GREEN BAY, Wis. — Bill Belichick’s overwhelming admiration for Aaron Rodgers was evident both before and after the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers squared off on Sunday.
When Belichick emerged from the Lambeau Field tunnel before kickoff, he beelined to Rodgers for a quick pregame chat. After Rodgers led his team to a 27-24 overtime win over an injury-depleted Patriots squad, Belichick sought him out for an on-field embrace, then opened his postgame news conference by showering the Packers quarterback with praise.
“I’d say in the end, Rodgers is just too good,” the Patriots head coach said after Rodgers piloted a 12-play, 77-yard drive that culminated in Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal. “He made some throws that only Rodgers can make. We had pretty good coverage on some of those, and he’s just too smart, too good, too accurate, and in the end, he got us. We just couldn’t quite do enough in the other areas to quite offset it.”
The Patriots did more than enough against Rodgers in the first half, holding him to 4-of-11 passing for 44 yards. The four-time NFL MVP closed out that half by tossing an ill-advised interception to Jack Jones, which the rookie cornerback returned 40 yards for a touchdown.
Those clamps loosened after halftime, however. Rodgers went 12-for-18 for 157 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers in the second half and 5-for-6 for 50 yards in overtime to fight off a spirited New England upset bid.
Included in those second-half completions were a 32-yard strike to Allen Lazard on third-and-10, a 24-yarder to Randall Cobb on third-and-6, a 13-yard touchdown to Romeo Doubs on third-and-3 and an 11-yarder to Cobb on third-and-1 in overtime. Rodgers also picked up another third-down conversion on a defensive pass interference penalty and lofted a perfectly placed third-down pass into the end zone that Doubs dropped.
“There were some good things out there,” Belichick said. “In the end, Rodgers is just too good. He’s just a great, great player, and he made some great plays. And ultimately, that’s the difference in the game.”
The Patriots had to play the final three-plus quarters with rookie Bailey Zappe at quarterback after Brian Hoyer, who started in place of the injured Mac Jones, was knocked out of the game with a concussion during their second offensive possession. A respectable performance from Zappe in his NFL debut coupled with a punishing ground game helped New England — which also was playing without injured starters Jakobi Meyers, Lawrence Guy and Jalen Mills — hold leads in all four quarters as 9.5-point road underdogs.
But Rodgers’ touchdown pass to Doubs tied the score with 6:33 remaining in regulation, and the Patriots went three-and-out on their final three drives, gaining just 15 total yards. New England’s defense forced back-to-back punts after the tying touchdown but couldn’t get Rodgers and the Packers’ off the field during their game-clinching march.
“I thought Bailey really competed well, but a lot of guys compete well,” Belichick said. “We just obviously came up a little short, and in the end, Aaron just got us on too many things that I thought we did a pretty good job on, but it was just enough for him to him to take advantage of them or make a couple great throws that we couldn’t quite cover.”
Rodgers wouldn’t reveal what he and Belichick discussed in either of their conversations Sunday. But the coach’s appreciation was reciprocated.
“The truth is always the easiest to say, so the things I said about Bill last week, I meant,” Rodgers told reporters postgame. “The way that he coaches and the success he’s had — he’s a phenomenal leader and always has his guys ready to play. That was some of the sentiments that I’m sure that I echoed, and the rest I’ll leave to some of the stray microphones that probably caught some of it.”
The 38-year-old added: “It likely is (the last time I’ll face the Patriots), so a lot of respect for Bill. … He’s a legend and deserves all the credit he gets.”