It was January 2015, and as it had been much of the season, the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots appeared to be on a collision course for the Super Bowl. Morgan Burnett intercepted Russell Wilson with 4:34 left to go in the NFC Championship game and at that moment, the Packers were virtually certain to move on. The Patriots hosted the Colts later that night and were a 7 point favorite.
The Super Bowl that year, would have been the chance for the Packers to lay claim to the pre-eminent franchise in the NFL. After all, during Aaron Rodgers tenure with the Packers, they had been arguably more successful than the Patriots. From 2009-2014 (excluding Rodgers 1st year as starter, and prior to the Seahawks game), the Packers regular season record was 67-28-1, while their playoff record of 7-4. They had won a Super Bowl and made the playoffs for six consecutive seasons, were the favorite most of the year to win the Super Bowl in 2011. Meanwhile during the same time frame the Patriots had a record of 73-23 while their playoff record was 5-5, and had been to the Super Bowl once during that time.
Earlier that season, The Packers bested the Patriots in a very clean, hard fought game. And that is arguably, the last great McCarthy coaching job. They gained 478 yards, and held the ball for 36:35. The Patriots were lost and couldn’t get off the field. They had no answers to whatever McCarthy was dialing up. On one instance he successfully used Randall Cobb as a running back, which created a man to man matchup vs a linebacker, and Rodgers found Cobb for a long gain. Davante Adams was a feature of the offense even though he was the #3 WR, as the Patriots had focused Jordy Nelson and Cobb. The Packers were not only equal to the mighty Patriots as a team and a franchise, they were better.
Fast forward four years later and the same two team met, this time in New England. The game epitomized the differences in the two franchises since. In a game that was supposed to be about the quarterbacks it was anything but. The Packers defense was eating Tom Brady’s lunch for much of the game. At one point, he had seven consecutive plays from inside the ten, and came away with no points, and he couldn’t manage a first down the following drive on six plays, one of which included a non-called intentional grounding. He didn’t play well, and played poorly for his standards.
And so did Aaron Rodgers, who missed two TD’s in the first quarter, made some poor reads and was generally inaccurate for most of the game, including missing St. Brown along the sideline on the drive after the Patriots to the lead for good, which was a critical play.
And therein lies the difference. Or at least the beginning of it. The Patriots coaching staff took it upon themselves to make it easier for Brady. After the Packers ate Brady alive in the 3rd quarter, Josh McDaniels called a trick play that brought the Patriots from midfield down to the goal line. Early in the game, they scored their touchdowns by going into warp speed to open the game, and then used Cordarelle Patterson as a running back. Both looks were different, and difficult for the Packers (or anyone to defend). Their field goal came about from a well-executed flea flicker.
Meanwhile with a struggling quarterback, McCarthy decides to rely on him more, not less. This is especially inexcusable because they Patriots were conceding the run to the Packers. Belichick knew very well that McCarthy could help himself. McCarthy played right into his hands.
Another difference is their roster composition. Both teams have always been judicious about paying unrestricted free agents from other teams, but the Patriots are not afraid to take shots with players with talent from other teams, that are low risk moves. The two players that hurt the Packers the most on Sunday were Josh Gordon and Cordarelle Patterson. If those players don’t work out, its no harm no foul. Why not give it a shot? This mainly speaks to Ted Thompson, whose strict adherence to draft and develop, is troublesome if you don’t hit on your 1st and 2nd round picks. In Thomspon’s last three years, Kenny Clark is the only 1st or 2nd round pick, that could be deemed a success.
And lastly, the Packers find ways to lose, while the Patriots don’t give you a thing. And its not just a Jones fumble, or a Whitehead penalty. Its consistent, since, well the infamous Seahawks game.
Since that fateful day, the Packers are 30-25-1, with a postseason record of 3-2. The Patriots have a regular season record of 46-11, a postseason record of 9-2, and have won two super bowls.
The was on full display Sunday night. It was a competitive game, with no real discernable difference in talent levels. Some say, the Packers fan base is spoiled, and that we shouldn’t compare the successes of each. I say, the Packers were on the cusp of being the Patriots of the NFC and it’s as if that all slipped away, with the ball slipping out of Brandon Bostick’s fingertips.Originally from Glidden Wisconsin, Jason Straetz is a lifelong Packers\' fan, who has lived in Maine for over 30 years. He is a writer for packerstalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @jsnstz