halftime, Jones was in the right place at the right time and picked off Rodgers on 3rd and 9. He turned the interception into a pick-six, running 40 yards to the endzone, to put the Patriots up 10-7 entering halftime. The rest of his game wouldn’t be nearly as exciting, but he tied with Myles Bryant for the least yardage allowed in coverage for the day, allowing only two completions on four passes for 35 yards.
Jones’ performance made him the first rookie in NFL history to have an interception, a touchdown, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in a single game. As the secondary continues to be a brighter spot on the team overall, it’s looking like Jones is on the path to being a big contributor there for the rest of the season if given the opportunity.
Despite quickly becoming a favorite in New England and fans noticing his dominant performance this season, Matthew Judon’s year looks to be flying under the radar.
Similarly to last week against Lamar Jackson, Judon was constantly in Aaron Rodgers’ face and making the quarterback uncomfortable. Although he was only credited for one sack for -7 yards, there were a few instances where he got his hands on Rodgers and forced him to make a play resulting in incompletions.
His performance would once again break more Patriots records, as Judon became only the second Patriots player in history to record a sack in each of the first four games of the season. The only other player to have accomplished this for New England is Andre Tippett in the 1986 season.
Judon is well on his way to having a repeat of success similar to the 2021 season. Hopefully, his domination will last all season long this time and continue contributing to the Patriots’ defensive-led year.
In the absence of an official returner on the team, Marcus Jones appears to have won the position over with his excellent performance on both kick and punt returns on Sunday.
On the four kick returns in the game, Jones totaled 111 yards with his longest return being 37 yards. He also saw two kick returns, totaling 49 yards with one being a return for 29 yards.
Since the departure of Gunner Olszewski in free agency, the Patriots have struggled to find a reliable returner to put them in a good position offensively. Jones was able to do that on every single return. Because of his runs, Zappe started drives at his own 40 (which was taken back due to a penalty), midfield at the 50-yard line, and their own 49-yard line in overtime.
If the rookie can maintain this success throughout the next few weeks, it will be safe to assume Belichick has found his new special teams ace.
Just looking at the statistics, it doesn’t appear that the offensive line performed their best on Sunday. Between Hoyer and Zappe, the line allowed four sacks for -32 yards and seven total quarterback hits.
Overall, the o-line performed on par with what’s been seen over the last couple of weeks. The biggest issue remains to be Isaiah Wynn, who is responsible for two sacks on the day, one of which led to a strip sack. Two sacks that Zappe took were to the fault of the quarterback himself, as he held onto the ball for too long rather than toss it away when defenders closed in.
Outside of Wynn, the protection on the quarterbacks was significantly improved from how the season began. With Yodny Cajuste heading to IR, Marcus Cannon made his return and played like he had been on the team the entire season.
He was put in throughout the game as an extra lineman, or a jumbo tight end, and even replaced Wynn for a portion of the game. As soon as Cannon was placed back at right tackle, the line began to run smoothly which in turn helped progress the offense down the field.
Cannon was exactly what the Patriots needed in this game. If his performance is any indication of what he can bring this season, Belichick may need to make the decision quickly to keep him in over the continuously struggling Wynn.
Because all the quarterbacks currently on the Patriots have shown chemistry with different receivers, there was some hope that Kendrick Bourne would be more involved with the game plan.
With the run game becoming the focus offensively, none of the receivers would have memorable performances. But Bourne was used in different situations and continued to show why he needs to be more implemented in the offense as the season progresses.
Hoyer would start the first drive with a quick throw to number 84 for seven yards. Once Zappe took the field late in the first quarter, Bourne would only have one more reception totaling 23 yards on the day and a nice carry in the second quarter, good for 15 yards.
Because Green Bay struggles in stopping the run, Matt Patricia made sure to stick to the run game for the majority of the day, making it difficult for any receiver to truly make any plays. However, the few plays we saw from him were more examples of the immediate impact Bourne can make within this offense. Over the next few weeks with a presumed easier schedule, it would be ideal to see Bourne’s participation increase no matter who is playing at quarterback.
Since before the regular season began, newly named, but not officially awarded offensive coordinator, Matt Patricia was severely criticized for what he could do calling offensive plays with no experience. Through the first month of the season, there have certainly been moments that he would like back. From questionable situational football play-calls to lack of creativity allowing the opponent’s defense to make plays, Patricia has had a roller-coaster of a year thus far.
In this game, however, the change-up offensively depending on which quarterback was in was obvious. With Hoyer starting the game, the Patriots offense of old saw its return. And when Hoyer went down, a college-like offense was used with Zappe.
Outside of the few poor decisions to either run the football when they shouldn’t have or holding back Zappe from passing in general, the play-calling didn’t stand out as one of the bigger issues for the team. It was a nice change of pace from what’s been seen this season so far and will hopefully continue in Mac Jones’ absence.
When Jones does return, however, it would be great to see the play-calling be worked around his strengths and what he prefers. If he can be more involved in game planning and voice more of his preferences, the offense is sure to look much improved.
In one of the more not-so-shocking developments of the game, rookie Cole Strange had himself a nearly perfect game once again. Given another tough task against Green Bay’s defensive line, Strange was able to hold his own all game long. He shined when matched up one-on-one with Packers’ top defensive tackle, Kenny Clark and maintained creating pathways for the running backs to go through.
The heavily-debated first-round pick has shown exactly what Belichick saw in him from the draft. Through the first four games of his NFL career, Strange has only allowed one sack and a single hit to his quarterbacks.
As the offensive line continues to look better every week, Strange’s consistently solid performances have significantly benefitted both Jones and Hoyer’s performances.
Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson
Exploiting the weak run defense of Green Bay, the Patriots went full force in the run game and as successful all game long.
Both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson continued to alternate on drives and each made plays when it was their time with the ball. Together they totaled 152 yards and Harris scored the only rushing touchdown of the day with a 5-yard run in the fourth quarter to put the Patriots up 24-17.
Entering the game as one of the top running back duos in the league, the pair continued making defenses struggle. Mastering the art of bully ball and alternating drives has proven to be a recipe for success this year. And with question marks at quarterback going forward, we will likely see Harris and Stevenson continue running through defenses and scoring points.