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Patriots' defensive problems return in close win

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Recent posts by Kevin Fishbain

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Posted Dec. 20, 2010 @ 7:27 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

The Packers showed that the Patriots' offense can be slowed and that the Patriots' defense still has holes to exploit.

But, as has happened over and over again this year, the Pats did just enough and made a huge defensive play to get the victory.

At 12-2, New England is one win away from home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. It wasn't a pretty effort, and head coach Bill Belichick was not pleased after the game, which is bad news for the Patriots' next opponent, the Bills.

We knew that the Packers' secondary and Dom Capers' "D" would frustrate the Patriots, but the big shock was how the Packers were able to engineer their offense successfully with Matt Flynn at the helm. They held on to the ball for over 40 minutes, keeping Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense off the field.

The Packers ran the ball well and attacked the Patriots' biggest weakness on defense: third-down efficiency, as the Pack converted 11-of-19 third downs. It sure looked like the Patriots missed ILB Brandon Spikes.

The PFW spin

Spikes is just a rookie and has had his miscues this season, but he is one of the team's better run stoppers, and they don't have another inside 'backer who can stop the run up the middle like he can. With so many injuries along the defensive line, Packers running backs were getting to the second level with ease, and the Patriots were missing tackles.

We know this is not a stellar defense. While they stepped up big in the previous two games, the Patriots are a bend-but-don't-break "D" that wants to put you into 3rd-and-long situations. Without Spikes there to help Jerod Mayo in keeping runners in check, Flynn was awarded with easy third-down conversions. The Pack ran the ball 38 times for 143 yards. It was the most a team has run the ball against New England since its loss to the Browns in Week Nine. The Pats escaped this one with a win.

Following a pick-six by CB Kyle Arrington that put the Patriots up four, the Packers ran an efficient 13-play, 69-yard drive for a touchdown. On the drive, Flynn faced just two third downs and converted both of them, including a six-yard touchdown pass to John Kuhn.

The Patriots certainly made Flynn and a couple of no-name backs look pretty good on Sunday night. Their defense confused Flynn into a crucial pick-six, and that's what they've done this year: make that one big play on defense to hold on to a victory.

But they will be glad to have Spikes back for the playoffs. The Bills will bring a solid rushing attack into this Sunday's game and did drop 30 points on the Patriots in Week Three. NT Vince Wilfork had a great game Sunday, constantly clogging up running lanes and getting penetration, but there wasn't enough around him (or behind him) to put Flynn in pressure-packed situations.

It certainly wasn't the same Patriots team we saw the previous five weeks, and the Packers showed a national TV audience some of the Patriots' weaknesses that could be exploited come playoff time.

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