Trey Flowers was the MVP of the New England Patriots’ pass rush Sunday night, but Adrian Clayborn deserves an honorable mention.
Clayborn played arguably his best game in a Patriots uniform in the team’s 31-17 win over the Green Bay Packers at Gillette Stadium, making an impact in several key moments despite playing a season-low 17 defensive snaps (23 percent).
The Patriots stopped the Packers on third or fourth down seven times in the win, and Clayborn had a hand in four of those stops, including ones on each of Green Bay’s final two possessions.
“I would just say I probably made a couple more plays than usual,” the veteran defensive end said after the game.
Clayborn’s biggest contribution came with just over nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. A James White touchdown run following a Lawrence Guy forced fumble had given the Patriots a 24-17 lead minutes earlier, and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were facing a third-and-7 after a pass breakup by cornerback Jason McCourty.
New England ran a stunt with Clayborn and Flowers — who frequently lined up inside Sunday night — and both reached Rodgers simultaneously, splitting the Patriots’ only sack of the game and forcing Green Bay to punt.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick called the sack “a huge play.”
“We had a seven-point lead — which isn’t very much against these guys — and to be able to get the ball back midway through the fourth quarter with a seven-point lead and get a three-and-out after we’d gotten the turnover the series before and scored, I thought it was a huge play in the game,” Belichick said. “It was very well-executed by Clayborn and Flowers.”
Clayborn again disrupted Rodgers on what proved to be the Packers’ final offensive snap. After another Patriots touchdown stretched their lead to 14 points, he bull-rushed left tackle David Bahktiari into the QB on fourth-and-4, disrupting Rodgers’ motion and forcing his pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling to sail high.
It was a smart play by the eighth-year pro, who has been guilty of rushing too far behind the quarterback at times this season. Bahktiari also got away with a false start and still could not keep Clayborn away from Rodgers.
The Patriots took over on downs and maintained possession until the final whistle.
“We just had to close the pocket as much as possible,” Clayborn said. “Keep him throwing from the back of his toes and get him down. We did a good job.”
Rounding out Clayborn’s impressive evening were the nice open-field tackle he had on wide receiver Randall Cobb — which forced the Packers to settle for a field goal on their opening possession — and his chasedown of Rodgers in the final minutes of the first half. The latter, which came on a designed bootleg, resulted in a 2-yard loss on third-and-1 and a fumble that rolled out of bounds.
“We just had to try and corral (Rodgers) or do whatever we have to do to have him not extend plays, whether that’s stepping up or stepping back or whatever,” said Clayborn, who also showed off his deceptive speed on Devin McCourty’s pick-six last week. “He’s a very shifty quarterback and smart.”
Another Clayborn forced fumble — this one on a third-down strip sack — was wiped away by a 12-men-on-the-field penalty.
Clayborn hasn’t been the most consistent player this season — D-line coach Brendan Daly said last week he’s needed time to adjust to the Patriots’ defensive scheme — but outside of the dominant Flowers, he’s been New England’s most productive pass rusher.
Through nine games, Clayborn ranks second behind Flowers with 29 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, and leads the team with 10 QB hits. He also has begun to turn pressure into sacks, recording 2 1/2 over the last three games after failing to notch any in Weeks 1 through 6.
For more grades, advanced statistics and more at Pro Football Focus, go to ProFootballFocus.com.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images