The Patriots’ offensive chicanery continued on their next possession when Edelman ran a reverse end around play for 17 yards. Two plays later, Brady looked insistently to his left, where it appeared he was going to throw a short screen pass, causing two Green Bay defensive backs to rashly charge forward.
The Packers’ secondary was already depleted because of two injuries and because Jermaine Whitehead was ejected after slapping a Patriots player in the face mask in a tussle at the end of a play, an offense that often draws a penalty but not a game disqualification.
But as Brady faked the screen pass, New England wide receiver Josh Gordon dashed behind the drawn-in Green Bay secondary. Brady connected with Gordon in stride for a game-clinching 55-yard touchdown pass.
The pass on that play, Brady explained, usually goes to Edelman, who was also open. Brady, who completed 22 of 35 passes for 294 yards, decided that Gordon was more open. With the game on the line, Brady had choices.
Rodgers, not surprisingly, was frustrated after the game. His team’s defense is suspect and inconsistent. For the second consecutive week, a late fumble had hampered the Packers chances at victory against a top opponent on the road (Green Bay lost to the Los Angeles Rams a week ago).
“We’re hurting ourselves with negative yardage plays and missed throws and turnovers at the wrong time — and not being on the same page too many times,” Rodgers said. “And it’s happening in the worst times. When we have to play our best in those crunch times, we haven’t been playing our best.”
Rodgers will turn 35 next month. He is one of the greatest quarterbacks of his generation, but the clock is ticking on his career and he longs for multiple championships, like those won by the 41-year-old Brady, his infrequent on-field rival.
The Patriots and Packers will not play in the regular season again until 2022, and it’s impossible to predict if Rodgers or Brady will still be in uniform. The teams, and quarterbacks, could meet sooner, if each makes it to the Super Bowl. But the final quarter of Sunday’s absorbing showdown, which featured New England’s precise efficiency and Green Bay’s untidy gaffes, made that feel like wishful thinking.