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Patriots rally to top Flynn, Packers

Per Montreal Gazette:

In the end, inexperience cost him. Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start, but indecision in the final minute allowed New England to come away with a 31-27 victory over the Packers.

Flynn was playing in place of Aaron Rodgers, who sat because of a concussion suffered last week, and looked like a veteran quarterback at times. He completed 24-of-37 throws and had the Packers deep in Patriots territory inside the final 60 seconds.

But a failure to quickly call a play with time winding down left Flynn scrambling, and Tully Banta-Cain sacked him from behind to force a fumble and end the game.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady passed for 163 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score to Aaron Hernandez in the fourth quarter, to help the New England (12-2) earn a sixth consecutive victory.

The Patriots, who have already clinched a playoff berth, weren’t able to secure the AFC East because the Jets edged Pittsburgh earlier Sunday. New England did, however, maintain its two-game lead over New York and control of the division.

The Packers (8-6) suffered a second straight defeat and are now in danger of missing the playoffs altogether. Their loss means Chicago can clinch the NFC North by winning Monday night’s game against Minnesota, and Green Bay is also currently trailing New Orleans and the New York Giants in the wild card race.

But for Green Bay to have changed that meant it would have had to overcome long odds. The Packers were facing a Patriots team that had won 15 consecutive regular-season home games and 21 of its last 22 contests against NFC clubs. They were facing Brady, who had won his last 26 regular-season starts at Gillette Stadium. On top of that, they were led by a third-year quarterback who had never before started an NFL game.

Yet only 71 seconds into the fourth quarter, Mason Crosby kicked a 19-yard field goal to give Green Bay a 27-21 lead.

The Patriots, though, got the points back on Shayne Graham’s 38-yard try with 11:05 to play, then got the ball back after forcing a Packers three-and-out.

Brady led New England 63 yards in six plays, completing first-down passes to Danny Woodhead and Deion Branch before Woodhead ran for 13 yards to bring the Patriots to the Green Bay 10-yard line. On the next play, Brady threw a short pass to Hernandez on the left side of the field, and the tight end broke a tackle before strutting into the end zone with 7:14 on the clock.

After the teams traded punts, Green Bay started a drive at its own 43 with 4:22 to play and two timeouts.

The Packers looked like they were doomed on the second play, when safety Brandon Meriweather intercepted Flynn’s deep pass for Greg Jennings. However, Banta-Cain was flagged for illegal use of his hands, giving Green Bay a first down at the New England 47.

Three consecutive running plays resulted in a first down at the two-minute warning, and Flynn kept the chains moving with his passing. Faced with a third-and-four at the New England 29, Flynn connected with Donald Driver for five yards, and Green Bay called its second timeout with 1:05 left.

But rookie linebacker Dane Fletcher likely saved the game for the Patriots on the next play, sacking Flynn for an eight-yard loss. Not only did the play move Green Bay backward, it forced the Packers to use their final timeout with 53 seconds left.

When Flynn got back under center, Green Bay faced a second-and-18 and needed to pick up yardage quickly. He passed to James Jones for seven yards before completing a pass to Driver cutting across the middle.

Pat Chung’s ankle tackle left Driver a yard short of the first down, though, meaning Green Bay wasn’t able to spike the ball. Flynn and the Packers struggled to get a play called, and by the time he took the snap, there were only five seconds left. Flynn searched for a receiver until Banta-Cain snuck up from behind for the sack and fumble. Vince Wilfork recovered to secure the Patriots’ win.

Green Bay posed a challenge from the start, beginning the game with a successful onside kick. Crosby kicked a 31-yarder to open the scoring, and the Patriots followed with a 33-yard touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Flynn put the Packers back in front on the first play of the second quarter, when he connected with Jones for a 66-yard touchdown.

Green Bay made it a 17-7 game later in the half thanks to a long drive. The Packers went 82 yards in 13 plays while taking nearly 6 1/2 minutes off the clock. Flynn capped the march with a one-yard pass to Jennings with 2:17 left.

However, Patriots offensive lineman Dan Connolly returned the kickoff 71 yards to set New England up at the Green Bay four. Three plays later, Brady hit Hernandez for a two-yard touchdown to get the Patriots within 17-14 at the break.

New England took the lead three minutes into the third quarter, when Kyle Arrington picked off Flynn and returned the ball 36 yards for a score.

Green Bay responded with another long drive, a 13-play progression that Flynn ended with a six-yard pass to fullback John Kuhn, giving Green Bay a 24-21 lead.

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