Better late than never, the Green Bay Packers defense and special teams finally showed up. It was just in time to pull out a comeback win against the Atlanta Falcons to keep the Packers alive for the playoffs.
9:15 1st Quarter – The Falcons set the tone of the game with a methodical, time-consuming drive into Packers’ territory that ends with a punt.
The Packers start in their base defense, which they would play for the majority of the game.
After two Steven Jackson runs got 5 yards, the Falcons faced third and 5. Out of the bunch, Roddy White ran a 4-yard stop. Micah Hyde met him there, but White dragged him for 2 yards and the first down.
Two more short passes to White moved the ball into Packers’ territory. The Packers are largely playing off the receivers and mixing man-to-man with zone. The Falcons would play a similar style all game. On a lightly frosted field, this defense is very vulnerable to the short pass, and both offenses would take advantage.
The Packers get a pair of breaks at third and 2 from their own 35. For one, the Falcons didn’t simply run it. Secondly, Matt Ryan has the infamous fullback in the flat after the play fake. But he doesn’t take it. Instead, he throws it deep for Drew Davis running a deep slant on Tramon Williams. The coverage is good and the pass isn’t even close. Punt.
15:00 2nd Q – The Packers start the game with an epic 18-play, 90-yard drive for a touchdown that takes the rest of the entire first quarter.
The Packers’ drive got going when on third and 5 the Falcons dropped coverage on Andrew Quarless in the flat. Matt Flynn finds him, and Quarless easily goes up the sideline for 15 yards.
A few plays later, Eddie Lacy took a pitch to the left, cut back off a John Kuhn block at the right end of the line, and rumbled up the middle of the field for 11 yards.
It briefly appeared the Falcons got a stop at midfield when Flynn was tackled short of the first down on third and 9. However, an illegal contact gave the Packers a first down and the drive continued.
Facing third and 6 from the Falcons’ 27, Flynn made a nice pass to James Jones on the out from the slot for 8 yards. A couple plays later, a well-blocked screen to Lacy got 16 yards, down to the Atlanta 8.
After a dump to Lacy got down to the 1, the Packers went hurry up and gave the ball to Lacy on the draw — hey, there’s an idea! Defenders off both ends met at Lacy’s hips in the backfield, but Lacy merely spun off and fell into the end zone, which was partially made possible by Quarless collapsing the right end of the line.
The touchdown was the last play of the first quarter. Drives like this make my job easier.
11:10 2nd Q – The Falcons respond with a 7-play, 78-yard drive for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
The Packers, for whatever reason, decided to go with the nickel for the first play of the Falcons’ second drive. Jackson promptly took a pitch to the left, cut back right, and rolled for 22 yards before Williams and Morgan Burnett could get him down.
After picking up third and 1 with a 4-yard run by Jackson, the Falcons faced third and 3 from the Packers’ 36. The Packers run a zone blitz with Mike Neal dropping into coverage and Brad Jones taking his place on the rush. It essentially turns into a three-man rush when Clay Matthews is surprised by a chip from receiver Drew Davis and is pretty much taken out of the play.
Ryan has tons of time to throw. He shuffles to his left and throws an accurate pass to Davis that beats the tight coverage of Burnett. Burnett makes the cardinal sin of diving for the ball and missing. Davis scores easily after M.D. Jennings whiffs on another tackle. Exit stage left. Enter Sean Richardson.
10:55 2nd Q – Matt Flynn somehow thinks he can run a play fake to the right even though safety William Moore is showing blitz from the left. The results are predictable. Flynn is blindsided, fumbles the football, Falcons recover, I curse, and Flynn feels shame.
The Falcons would score four plays later to quickly go up 14-7.
It appeared that the Packers might get a stop and force a field goal at third and 9 from the 12, but Ryan found White for a 10-yard stop against Sam Shields. Again, on a somewhat slippery field, there is almost no way for Shields to prevent a stop route while in off coverage.
On first and goal, the Falcons fake the run and dump it to Tony Gonzalez, who is all alone after Burnett forgot to cover him. Understandable though, it isn’t like the Falcons like to throw Gonzalez the ball down here. Shocker.
3:40 2nd Q – The Packers get a field goal to make the score 14-10.
For once, the responding Packers’ drive is started off with a 30-yard kickoff return by Hyde. This gives the Packers decent starting field position at the 38. The Packers moved into Falcons’ territory on an 18-yard pass over the middle to Jordy Nelson on third and 4. Have I mentioned that Jordy pretty much catches anything thrown near him this season?
After a catch and balancing act up the sideline by Nelson moved the ball to the Falcons’ 25, a nifty catch on the sideline by Quarless got the Packers to the 17.
