New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) passes under pressure from Green Bay Packers linebacker Kyler Fackrell (51) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Add a head-to-head win for Tom Brady in the GOAT debate.

In a matchup that was advertised as a showdown between two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Brady led the New England Patriots to a 31-17 victory over Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. New England improved to 7-2 overall and 5-0 at home, while Green Bay fell to 3-4-1 and 0-4 away from Lambeau Field.

Brady finished 22-of-35 for 294 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions, while Rodgers countered with 24-of-43 for 259 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

          

Packers’ Slow Start Will Cost Team Playoff Spot

The Packers caught a break when the Patriots announced tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Sony Michel were among the inactives, but the momentum lasted one possession, as Brady marched down for the opening touchdown against a defense that entered play an ugly 20th in the league in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rankings.

It appeared to be the same old Packers defense, but young playmakers such as Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson and Kenny Clark spearheaded a turnaround that included a goal-line stand and enough pressure to make Brady look human for stretches even though safety Jermaine Whitehead was questionably ejected and linebacker Blake Martinez was carted off.

Green Bay’s offense wasted a strong defensive performance last week when it built just a 10-8 halftime lead against the Los Angeles Rams, and it was more of the same Sunday when mistakes such as a costly Aaron Jones fumble when the visitors were driving to take the lead in the fourth quarter reared their ugly head.

It was only a matter of time before the Patriots broke through, and that is exactly what they did with two straight touchdown drives in the fourth, the second of which ended with a 55-yard score from Josh Gordon.

The talent is there, but the Packers have been unable to establish cohesion through the first half of the year with inconsistent play on both sides of the ball.

As a result, they are staring up at the 5-3 Chicago Bears and 5-3-1 Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North. They aren’t just battling for the division either, as the NFC features a crowded wild-card race with the 4-4 defending champion Philadelphia Eagles, 6-2 Carolina Panthers, 4-4 Atlanta Falcons and 4-4 Seattle Seahawks.

That is a number of teams to leapfrog down the stretch, and a Green Bay squad without a single road win still has to play at Minnesota, at Chicago and at Seattle.

The NFC playoffs won’t include the Packers this season, and they can thank their lackluster start.

          

Cordarrelle Patterson’s Versatility Maximizes Patriots Offense

It seems almost unfair the Patriots found another weapon, but they did—Cordarrelle Patterson at running back.

Patterson explodes to the second level with game-breaking speed, and his shiftiness in the open field makes it difficult for defensive backs to bring him down in space. His talent was on full display when he ran for 40 combined yards and found the end zone on four straight plays to give New England momentum and the lead before halftime.

The Tennessee product was a first-round pick in 2013 as a wide receiver, but he has been more dangerous in other positions throughout his career.

He has never topped the 469 receiving yards he tallied as a rookie, but he has six kickoff returns for touchdowns—including one this year—and is a two-time special teams Pro Bowler. He even tallied three touchdowns on 12 carries as a rookie.

His burst provided New England with a much-needed lift with Michel out, especially after James White limped off the field during the second quarter.

Patterson’s versatility, which allows him to play running back, puts opposing defenses into a pick-your-poison situation because they cannot afford to stack the box with Gronkowski (when healthy), Gordon and Julian Edelman catching passes. That numbers advantage in the box creates a situation where Patterson can make one defender miss with the others blocked and create a big play.

It even allows White to become a change-of-pace back as a receiving threat instead of the primary ball-carrier when Michel is out, which is where he’s best with four straight seasons of more than 400 receiving yards and already a career-best six touchdown catches this year.

New England is difficult enough to stop as it is, and Patterson at running back makes the task all the more daunting.

         

Patriots Most Battle-Tested Contender in AFC

The Patriots have played just nine games this season, but they have already seen it all.

Their defense faced the likes of Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck at quarterback, while their offense battled with daunting defenses such as the Jacksonville Jaguars and Bears.

The offense that looked pedestrian during a 31-20 loss to that strong Jaguars defense in Week 2 bounced back by Week 7 and put up 38 points on Khalil Mack and Chicago. The defense that allowed four passing touchdowns to Mahomes in Week 6 made significant strides and kept Rodgers and Co. in check Sunday, allowing just seven points in the second half to the future Hall of Famer.

New England looks vulnerable in September and gradually improves as the season progresses seemingly every year, and the 2018 campaign is more of the same.

The Brady and Bill Belichick combination has been to three of the last four Super Bowls and is already notably battle-tested against a variety of different styles and strengths through the first half of this season. Don’t be surprised when there are familiar faces representing the AFC in Super Bowl LIII.

         

What’s Next?

Both teams are in action in Week 10, as the Packers host the Miami Dolphins and the Patriots are at the Tennessee Titans.

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