GREEN BAY, Wis. – Until they find more explosiveness on offense, these Green Bay Packers won’t be built for blowouts this season.
That means a lot of games like Sunday’s nail-biting 27-24 overtime victory over the New England Patriots. The Packers played most of the game against third-string rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe, a recipe to run an opponent out of Lambeau Field in the past. This is a different year, a different team, and certainly a different offense.
So Sunday came down to a big special-teams play with a Pat O’Donnell punt downed at the 2-yard line. It came down to another defensive stop with the Patriots pinned against their goal line, then another stop in overtime. It came down to not one, but two cracks in overtime for the Packers offense to post the game-winning points.
NFL NEWSLETTER: Sign up now for exclusive content sent to your inbox
The Packers drove 77 yards on their second possession of overtime, setting up a 31-yard Mason Crosby field goal to escape against a team it ordinarily would have dominated. There is no domination in this Packers team, at least not right now. They’ll take a 3-1 record heading to London next week as a worthy consolation prize.
Here are some quick thoughts from Sunday’s game:
Run, run, run
The run game is making a comeback in the NFL. For the Packers, that means their offense goes as Aaron Jones goes. Jones had six carries for 55 yards with more than 13 minutes left in the second quarter Sunday. He got just one carry – for 2 yards – the rest of the first half. Not surprisingly, the Packers' offense stalled. Coach Matt LaFleur got back to his best player in the second half, riding Jones to a pair of touchdown drives. Jones finished with 110 yards on 16 carries. (AJ Dillon added 73 yards on 17 carries.) Of course, there are always two sides to that coin. The Packers' run defense might be the lone chink in their armor this season, at least after the opening series. They allowed 152 rushing yards on 32 carries to the Patriots' two-pronged running attack of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, a 5.1-yard average that was especially high considering most of the game was quarterbacked by Zappe. The run game giveth, and the run game taketh away this season.
Rashan Gary leaves his mark
Rashan Gary is developing from star pass rusher to clinician in his fourth season. Gary put on a clinic against the Patriots on Sunday, making his presence known all over the field. The big play came in the first quarter when Gary sacked starting Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer for a third-down stop. Hoyer left the game with a head injury and didn’t return, leaving snaps to Zappe. (Starter Mac Jones was inactive because of a high-ankle sprain.) Gary added another sack, his fifth in four games this season, and recovered a fumble. The most impressive part of his game might have been how he played the run, though. Gary finished second on the defense with seven tackles, behind defensive lineman Jarran Reed’s eight. He often chased down ball carriers from a play’s back side, showing remarkable closing speed. It’s not enough that opposing offensive lines have to block Gary off the edge on passing downs. His impact in both pass and run defense is rare for an edge player.
Robert Tonyan finds the end zone
At his best, which is to say before his torn ACL last season, Robert Tonyan stretched the seams vertically. Oftentimes, those downfield routes ended across the goal line. So it was a good sign Tonyan is rounding into form when he caught a 20-yard touchdown from Aaron Rodgers in the third quarter, giving the Packers a 14-10 lead. Tonyan blew past Patriots Matthew Judon from his in-line position and leaped in front of a pair of safeties in the end zone on the score. The Packers' passing game has dearly missed a vertical receiving threat in the wake of Davante Adams’ offseason departure. If Tonyan continues to flash that kind of big-play ability, it would be a big boost for the offense.
Packers' defense worse before it gets better
Other than a game’s opening drive, the Packers' defense hasn’t allowed much this season. The problem is the opening drive. Four straight games to start the season, the Packers have allowed scoring drives on their first series. It was a 10-play, 56-yard drive to the Patriots on Sunday, allowing a short field goal and 3-0 deficit. That followed touchdown drives on the opening series each of the first two weeks, and an opening field goal last week at Tampa Bay. The Packers defense has allowed 62 points this season – not including a pick-6 from Aaron Rodgers in Sunday’s first half. A third of those (20 points) have come on the opening series.
David Bakhtiari ramp up increases
The Packers didn’t entirely ditch their left-tackle rotation Sunday, but they got awfully close. David Bakhtiari played all but one drive, the Packers’ fourth possession of the game. That was the lone time Yosh Nijman took any snaps, on the field for just three. Bakhtiari got the others. The Packers are clearly ramping up Bakhtiari’s workload. The fact he was dropped from the injury report Friday probably had something to do with his increased playing time. It will be interesting to see how Bakhtiari’s knee responds to a long flight to London this week, but he appears to be finally healthy enough to be a consistent contributor.
This article originally appeared on Packers News: Packers need OT to top Patriots, rookie QB Bailey Zappe