By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Lawrence Guy knew he needed to make a stop. It’s the only mindset the Patriots defense can have when it’s going up against a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers.
The Patriots defensive tackle made one of the group’s biggest plays of the 2018 season just as the bell tolled for the fourth quarter in Foxborough. It came against not Rodgers, but running back Aaron Jones. Guy flew in and jarred the ball loose from Jones’ hands, allowing Stephon Gilmore to come up with the fumble recovery that sparked a 14-point fourth quarter for the Pats.
Rodgers had made his share of plays all night, but the Patriots defense kept fighting. They kept their focus, which allowed them to come up with the biggest plays at the biggest times.
“Every time we step on the field we have to get a stop,” said Guy after the game. “It’s not like, ‘Oh we’re good, we can take this series off.’ Every series we need to get a stop, every down we need to get a stop, and that’s what we go out there and try to play like every time.”
That relentlessness paid off in the fourth quarter, starting with Guy’s turnover. Next time Rodgers got the football back, he was facing a 24-17 deficit. He had his chance to come up with a big moment of his own, but the Patriots pass rush wouldn’t let him.
Holding on to the ball for just a hair too long, with opportunities to hit a separating Jimmy Graham over the middle, Rodgers instead took a back-breaking sack for a nine-yard loss. Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn, each of whom had perhaps their best games of the season, swarmed Rodgers on the play. It felt like the ultimate prize for the persistence they’d shown with the consistent pressure being applied.
“It definitely felt rewarding getting to him,” said Flowers on the fourth-quarter sack. “We pressured him all night, but just being able to get him, make him take the sack was rewarding.”
Rodgers dodged the pressure for much of the night as well, putting his side-to-side mobility to good use. It’s just part of the game when facing a dual-threat QB like him. Flowers knew how important it was for the Patriots not to just disrupt things, but continue to make him uncomfortable even as plays are extended.
“You’ve just got to continue to pressure, continue to stay on your feet and just hope he holds the ball a little bit longer,” said Flowers. “Hope he overthrows his receiver, or get off on third down. Anything’s a plus for us.”
Big-time plus for the Patriots’ front-seven on Sunday night. Facing perhaps the best quarterback they’ll face all season (but still not the GOAT), they came up with their most complete effort of the season.
The hope now is that the defense, after a series of uneven efforts, can build upon this. The Patriots have won six in a row, but it hasn’t felt like they’re building toward their usual second-half surge. Thanks to Sunday’s effort by the defense, perhaps this is the first swell of the next Patriot tsunami.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.