It’s like t-shirt time, only better, because no one from Jersey is involved. Shawn Neuser takes a look at the Green Bay Packers 20-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
A few key plays make the difference in a tightly contested game against Atlanta. Here’s a closer look.
10:00, 1st quarter — Atlanta’s first drive ends in a 37-yard field goal. This is what you can expect from Atlanta — a grinding drive of three-yard runs and short passes that takes up five minutes. The Packers defense looks about as good as it has the last few weeks, but Atlanta executes well out of the gate. The drive was highlighted by a third-and-8 pickup, where the Packers blitzed five, but failed to get home. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan rolled to his left and finally managed to find running back Jason Snelling for 12 yards, after he slipped out of the backfield.
8:35, 1st quarter — On second-and-3, the Packers first run of the game is for no gain by Brandon Jackson after center Scott Wells got manhandled at the line of scrimmage and left tackle Chad Clifton allowed the defensive end to run around him. The Packers would punt after a third-and-3 when Aaron Rodgers slid for the first down and was marked short. After multiple viewings of this play, I have to agree with the mark. Rodgers had to dive if he wanted that first down.
5:20, 1st quarter — Atlanta goes three and out after linebacker Frank Zombo gets a sack on third down. It also appeared Clay Matthews was held on the other side. Regardless, Zombo’s Zorro-inspired sack celebration was great. Keep up the good work.
5:00, 1st quarter — Starting at their own 15 after a soft penalty, Rodgers hits Greg Jennings on another hitch route, and surprise, surprise, Jennings jukes the corner and goes weaving through the Falcons defense for 30 yards. Suggestion: throw Jennings the hitch more often.
0:04, 1st quarter — The Packers kick a short field goal after Dmitri Nance is stopped on third-and-1 at the four. On Nance’s play, everyone had good position on the line of scrimmage except for one man — Daryn Colledge. He got barrelled into the backfield, which forced fullback Quinn Johnson to leap him and Nance to swerve around him and right into the arms of a waiting linebacker. Nance appears to drive the pile to within a foot of the 1st down, but the refs ignore the second effort and mark it back at the 4. In short, a bad spot and Colledge colluded to stop the Packers here. These two things would prove the most effective Atlanta defense throughout the game.
13:08, 2nd quarter — The Packers are backed up at their 15 once again. So what? Rodgers hits Brett Swain for a 30-yard slant, in which Swain looks effective but slow. Falcons safety William Moore finishes the play off with a late shove out of bounds and hands the Packers another 15 yards.
12:06, 2nd quarter — Perhaps Rodgers’ best pass of the day. The Falcons blitz and he throws a dart across the middle that hits Jennings in the hands a millisecond after he clears Falcons middle linebacker, Clff Lofton. Jennings has a walk in touchdown if he catches it, but tough to blame him since he probably never even saw the ball. Hopefully, with time, Rodgers will learn to take something off that pass and lead his receiver instead of throwing a dart.
7:32, 2nd quarter — Disastrous sequence of plays that would likely cost the Packers the game ends with a goal line fumble by Rodgers. The Packers appear to have a fairly routine touchdown to tight end Andrew Quarless on first down, but Johnson leaps up and deflects the ball away, ruining the play. On second down, Rodgers appears to have an easy walk-in TD until Peria Jerry, defensive tackle for Atlanta, who was on a knee and not even ready for the snap, somehow manages to shrug off Daryn Colledge and hit Rodgers in the knees in such a way that he has no choice but to spin to the ground. Colledge, after the snap, nearly stands straight up for some inexplicable reason instead of staying low and pushing Jerry out of there. Wells snapped the ball and turned to his right to seal off a safety who was in no position to affect the play rather than helping with Jerry, who is right in front of him. Josh Sitton, as usual, is completely eating up the larger defensive tackle, Peters, lined up in front of him. If Colledge and Wells simply double-team Jerry, as you would think is logical, this is an easy touchdown. On the fumble, Rodgers was stuffed short of the goal line, and Lofton knocked the ball loose. Consistent with the Packers’ luck to this point, the ball bounces into the end zone so the Falcons get the ball at the 20 instead of at the one.
2:55, 2nd quarter — On another huge play, tight end Tony Gonzalez makes a faux catch on fourth-and-3 to extend Atlanta’s drive. Atlanta had third-and-19 the play prior to this. Ryan, as expected, dumped the ball in the flat to his fullback, Mughelli. Good defensive positioning by the Packers, as they have two decent tacklers in Charles Woodson and Charlie Peprah there to tackle Mughelli within the first eight yards. Unfortunately, both make diving attempts and miss him. He goes up the sideline until Nick Collins knocks him out after a 16-yard gain. Of course, with the ball at the Green Bay 36, Atlanta is going for it. If Woodson and Peprah work together and just bring the big fullback down within 10 yards, Atlanta punts. Great man-to-man coverage by the Packers on fourth down. Unfortunately, the Packers only send four and Ryan has plenty of time to roll out to his right. A.J. Hawk quickly closes in on him, but Ryan throws to Gonzalez on the opposite side of where Peprah has good coverage. At first, it appears Gonzalez made a crazy catch. Replay would show that he in fact did not catch the ball. However, the veteran did such a good job of rolling his body over the ball to hide it that no one saw. Peprah, Zombo and Woodson are all within a couple yards of the play. They all act like it was a catch. The only Packer who perhaps saw the ball hit the ground is Nick Collins, who runs up late. The Falcons did go into no huddle to run their next play. However, they commonly go into no huddle, so this is nothing out of the ordinary. I blame no one for this play. It was a good break for the Falcons. LeRoy Butler used to say teams normally get three good breaks at home. The Falcons got all of those.
