ATLANTA — Green Bay Packers cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams were hit with pass interference calls as Atlanta tried to answer a late first-half touchdown and pull closer going into halftime on Saturday night.
Williams, not a Pro Bowl selection despite much clamor to the opposite, simply answered with a pick heard ’round the Georgia Dome.
In a 48-21 win for the sixth-seeded Packers (12-6) against the top-seeded Falcons (13-4), Williams picked off quarterback Matt Ryan and took it 70 yards to the house as time expired. Green Bay took a comfortable 28-14 lead in front of a stunned crowd of 69,210 in a building in which Ryan boasted a career record of 20-2.
That same crowd left in large masses as the fourth quarter began and chants of “Go Pack Go” and green and yellow clothing filled the lower levels of the dome.
“I knew they were trying to get into field goal range at that point,” Williams said of his pick-six. “I let the receiver (Roddy White) get outside of me and I broke underneath and made the play.”
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers called the interception the play of the game, a play set up by one of Clay Matthews’ two sacks the play before.
“The play of the game in my opinion was Tramon’s pick,” Rodgers said, “because that’s a 10-point swing potentially. When we went up three scores, it was just a matter of not turning the ball over and we kept it rolling.”
Williams, who has blossomed under Charles Woodson’s tutelage, made his mentor proud with his third interception of the postseason.
“He’s playing great football, and he’s been playing great football all season long,” Woodson said. “He’s coming up with some timely plays when we need them. That play right before the half — spectacular. To take it in and get six points, put six on the board as we go in at halftime, just great football by him.”
The Green Bay defense held Atlanta to 194 yards — compared to 442 for Green Bay — had two fumble recoveries and the two interceptions from Williams, who smiled as he stood before the media podium for the first time.
Williams said he’s confident this defense has what it takes to win one more and get to the Super Bowl.
“No doubt about it,” he said as teammates walked by the media throng yelling, ‘Great job, Tramon.’
“Hopefully everyone continues playing like they’re playing. Offense is hot right now and the only thing we have to do defensively is hold up.”
Atlanta coach Mike Smith said the interception return was a dagger.
“That was a tough play,” Smith said. “We were right at the edge of a long field goal attempt. We wanted to try to get 5 more yards. It ended up really turning the tide right before the half.”
That was the second of Williams’ big plays. Earlier in the quarter, he took away a touchdown from Michael Jenkins by making a leaping interception in the end zone. Rodgers led an 80-yard touchdown drive, with a 20-yard pass to James Jones giving the Packers their first lead, 21-14.
The highlight-reel pick saw Jenkins fall down in the back corner of the end zone but even a leaping Jenkins likely couldn’t have prevented Williams’ grab.
The Packers held the NFL’s leading receiver, Roddy White, to six catches for 57 yards, with his 6-yard touchdown coming with the game decided in the fourth quarter. Jenkins had six grabs for 67 yards. Ryan was 20-of-29 for 186 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He has six turnovers in two career playoff games.
With the Packers’ offense scoring early and often, Atlanta’s vaunted running game was rendered a nonfactor. Michael Turner rushed for 39 yards on 10 carries, his 12-yard touchdown run the game’s first score.
“The fact that we were able to shut down Turner today played a big role in our scheme, because that’s how we play,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “We like to get teams that throw it around, pressure them and make them make bad decisions.”
Woodson had six tackles, including a big sack of Ryan before Williams’ first pick. Matthews had two sacks and four tackles, and Raji and C.J. Wilson had sacks as well. Desmond Bishop and Charlie Peprah had six tackles apiece.
Brandon Speck is sports editor of the Monroe (MS) Journal.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.