By Hector Longo
1. Dan Connolly — The offensive guard's 71-yard kick return to the Green Bay 4 set up New England's second TD of the night and provided a kick-start for a football team in need of one.
2. Aaron Hernandez — The rookie had been a little quiet lately, but when Tom Brady needed a play, he went to Hernandez, who caught four balls for 31 yards and a pair of TDs. He added a 16-yard end around run.
3. Kyle Arrington — His first career NFL interception went for a 36-yard TD on which he busted at least three tackles. It was a huge lift for a football team that reeled for much of the first half.
1. Devin McCourty — Beaten for a touchdown on a deep ball early, something that simply hasn't been seen around here all season. Also committed a stupid 15-yard penalty on a helmet-to-helmet hit that helped lead to a Green Bay second-quarter touchdown.
2. Julian Edelman — Muffed a first-quarter punt that could have ended the turnover streak. Not even an afterthought in this offense anymore.
3. Gary Guyton — Packers ran right at him over and over. He made four solo tackles on a night Green Bay ran 80 plays.
GRADING THE GROUPS
Line (B-) ... Tom Brady got belted on three sacks, but overall there was room to run and time to throw.
Backs (B-) ... The numbers say they delivered 6.5 yards a carry, but they only ran 15 times.
Receivers (C-) ... Deion Branch and Wes Welker only combined for five catches (75 yards). Super day for the rookie, Aaron Hernandez. Brandon Tate doesn't pose any kind of threat as a playmaker.
Quarterback (A-) ... Gets it done again on a weird night. Hit only 15 of 24 passes for 163 yards and a pair of TDs But the 110.2 rating.
Line (C-) ... Vince Wilfork's six solos were the only contribution from this group. He was immense. The rest were invisible, but in their defense there weren't a lot of snaps as the Pats spent much of the night in nickel sets.
Linebackers (D) ... Jerod Mayo's line with 10 solos looked better than it really was. Green Bay ran 46 second-half plays and he had three tackles in that span — good for gains of 3, 4 and 12 yards. Tully Banta-Cain nearly killed this group when his illegal hands to the face penalty nullified a late Brandon Meriweather pick. He did however lock it up with a late gift strip-sack.
Secondary (D) ... Matt Flynn, who could not beat out JaMarcus Russell for the job at LSU, rolled up a 100.2 quarterback rating and put 27 points on the board. Enough said.
Coaching (C-) ... Shouldn't the game plan have included a lot more exotic sets to try and confuse Matt Flynn?
Special Teams (B+) ... If Dan Connolly gets into the end zone, it's an "A+." No seriously, this was a bigtime effort in the cover game as Green Bay did nothing with their runbacks. Losing the onside kick to open the game wasn't pretty, but the day got better and better as time rolled on.
THE TURNING POINT
Lots of folks, including big Vince Wilfork will point to big Dan Connolly's 71-yard kick return before halftime.
I will point to Green Bay's possession to start the fourth quarter with first and goal from the Pats 2.
Twice, the Pack ran straight into nine-man fronts, then instead of huddling on third down, Matt Flynn rushed his crew to the line and flung a missile out of bounds.
Coach Mike McCarthy then iced the cake by taking the useless field goal over going for a TD and a two-score lead on 4th-and-1.
Make it six straight victories in which the Patriots have scored 30-plus points and have not turned the football over.
The Patriots moved to +20 in the takeaways category last night, but there were a couple tense moments for Tom Brady and the crew.
First, he threw a first-quarter out pattern right to Green Bay's Charles Woodson, but the all-pro corner dropped it.
Later, Brady fumbled the football on a sack but scurried to get the pigskin back.
WHY BELICHICK'S BETTER
Green Bay's Mike McCarthy opened this game with the proper risk-taker's mentality, going with a successful onside kick.
It was proper for the moment. Heading into the weekend, you had to figure the Packers were playing for their playoff lives with a journeyman at the helm in QB Matt Flynn.
He then reverted into a bastion of conservatism over the final 59:58.
Tell me, would Belichick have:
Kicked a 19-yard field goal to go up 27-21 in the fourth quarter instead of trying to make it a two-score game;
Or punted on fourth-and-7 from the Pats 49 with 4:56 left, trailing 31-27;
Or run the ball five times inside the final four minutes, ultimately butchering the two-minute drill and running out of time?
I think not.
THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
Somebody send Rex Ryan an "Edible Arrangement" for his club's win at Pittsburgh, a victory that helped the Patriots close in on the No. 1 see in the AFC.
The Pats simply need a win at Buffalo Sunday or over Miami here in two weeks to lock down the top spot in the AFC.
New York is the only team that can catch/pass the Pats but that would take a pair of New England losses and Jet wins over Chicago and Buffalo.
WAIT FOR THE IMPLOSION
I love this league.
New England, playing listless football, again simply waits for the implosion and pounces.
First, offensive guard Dan Connolly runs a squib kick back 71 yards to the Green Bay 4, setting up the Pats for their second TD, inside the final minute of the half.
Then, coming out of halftime, Packers QB has a wide-open James Jones to throw to for a first down but chooses to split the 2-7 on Kyle Arrington's jersey for a touchdown.
The only problem? Arrington is a Patriot, the Patriot who Jones beat to the outside.
Say goodbye to a 17-7 lead and hello to a 21-17 hole. Suddenly, it's a football game.