0:08, 2nd quarter — Helped by the fourth down “conversion,” Atlanta scores on a 3-yard pass to a wide-open Gonzalez. Collins appears to jump the out here, which is beyond foolish since Tramon Williams is sitting in the outer flat. We expect big plays by Collins, but that was the wrong time to try for one. It was third down. Play coverage and get off the field.
13:26, 3rd quarter — The Packers go three and out for only the second time in the game. On second-and-1, Wells blows another block and Jackson makes his worst decision of the game by trying to take it outside and loses five yards. Wells whiffed on Lofton who forced Jackson to the outside. It was second-and-1. Jackson should have taken on Lofton and taken a one-yard loss at worst. On third down, in what would be a problem all second half, the Falcons only blitz four, but two of them get to Rodgers, who has to throw the hot read to Quarless short of the first down.
7:17, 3rd quarter — Rodgers nearly single-handedly ties the game by finishing off an 80-yard drive with a scramble up the middle, this time for a TD. The drive featured Rodgers running the football and completing two big pass plays, both on third-and-short. The first was a flea-flicker that ended up being a 35-yard reception for Jennings. Bryan Bulaga got tripped up in the backfield, nearly giving John Abraham an easy sack. Rodgers instead made a spectacular play by taking the pitch from Jackson, sprinting to his right and then finding Jennings all alone up the sideline. On the other big play, Jordy Nelson made a big-time catch over his defender at the one-yard line. Even with Rodgers, Jennings, Nelson and Jones making these plays, the announcers still wonder why the Packers don’t run the ball more. So far this half, it has been empty backfield on 90 percent of the plays. The Packers have now had the ball five times and have three 80-yard drives. It doesn’t matter how you cover the ground, as long as you cover it. The fumble is the difference in this game, clearly.
14:24, 4th quarter — The Falcons take the lead on a TD by Turner on fourth down. The 85-yard answering drive would be done almost exclusively on the ground, with the biggest plays in the drive being the third-and-8 that started it, where Ryan once again checked down to Snelling, who four Packers failed to tackle before he got nine yards, and the third-and-goal where Gonzales once again appeared to make an impossible catch (or did he?) with Peprah all over him. If that play is ruled incomplete, the Falcons likely kick a field goal to take the lead. Instead, with only inches to go, they give it to Turner, who runs it in untouched. Collins had the edge on the fourth-down play and was crushed inside by Mughelli, who basically manhandled the Packers at the edge all game. Hawk was unblocked, but also kind of guessed inside and got caught up, unable to make a tackle. Too bad, because if you watch it closely, you see that the Packers owned the line of scrimmage on this play, pushing the Falcons’ offensive line back a good yard, except at the edge.
11:16, 4th quarter — Packers are driving but again. It is third-and-1 and the Packers actually give Jackson the ball this time, running over Sitton. Hey, brilliant idea. For once, Wells comes off the double team with Sitton and then blocks the middle
linebacker, as he’s supposed to, and Jackson runs for 12 yards. Yeah, see how easy that is?
9:15, 4th quarter — The Packers turn it over on downs at the Falcons 41. On fourth down, nearly every receiver was open, especially Jennings in the flat and Nelson and Driver on slants. The problem was the Falcons sent only four, but Clifton and Colledge failed to slide over and allowed the corner blitzing from the slot a clean run to Rodgers. Rodgers missed connecting with Driver by a foot. The Packers actually started with John Kuhn in the backfield, but motioned him out. If he is there, he picks up that blitz. I don’t get it.
6:34, 4th quarter — The Packers D does its job and the Falcons are forced to punt after Ryan dumps it off again to a running back on third down. Zombo has very good coverage on the play.
00:56, 4th quarter — What a drive. Rodgers finishes off the best drive of his career with a 10-yard touchdown throw on fourth-and-game. The Packers actually kept Jackson in the backfield the entire drive, which was key because runs and a catch by Jackson were big plays. It also helped keep the Falcons from running that corner blitz that gave the Packers trouble all half. The biggest plays in the drive were two fourth-down plays, including a fourth-and-1 where Rodgers somehow weaved his way through the Packers’ backfield to shovel a pass to Jones who took it to the three, and of course the final play, where Rodgers rolled to his left and fired a bullet to Nelson, who made an excellent catch. Unfortunately, every time Rodgers seems to lead a drive like this, the Packers lose.
00:09, 4th quarter — Bryant makes his field goal, of course, and the Packers will lose their fourth game of the year by a field goal kicked in the final seconds or OT. The key was another disastrous kick return, compounded by a brutal facemask, which was nearer to a beheading. Once Atlanta had the ball at midfield, the Packers defense wisely blitzed, but the defensive backs didn’t play aggressive enough to capitalize on any of the pressure. Not sure what they were doing. Protecting the end zone, I guess.
I trust I’m not jinxing anything by saying the Packers have not laid an egg all year, though the Bears’ game would be close. They played well again here, mostly thanks to their outrageously stellar quarterback. The biggest shame is losing a game when your QB plays that well. Rodgers almost has to think he’s cursed. The better he plays the more likely the special teams and defense seems to blow it. The defense gave a decent effort here, especially the corners and linebacker Desmond Bishop. The Falcons have a great offensive line and fullbacks and tight ends that run block very well. They made their plays, but 20 points to the Falcons in Atlanta is nothing to be ashamed of. The offense had three drives over 80 yards and one 90-yard drive. Frankly, the fumble on the goal line was the difference. Teams rarely win after an error of that magnitude.