However, on third and 9 from there, Jarrett Boykin breaks off of Quarless running a seam from the slot and is wide open on the slant to the middle of the field. Flynn doesn’t see him. He is looking for Nelson, who is double-covered. Flynn scrambles late and is sacked by Corey Peters.
Mason Crosby would do well to make the 40-yard field goal.
00:23 2nd Q – In a disastrous turn of events that would seem to be the nail in the coffin of the Packers’ season, a bizarre interception for a touchdown would make the score 21-10 at half.
The Falcons would be forced to punt on their next possession when on third and 7 Ryan throws the ball away to avoid being sacked by Nick Perry, who would be the Packers’ best pass rusher on this day without recording a sack.
The Packers would get the ball with 2:20 left in the half and proceed to move into Falcons’ territory. After converting a third and 3 with a 4-yard pass to Boykin, Flynn finds Brandon Bostick on the same play that burned the Falcons before, and Bostick gets up the sideline for 19 yards.
Flynn then converted another third down with a 17-yard scramble up the middle, moving the ball to the Falcons’ 35. Unfortunately, on first down from there, Flynn would look to dump to Kuhn over the middle, but the ball is deflected at the line, then kicked in the air, right into the hands of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. T.J. Lang and Boykin are the lone Packers to chase Weatherspoon. Lang does a great job in chasing Weatherspoon down, but then misses the tackle at the sideline. Weatherspoon goes 71 yards for the touchdown right before half.
Both the Packers and the Falcons start the second half with three and outs.
The Packers followed a false start by Lang with a drop by Jones on what could have been a big play. Flynn threw short on third and long, and the Packers punted.
The Falcons suffered the same fate when B.J. Raji blew through and hit Ryan as he was trying to throw over the middle to Gonzalez. The ball fluttered short and behind Gonzalez and was batted down by A.J. Hawk. That forced third and 10. On that down, Matthews and Perry both pinched Ryan forward in the pocket. Ryan tried to dump to Harry Douglass, but Hyde was all over it. Punt.
11:50 3rd Q – On the second play of the Packers’ next drive, Flynn went play action, roll out, and chuck it deep for Nelson on the out and up. Nelson is 5 yards behind the defense and has a touchdown with a well thrown ball. The ball is underthrown, and Nelson is tackled after a 47-yard play. Overthrowing it would have been worse, though.
The Packers would settle for the field goal after Don Barclay just flat got beat to the inside by some guy named Jonathan Massaquoi, who sacked Flynn for a 7-yard loss. The field goal makes it a one-score game at 21-13.
The Falcons would follow with another three and out. On first down, Ryan Pickett sheds his block and tackles Jackson for a 1-yard gain. On second down, Johnny Jolly knocked the ball down. Yes, the defensive line is suddenly making plays again. On third down, Ryan found Gonzalez on the hook, but Williams plays the zone aggressively and tackles Gonzalez short of the first as soon as he catches it. Punt.
00:45 3rd Q – The Packers drive for another field goal to continue whittling away at the lead.
The drive appears to be going nowhere when the first play is a 7-yard sack. The Packers appear to be setting up a swing pass to Lacy with Kuhn leading the way. It looks beautiful. Except for whatever reason, Flynn is looking the opposite way. Linebacker Paul Worrilow sees Lacy leave the pocket and does what has been happening a lot lately — heads straight for Flynn. Flynn sees him too late. T.J. Lang fails to get off doubling Barclay’s guy in time, and it is a sack.
However, Flynn recovers the very next play when he hits Quarless over the middle for 21 yards. Flynn then hits Boykin for 19 yards. My favorite play of the game follows, when Lacy takes a hand off up the middle, breaks right, goes to the sideline, throws the brakes on, knocks Worrilow right out of the field of play and takes on both Falcons safeties for 7 yards. An 8-yard run by Lacy would follow that.
Flynn would fail to convert third and 4 from the Falcons’ 7, however. He is looking to the right spot as Bostick is the only one open, but he throws it too far. The pass to the back pylon needs some work.
The field goal makes it 21-16.
13:50 4th Q – The following Falcons’ drive goes up in flames when Mike Neal bulls right tackle Ryan Schraeder up field and then goes underneath him straight to Ryan. After years of failing to, suddenly every Packers’ OLB is going for the football. Neal knocks it loose and Jolly recovers for the Packers.
After Lacy surged to the 2-yard line, Flynn throws a perfect back shoulder pass to Quarless for the touchdown. Notably, Quarless salutes the sky and foregoes the Lambeau Leap.
As suddenly as the Falcons took the lead, the Packers now lead at 22-21.
It was the right call to go for two, but the wrong call to once again rely on Flynn instead of just giving Lacy the damn ball. Flynn overthrows Jones in the end zone.
