GREEN BAY, Wis. — Down to their third-string quarterback, on the road, against Aaron Rodgers, the New England Patriots gave the Green Bay Packers all they could handle Sunday at Lambeau Field.
They forced overtime, then forced a punt on Green Bay’s opening drive of the extra session.
But ultimately, their shorthanded upset bid fell short. A 31-yard Mason Crosby field goal as time expired in overtime gave the Packers a 27-24 victory.
The loss dropped the Patriots — who entered the game as 9.5-point underdogs — to 1-3 on the season and last place in the AFC East.
Here are five takeaways from an unexpectedly dramatic Week 4 contest:
1. Bailey Zappe steps up
Veteran Brian Hoyer started in place of injured quarterback Mac Jones but suffered a concussion on a first-quarter sack. Rookie Bailey Zappe took over on the Patriots’ third offensive possession and played the rest of the way, posting an unimpressive stat line (10 of 15, 99 yards, one touchdown) but keeping New England competitive throughout.
This wasn’t the NFL introduction the Patriots were hoping for for Zappe, who watched each of the first three games from the sideline as a healthy scratch. But the Western Kentucky product delivered an admirable performance under difficult circumstances.
After managing just four total first downs across Zappe’s first four drives, they opened the second half with back-to-back touchdown marches that spanned 75 and 66 yards, featuring nine first downs and zero incompletions.
Zappe completed just four passes across those two possessions, but two went for 20-plus yards, including one to DeVante Parker that gave the first-year QB his first NFL touchdown. Both of those chunk-play completions came off play-action.
The Patriots mainly utilized two personnel groupings with Zappe in the game, swapping between a three-receiver set with DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and a beefier, run-focused package that featured tight end Hunter Henry, extra lineman Marcus Cannon (more on him below) and their two largest wideouts, Parker and Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Top receiver Jakobi Meyers was unavailable Sunday, missing his second straight game with a knee injury.
We’ll find out in the coming days whether either Jones or Hoyer will be ready to return when the Patriots host the Detroit Lions next Sunday. Jones is dealing with a high ankle sprain suffered in last week’s loss to Baltimore.
2. Both run games dominate
New England’s rushing offense ranked first in the NFL in DVOA entering Week 4. Green Bay’s defense ranked dead last in the same metric. That mismatch was evident Sunday.
Damien Harris (18 carries, 86 yards, touchdown) and Rhamondre Stevenson (14 carries, 66 yards) both turned in productive outings to aid Zappe, powering back-to-back touchdown marches to open the second half. Bourne also had a 15-yard carry off a reverse.
Stopping the Packers’ ground attack, however, proved just as problematic for the Patriots, who were playing without injured starting D-tackle Lawrence Guy. Green Bay rushed for 199 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry, with Aaron Jones leading the way with 16 for 110. That helped the Packers overcome a woeful first half by Aaron Rodgers, who went just 4-for-11 for 44 yards with an interception over the first two quarters.
Rodgers, who spent much of the afternoon under pressure from Matthew Judon, settled in after halftime, finishing 21-of-35 for 251 yards and two touchdowns with one pick.
3. Jack Jones, playmaker
With a hamstring injury sidelining Jalen Mills, Jones got the first start of his young NFL career and instantly capitalized. On the Packers’ second offensive play, the fourth-round rookie forced and recovered a fumble, stripping the ball away from wideout Romeo Doubs.
Then, with time winding down in the first half, Jones undercut an ill-advised Rodgers pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown. That play sent the Patriots into the locker room with a 10-7 halftime lead.
It was not a flawless outing from the feisty Arizona State product. Jones missed a few tackles and had some rough moments in the run game, most notably on an early jet-sweep touchdown by fellow rookie Christian Watson. But the playmaking ability he showed during training camp and the preseason was on full display. He has a bright, bright future and should continue to play a large role even once Mills — who’s looked shaky so far this season — is healthy enough to return.
Fellow starter Jonathan Jones was New England’s top cover man through three weeks, but this was not his best game. Allen Lazard beat him for a 32-yard gain on third-and-10 on the opening drive of the second half, and Doubs outmuscled him for a fourth-quarter touchdown that tied the score at 24-24. Doubs also got past Jones on an end-zone bomb with just over two minutes remaining but could not complete the catch.
4. Isaiah Wynn benched
The Patriots finally reached their limit with their struggling right tackle.
Wynn surrendered two sacks in the first half: the one that got Hoyer injured and another that caused a Zappe fumble just before halftime. He also was flagged once for a false start and again for holding, upping his penalty total to six over the last three games.
When the Patriots’ offense took the field for its first drive after halftime, Cannon was in at right tackle and Wynn was on the bench. Wynn still roughly a dozen second-half snaps, but only when the Patriots used Cannon as a jumbo tight end in place of Jonnu Smith, who exited the game with an ankle injury late in the second quarter and did not return.
Cannon, a three-time Super Bowl winner with the Patriots, was elevated from the practice squad for this game. But with Yodny Cajuste now on injured reserve, he’ll likely earn an official promotion to the 53-man roster in short order. And based on the way Wynn has performed of late, it would not be surprising to see the 34-year-old Cannon back in the starting lineup next Sunday against Detroit.
5. Special teams woes continue
Brenden Schooler and Cody Davis both were called for personal fouls on punt plays. Raekwon McMillan was flagged for holding on a kickoff return. Jake Bailey sent two punts into the end zone for touchbacks and had another that traveled just 31 yards. The kicking game has not been New England’s strong suit this season, and that did not change Sunday.
One welcome development, though, was the play of rookie return man Marcus Jones. Returning both kicks and punts for the first time after taking over the latter from Myles Bryant, Jones sparked one Patriots drive with a 29-yard punt return and another with a 37-yard kickoff return. He also delivered a clutch 20-yard return in overtime to set New England up at midfield.
But even Jones wasn’t immune to miscues. He let a late Packers punt go rather than fielding it, and Green Bay downed it at the 1-yard line.