Good teams find a way to rebound after tough starts. Sunday night at the Georgia Dome, the Packers once again proved they are a very good team.
The defending champs are 5-0 after they overcame a sluggish start for Aaron Rodgers to eventually rally and beat the Atlanta Falcons 25-14. Following up on a blowout of the Falcons in last year’s playoffs, Rodgers threw for 396 yards and a pair of touchdowns to rally the Packers from an early 14-point hole.
The high-scoring Packers were held without a touchdown in the first half by now 2-3 Falcons, which was trying to make up for an embarrassing 48-21 loss to Green Bay last January.
The Falcons had the Georgia Dome rocking when they raced to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter, scoring on their first two possessions. After that, the home fans had little to cheer about.
Green Bay settling for three field goals by Mason Crosby, closing to 14-9 before Rodgers got rolling. He connected with James Jones on a 70-yard touchdown that gave Green Bay its first lead late in the third. Then, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Rodgers connected with Greg Jennings on a 29-yard scoring play that stretched the lead to 22-14.
Crosby clinched it for the Packers with his fourth field goal, a 30-yarder with 1:10 remaining after Rodgers guided the Packers on another long drive, hitting every pass he needed until Green Bay was safely in range to wrap it up.
“We just stayed patient,” Rodgers said. “It’s just one of those games. The rhythm wasn’t there all the time, but we just stayed with it.”
The Falcons looked as good as they have all season with those first two drives. Then, nothing.
“The way we played the first quarter is the way we want to play football,” coach Mike Smith said. “After that, it was not what we wanted. We made way too many mistakes.”
Atlanta didn’t crack 200 total yards until late in the game. Matt Ryan had another tough night against the Packers, throwing for just 167 yards with two more interceptions after turning it over three times in that playoff debacle last January.
Playing behind a makeshift line — the Packers were without one starting tackle, and lost another to an injury in the first half — Rodgers was sacked four times and faced plenty of pressure.
No problem. The Super Bowl MVP still completed 26 of 39, even with a couple of drops, and kept converting big third downs. Astonishingly, he completed passes to a dozen receivers, with Jones hauling in five throws for 140 yards.
“It was a tough game,” Rodgers said. “I took a lot of shots, had to move around a little bit.”
As if tired of hearing all week how dominant Green Bay was on offense, the Falcons showed off their own arsenal of weapons and plenty of imaginative play-calling the first two times they had the ball.
Taking the opening kickoff, Atlanta went 80 yards in 13 plays to grab a 7-0 lead on Ryan’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White. What was more impressive was the way the Falcons drove the field.
Ryan completed four throws to three receivers, and also hooked up with Jacquizz Rodgers on a lateral pass that went for 11 yards. Julio Jones ran for 17 yards on a reverse. Michael Turner carried it four times for 21 yards.
The Packers were driving for the matching score when Ryan Grant took a shot from Brent Grimes, knocking the ball loose. Vance Walker fell on the fumble at the Atlanta 40, giving it back to Ryan and the Falcons offense.
Ten more plays, and it was 14-0. Ryan completed four straight passes for 45 yards. Turner finished it off by powering over from the 1. The Georgia Dome was rocking, and the Falcons looked unstoppable.
But the Super Bowl champs weren’t going to just roll over.
Rodgers guided the Packers to the Atlanta 2 before a couple of sacks forced the first of Crosby’s field goals, this one from 32 yards. The Falcons went three-and-out, and Green Bay pushed it to the 7 fore a holding penalty stalled the drive. Crosby knocked through a 35-yarder with 13 seconds remaining in the half, sending the Packers to the locker room trailing just 14-6.
Green Bay got the ball to start the third quarter, but Rodgers was sacked again on the first play and the Packers actually had to punt — something they didn’t do at all in their playoff rout.
The Falcons were in field-goal range before an illegal use of hands penalty on Tyson Clabo knocked them back, forcing a punt. Rodgers threw the ball on six straight plays before Crosby trotted on again, this time to boom through a 56-yarder that matched the longest field goal in franchise history. Green Bay had cut the lead to 14-9, and an uneasy feeling settled over the raucous crowd.
That feeling was justified after another three-and-out for an Atlanta offense that suddenly couldn’t do anything right.
After the punt, the Packers finally took it to the end zone. In one play.
Rodgers dropped back and fired one deep down the middle to Jones, who got a step on Thomas DeCoud, took the throw without breaking stride and easily outran James Sanders for the 70-yard score. Just like that, the Packers had the lead for the first time. Even after failing on the 2-point try, they were up 15-14.
The lead grew on the first play of the fourth quarter. Rodgers threw over the middle to Jennings, who turned on a burst of speed to get around the corner, then stretched out with one hand to get the ball past the pylon for the 29-yard scoring play.
The Falcons were able to get some heat on Rodgers after the Packers lost another offensive tackle.
Left tackle Chad Clifton was bowled over by Atlanta defensive end Ray Edwards in the second quarter and remained on the turf, clutching his right leg. He had to be helped off the field, then was carted to the locker room with a hamstring injury.
Green Bay already was missing right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who sat out his second straight game with an ailing knee.
These are two franchises headed in opposite directions. The Packers have now won 11 straight dating to last season, including their march to the Super Bowl title. The Falcons, coming off an NFC South championship but that playoff meltdown, have already lost as many regular-season games as they did all of last year.
“There’s still a lot of football left to be played,” Smith said. “We’ve just got to get better.”