For most of the first three quarters, Tom Brady sat and watched. With hands crossed and a pensive look, the Patriots quarterback was almost as much of a bystander as any of the fans in Gillette Stadium.
When he finally got his hands on the ball, Brady showed why the Packers tried to keep it from him.
Brady put together two consecutive scoring drives in the fourth quarter, finding tight end Aaron Hernandez for a 10-yard score with 7:14 left to give the Patriots a 31-27 win over Green Bay last night.
Kicker Shayne Graham made a 38-yard field goal with 11:05 remaining. And Brady (15-of-24, 163 yards, two touchdowns) capped a 63-yard drive by finding Hernandez.
Yet it was the defense that sealed the sixth consecutive win, making a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter and sacking backup quarterback Matt Flynn with no time left to seal it.
The Patriots can clinch the AFC East and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win next weekend.
Filling in for injured starter Aaron Rodgers, Flynn finished 24-of-37 for 251 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
It wasn't perfect. Penalties by the Patriots keyed two big Packers drives, while a hands-to-the-face penalty by linebacker Tully Banta-Cain negated a game-winning pick by safety Brandon Meriweather. But it was enough.
After three quarters, the Packers had succeeded in keeping the Patriots' potent offense off the field. Of the game's first 45 minutes, Green Bay had the ball for more than 31 of them.
Thanks to an interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Kyle Arrington and a ball-control Packers offense, it was like the loss to Cleveland. Without the loss.
Yet after being dominated throughout the game, the Patriots trailed just 27-24 with 11:05 left.
The Packers began the game with a successful onside kick, with safety Nick Collins recovering it. Flynn led a field goal drive to start.
The Patriots mixed in a 33-yard touchdown run by BenJarvus Green-Ellis to take a 7-3 lead, one that vanished quickly.
Flynn's big play came early in the second quarter when he completed a 66-yard TD to James Jones to put his team up 10-7.
Thanks to costly penalties by nose tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive backs Devin McCourty and James Sanders, the Packers took a 17-7 lead in the second quarter after a Greg Jennings touchdown from Flynn.
It took a 71-yard kickoff return by guard Dan Connolly to wake everyone up and set up Hernandez' 2-yard score to make it 17-14 at halftime.
Arrington's interception, which included a frantic 36-yard return and four missed tackles, made it 21-17 Patriots.
Thanks to a goal-line stand by the Pats, the Packers settled for a field goal to take a 27-21 lead.
Predictably, the Pats offense didn't mess around. Graham's field goal cut the lead. Then Brady found Hernandez again to take a 31-27 lead in a six-play, 63-yard drive that took 2:24 and left 7:19 on the clock.
The defense held on.
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