The Falcons would drive into Packers’ territory before missing a long field goal. Their drive is another dose of short passes and runs. Twice the Packers defense forced third and 1, and both times Jackson managed 2 yards.
On second and 10 from the Packers’ 34, Jolly shed his blocker and destroyed Jason Snelling for a 2-yard loss, forcing third and 12. The Packers go with an all-out blitz, and the Falcons catch them with a quick screen to Douglass, which Douglass drops.
The Falcons foolishly try a 52-yard field goal and come up short.
The Packers don’t do anything with the field position, and the Falcons get the ball back with 4:40 to play. Ryan is in dump to the running back and look for Tony Gonzalez mode and moves the ball by that means back to nearly the exact same spot.
On fourth and 5 from the Packers’ 33, Ryan tries Gonzalez on the out from the slot. Jarrett Bush has it covered, and even though the ball gets through, Bush manages to get enough of it that Gonzalez can’t make the catch. Packers’ ball.
0:44 4th Q- The Packers run Lacy three times and take up all the time they can.
When the Falcons get the ball back, there are 44 seconds left. They have to start from their own 9 thanks to a Tim Masthay punt of 62 yards that was nearly touched into the end zone by Davon House, picked up at the 1, and then brought out to only the 9.
Regardless, the decision to run clock and punt looks dubious when Ryan first hits Jacquizz Rodgers for 13 and then White for 21. That moved the ball to the Falcons’ 43 with 21 seconds left. Two plays later, Ryan tries the same pattern to Harry Douglass. If he catches it, the Falcons have the ball at the Packers’ 38 with 11 seconds left, but he drops it.
Truly desperate now, Ryan tries the same route again on the other side. This time, Sam Shields comes off the sideline coverage and is in position to intercept it. Bush also drives on the out route, and he picks it off right before Shields can. Packers win.
The Packers did what they had to and kept themselves alive for the division title for another week.
People may point out that the Falcons have only three wins this season, but they have also played most of the year without Roddy White or Steven Jackson, who both played against the Packers.
People may also point out that the Falcons are a southern dome team playing in cold and snowy conditions. True, but the Falcons played well in this game, for the most part, excluding a couple big drops. Matt Ryan throws the kind of ball that remains accurate in blustery conditions, and Steven Jackson is an ideal type of runner for such conditions.
What is more impressive to me is just that the Packers were knee-capped right before half by one of the craziest defensive touchdowns that you will ever see, and yet, they managed to fight back and win the game.
Andy Mulumba was out at OLB. The Packers rotated Matthews, Neal and Perry all game. The difference was immediate. All three can rush the passer and hold the edge. Nick Perry looked healthier than he has since the Baltimore game. The Falcons struggled with his bull rush more than anything else.
After his missed tackle on the touchdown reception, M.D. Jennings was benched and replaced by Sean Richardson. Richardson did not stand out, but he also didn’t blow tackles or assignments. Putting Richardson near the line of scrimmage means Morgan Burnett goes back to centerfield. I’m not sure Burnett is ever going to be a great free safety, but he has to be better than Jennings.
Another change in this game is that Dom Capers scrapped the Davon House outside and Tramon Williams in the slot idea. Williams and Shields stayed outside while Hyde and Bush played the slot. This meant a lot more of Hyde on the field and in the thick of the action. In nearly every good defensive game the Packers have played, Hyde had something to do with it. Like Hayward last season, Hyde needs to be out there.
Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly did what they haven’t been doing for the last month. They engaged blockers, discarded them, and made tackles. B.J. Raji had one good pass rush where he put a hit on Ryan, and he was in the backfield during a Jackson run. Otherwise, he had a quieter game than the other two.
If the Packers re-sign him, it has to be as a nose tackle. The man is out of position as a defensive end. You either sign him at nose tackle and let Pickett go, or you gamble that Pickett can be good for another year or two and let Raji go. Pickett is outplaying Raji right now, regardless of age.
Matt Flynn converted third downs and made enough plays to win. That is the bottom line. He held the ball at times and struggled with his decision process, but he knows how to run this offense and threw some accurate passes when the throws had to be made.
The running game did just enough to help, though it was not a steady force throughout the game. It concerns me that the offensive line struggled to open holes against a poor defense. It also concerns me that Don Barclay gives up sacks to guys I’ve never even heard of before.
It may only be coincidence and might not have played a big role in the game, but I find it fitting that the Packers finally win a game without Rodgers during the same game that they finally out-played a team on special teams. In a rare event this season, the Packers did better on kick and punt returns than their opponent did.
The Dallas Cowboys have an even worse defense than the Falcons. Can Matt Flynn do it again? Maybe, but I imagine they may need more than that.