Early during Sunday afternoon’s game between the Green Bay Packers and the visiting New England Patriots, backup quarterback Brian Hoyer was headed to the locker room to be evaluated for a head injury and New England fans were googling “who is the Patriots emergency quarterback?”
Shortly thereafter they were googling “where did Bailey Zappe come from?”
With starting quarterback Mac Jones sidelined with a high ankle sprain and Hoyer ruled out early in the contest with a head injury, the rookie quarterback saw his first NFL action at Lambeau Field against Aaron Rodgers.
Zappe and New England put a scare into Rodgers and the Packers, but the veteran quarterback found a way to deliver the win despite trailing at halftime.
It looked in the first half as if the Packers would run away with the victory. After managing a field goal on the first possession of the game, the Patriots punted on the next two drives with Hoyer at the helm, and then on the first three possessions with Zappe in the game.
On Zappe’s fourth possession under center, there were signs of life from the Patriots offense as the first half wound down. New England was just outside the red zone with over a minute remaining, trailing 7-3, and looked in position to at least add a field goal before halftime.
That’s when Rashan Gary broke free off the right edge, forcing a fumble from the rookie quarterback:
With the Packers taking over possession at their own 31-yard line, and having a pair of timeouts to work with, it seemed like Green Bay might break the game open. Complicating matters for New England was the fact that the Packers would receive the second half kickoff, giving them the potential double-dip.
Instead, they would be receiving a kickoff a few plays later:
Rookie cornerback Jack Jones stepped in front of Allen Lazard and snared a throw along the sideline, returning it 40 yards for the touchdown, and in the blink of an eye, the Patriots had the lead at Lambeau Field heading into the break.
As the teams streamed towards the locker rooms, Rodgers’ halftime stats were not exactly what Packers fans were hoping for:
Those numbers would be turned around in a hurry, as Rodgers and the Packers’ passing game started to click. Green Bay opened the third quarter by going right down the field, putting together a 10-play drive that covered 81 yards. A key play on that drive was this beautifully-thrown go route along the right sideline from Rodgers, connecting with Lazard for a huge gain:
That drive ended with Rodgers using his eyes to perfection, opening to the left side before snapping them back to the right to pick up tight end Robert Tonyan for the score:
New England and Zappe answered right back with a seven-play drive, topped off by Zappe’s first professional touchdown pass:
Working off play-action, Zappe finds DeVante Parker on the crossing route working from the left side of the field. Zappe shows great touch on the throw, dropping it over the underneath defenders and then in front of the safeties. From there, Parker does the rest, slicing into the end zone with the touchdown to return the lead to New England.
If you had Zappe as the first rookie quarterback to throw atouchdown this season, come on down and collect your winnings …
Packers fans, perhaps with good reason, were screaming for a delay of game penalty on the play, as the ball was snapped well after the play clock expired. A flag did not come, and the touchdown remained on the board.
Rodgers and the Packers settled for a field goal on their next possession, and the Patriots turned to the ground game on their next possession. The ensuing drive featured Marcus Cannon in the game as a sixth offensive lineman, and the Patriots ran the football on six of the seven plays, including this touchdown run from Damien Harris to break the tie and give the Patriots a 24-17 lead at Lambeau Field.
However, Rodgers was not going to go quietly into the Wisconsin night. The veteran quarterback and the Packers offense delivered on the next possession, with Rodgers connecting with rookie wide receiver Romeo Doubs on a back-shoulder throw in the red zone to tie the game yet again:
The touchdown was the 500th of Rodgers’ career, putting him in rarified air. With the throw Rodgers joined Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre in the 500 club.
Minutes later, it seemed like Rodgers had hit on 501 to give the Packers the lead late. He connected with Doubs again on a vertical route along the right sideline, but Doubs lost control of the football when he came crashing to the turf at Lambeau Field. The play was ruled an incompletion on the field and upheld after a Green Bay challenge.
The game moved to overtime, and the Packers won the toss and received the kickoff to start the extra frame. The teams traded punts on their first two possessions, but then Rodgers and the Packers offense took control of the game, wearing down the New England defense with a long possession that brought the clock down to the end of the overtime. A critical play on that drive was this third-down connection between Rodgers and Randall Cobb, putting the Packers on the cusp of field goal range:
Green Bay worked the clock down to just four seconds remaining before calling for Mason Crosby. The veteran kicker came on for the 31-yard field goal attempt,
The celebration began, which included a long exchange at midfield between Rodgers and Bill Belichick.
It was a valiant effort from the Patriots given the circumstances. With Mac Jones ruled out on Friday and Hoyer sidelined early in the contest, it looked like the Patriots might get run off the field. But Zappe and the Patriots hung tough on both sides of the football, and had a chance to go into Green Bay and steal a win despite being heavy underdogs going into the game.
But in the end, Rodgers and the Packers were simply too much. Particularly Rodgers, who showed again on this afternoon just how perfect you have to be — on both sides of the ball — to beat him right now. Rodgers finished the day having completed 21 of 35 passes for 251 yards and 2 scores, along with the interception.
And a win which, well, might have been tougher than expected, but a win nonetheless.