Rapid reaction: Patriots 31, Packers 27

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 31-27 win over the Packers at Gillette Stadium:

What it means. Entertaining game. It came down to the last play, with Tully Banta-Cain sacking quarterback Matt Flynn, who struggled to get the final play off on fourth-and-1. It looked like a case of poor clock management and an inexperienced quarterback watching valuable seconds tick off the clock, unsure of what he wanted to do. The Patriots improve to 12-2 as this was a game in which they survived.

They’ll be talking about Connolly’s kickoff return. When was the last time you saw an offensive lineman return a kickoff 71 yards? Never, of course, because it happened for the first time when Patriots right guard Dan Connolly rumbled 71 yards to set up a 2-yard Tom Brady-to-Aaron Hernandez touchdown connection. Since the statistic was first recorded in 1994, it marked the longest kickoff return by an offensive lineman. Connolly, a five-year veteran who filled in admirably for left guard Logan Mankins for the season’s first seven games and now is starting at right guard in place of injured Stephen Neal, played the ensuing offensive series before leaving the game with a concussion.

Up-and-down night for Patriots defense.Through three quarters, it didn’t look pretty for the Patriots' defense. The Packers held a time-of-possession edge of 31:26-13:34 at that point, and the defense looked tired, unable to come up with the critical stop on third down. The Packers were 9-of-13 on third down through three quarters. The tired defense came up with the big stops in the fourth quarter, just when it appeared it was on its last legs.

Penalties hurt the Patriots. New England entered the game ranked fourth in the NFL for fewest accepted penalties in the NFL. The Patriots had a tough night in that area with Ed Hochuli’s crew. A potential game-ending interception was nullified by an illegal hands to the face penalty on Tully Banta-Cain, which reflected the Patriots’ struggles in this area.

Should Packers have gone for it on fourth-and-1? Early in the fourth quarter, the Packers led 24-21 and had the ball on the Patriots’ 1-yard line. This came after the Packers couldn’t punch it in on first-and-goal from the 2. Coach Mike McCarthy elected to kick the field goal on fourth down, a decision that will probably be second-guessed in Green Bay.

Packers brought their best effort. One week after a disappointing loss to the Lions in which they lost starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a concussion, the Packers rebounded in a big way. They played an inspired game, opening with a successful onside kick. Third-year quarterback Matt Flynn, who made his first career start, showed poise up until the final play, especially after throwing a third-quarter interception that was returned 36 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Kyle Arrington.

What’s next. The Patriots visit the Bills next Sunday (1 p.m.). With the Jets winning a big road game against the Steelers on Sunday, the team’s lead in the AFC East remains two games.