The Green Bay Packers lost by three points for the fourth time this season, which actually is the sum total of all of their losses.
There’s really no reason to overreact at this point. The Packers lost to a good team on their home field — a home field where the Atlanta Falcons are 18-1 since their current head coach, Mike Smith, took the reins.
Still, it really seems like the loss is a missed opportunity for the Packers. The Falcons did nothing impressive on the day.
In fact, you’re going to hear about Matty Ice, the nickname the media has given to Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, all week long. He did drive his team to the winning score. He did have a killer completion percentage on the day, going 24-of-28 for 198 yards and a touchdown.
However, Ryan was nothing special. He didn’t win the game for the Falcons. He simply took what the Packers’ defense gave him. The Falcons didn’t go downfield all day and the Packers limited their biggest weapon, the NFL’s leading receiver, Roddy White, to five receptions for 49 yards.
Simply, the story of the day boils to four things.
1. Smith outcoached Mike McCarthy, especially in the first half.
2. Falcons running back Michael Turner controlled the clock and the game. Turner finished with 23 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons finished with only a three-minute time of possession advantage, but it seemed like a 20-minute advantage, especially because the Packers had no running game whatsoever, thanks to their offensive line.
3. Shawn Slocum is the person least-deserving of a job in the NFL.
4. The Falcons were able to completely neutralize Clay Matthews.
Let me expand on point one, first.
The game, which could essentially eliminate the Packers from the home-field advantage conversation, was reminiscent of the NFC Championship game the Packers lost to the New York Giants.
The Packers seemingly did enough to win in the second half, but the first half was a string of missed opportunities. McCarthy’s play calling was, well… it was like someone jammed that marker in the back of his hat right into his medulla oblongata.
An Aaron Rodgers run from the Falcons’ one yard line on fourth-and-goal? Are you kidding me?
If you can’t gain that yard with one of your running backs you should cut your entire offensive line, all three of your fullbacks and whatever back you’re handing the ball to. Similarly, you have one of the best quarterbacks in football. Whatever you do, don’t let him throw the ball.
No, we’ll run it, he’ll fumble and it will change the tone of the first half.
Then there was the decision not to challenge a “reception” by Falcons tight end Tony Gonzales on a crucial fourth-and-1 play in the second quarter. The replay clearly showed Gonzales bobbled the ball on the way to the ground and the play likely would have been overturned. The Packers didn’t bother to challenge.
Perhaps McCarthy is too stupid, but that’s why he has guys sitting in the box upstairs. Why someone on the Packers staff didn’t radio down to El Tonto is not only beyond me, but completely irresponsible.
As for the second point, Turner ran through the Packers defense all day.
Certainly, Turner is a load to bring down and he ran well on the day, but if anyone could wrap up and tackle on the Packers defense, Turner wouldn’t have come close to 100 yards.
A.J. Hawk, Nick Collins, Frank Zombo… hello?
Collins also contributed to one of the most frustrating moments on the day. With the Falcons facing fourth-and-goal from the Green Bay one, Ryan handed off to Turner, who cut outside to his left and walked into the end zone.
On the play, the Packers were stacked at the line of scrimmage, with Collins on the outside right. Instead of playing the outside, Collins dove straight ahead into the pile, which would have done nothing even if the Falcons would have run up the middle.
Result: Falcons go up 17-10, Packers lose any momentum their defense may have created.
Oh, and by the way, way to show up today, Nick. Thanks for being a complete non-factor.
On the third point, the Packers special teams (surprise!) essentially cost them the game. Forget for a moment the facemask by Matt Wilhelm on the final Falcons kickoff return.
The Falcons return man, Eric Weems, averaged 31 yards per return. His final return would have put the Falcons in great field position regardless of whether Wilhelm grabbed the facemask or not.
To which I have to wonder — how does Slocum have a job? The Packers, although somewhat improved from last year, have had terrible, game-changing (in a bad way) special teams for the past two seasons under Slocum.
I don’t know, El Tonto, but maybe Slocum isn’t the right guy for the position?
Finally, perhaps the biggest key to the Falcons’ win is they completely handled Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
Matthews got occasional pressure on Ryan, but he didn’t get near a sack on the day and only recorded three tackles. The credit for that goes to the Falcons’ offensive line and coaching staff.
The staff obviously put together a plan to eliminate Matthews and the offensive line executed it.
In the end, that’s what it comes down to. The Falcons may not be the better team, but they were certainly the team who executed better on Sunday.
The playoffs now lead through Atlanta.