Green Bay's Flynn answers the bell

Packers’ quarterback Matt Flynn fires the first of his three touchdown passes against the Patriots in his first NFL start. Flynn completed 24 of 37 passes. Packers’ quarterback Matt Flynn fires the first of his three touchdown passes against the Patriots in his first NFL start. Flynn completed 24 of 37 passes. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Barbara Matson
Globe Correspondent / December 20, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Matt Flynn was the unknown in last night’s game, the expected soft underbelly of the Packers. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay’s starting quarterback since 2008, was not cleared to play after suffering his second concussion of the season last week against Detroit. That left the 25-year-old out of Louisiana State to make the first start of his three-year NFL career.

Inexperience was the top line on Flynn’s résumé.

But the young quarterback was poised, almost serene, taking his team to a 17-14 halftime lead with a pair of touchdown passes. He might have had New England in a really awkward position, trailing Green Bay by 10 points, but Patriot lineman Dan Connelly escaped for an improbable 71-yard kickoff return that set up a touchdown with 1:13 left in the half, closing the gap.

Flynn continued his methodical, efficient offense in the second half, showing himself to be prepared to challenge the Patriot juggernaut.

Consider this: when Flynn connected with James Jones with 14:51 left in the second quarter on a 66-yard play, he had the first touchdown pass of his NFL career. When Tom Brady finished off what must fairly be called Connolly’s Drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez, it was the 30th touchdown pass of the season for the Patriot quarterback, and the 255th of his career. Brady also tied Sonny Jurgensen for 11th on the NFL’s all-time list for quarterback touchdown passes.

Only when the Packers ran out of time as they tried — and failed — to push in from the 15-yard line in the game’s final seconds did Flynn have to concede the 31-27 victory to the Patriots.

“Well, we lost, so I guess it has to be a losing performance,’’ said Flynn, who passed for 251 yards and three touchdowns. “The loss is really the only thing on my mind right now.’’

But he was as calm in his evaluation of his performance as he had been in making it.

“We ran the ball real well today,’’ said Flynn. “The plan didn’t change because I was in. We went up there and went after them.’’

Rodgers stayed with Flynn on the sideline last night, offering advice. “Me and Aaron talked all week,’’ said Flynn. “He told me to cut loose and trust your preparation.’’

Flynn, who was 24 for 37 passing, drove his team 40 yards in 11 plays on the Packers’ opening possession, using up 6 minutes 15 seconds and setting up a 31-yard field goal by Mason Crosby. The Patriots countered with a BenJarvus Green-Ellis 33-yard TD run with 6:19 left in the first quarter, but Flynn was not rattled. Instead, when he saw an opening, he jumped on it, lofting the long pass to Jones. He added another TD on a 1-yard pass to Greg Jennings with 2:17 left in the second quarter. The Gillette Stadium crowd was quiet.

Then came Connelly’s run and the Hernandez score, but Flynn picked up his methodical offense in the second half. He had to survive an interception by Kyle Arrington, which the speedy cornerback quickly turned into a 36-yard touchdown run. Flynn got right back to work, using 6:56 to pound his way down the field, finishing a 13-play drive with a 6-yard pass to John Kuhn to make it 24-21. Crosby added a 19-yard field goal and the Packers led, 27-21.

Flynn demonstrated an ability to control the pace. For the game, the Packers had the ball for 40:48.

“Matt had a lot of positive things,’’ said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “There was definitely something Matt Flynn can grow from. We came here to win, let me make that clear. He put us in position from time to time to win the football game. For his first start on the big stage, against an excellent football team playing very well, I thought he did a number of positive things and gave us a chance to win.’’

A field goal brought the Patriots back to 27-24 and then Brady hit Hernandez for the go-ahead touchdown pass with 7:14 left in the fourth quarter.

Green Bay (8-6) had a chance to win in the game’s final minute, but couldn’t move past the Patriot defense in four tries, running out of time (and timeouts) as the Patriots sacked Flynn twice, including the final play.

“Right there, that third-down play, the second-to-last play, we couldn’t really tell if we got the first down or not,’’ said Flynn. “We would have gone up and clocked the ball and had an opportunity to call a better play. But once they spotted the ball, it was fourth down and we just had to go.’’

Tully Banta-Cain was waiting for Flynn on that last chance, bringing him down to end the game.

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