GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers finally won a game without Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers, who were 0-4-1 since Rodgers sustained a broken collarbone, rallied from a 21-10 halftime deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons 22-21 at Lambeau Field.
The Packers’ maligned defense turned the tide. Green Bay forced consecutive three-and-out punts, which set up field goals that pulled it within 21-16. Then, on the second play of the fourth quarter, outside linebacker Mike Neal beat right tackle Jeremy Trueblood for a sack and strip of quarterback Matt Ryan. Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly recovered, setting up the Packers at Atlanta’s 21. The Packers had settled for field goals on their last three red-zone possessions but got the go-ahead touchdown when Matt Flynn completed a back-shoulder pass to tight end Andrew Quarless against safety Zeke Motta. The two-point play failed, but Green Bay led 22-21 with 12:01 to play.
Atlanta’s offense had failed to get a first down on its first three possessions of the second half before finally getting something going with Steven Jackson converting a pair of third-and-1 runs. However, the drive stalled and Matt Bryant’s 52-yard field goal came up short.
The Falcons’ defense forced a key three-and-out, giving Ryan the ball at his 17-yard line with 4:38 to play. Atlanta gained 16 on a screen to running back Jacquizz Rodgers and 16 more on a pass over the middle to tight end Tony Gonzalez to the Falcons’ 49 with 3:40 remaining. A 9-yard checkdown to Jackson pushed the ball to the Packers’ 38.
Green Bay’s defense stiffened to force a fourth-and-5 from the 33. Due to the weather and the results of Bryant’s last kick, a 51-yard field goal was out of the question, so the Falcons kept the offense on the field. After Atlanta called a timeout, the Packers sent six but Ryan had plenty of time. His pass to Gonzalez was broken up by Jarrett Bush, giving Green Bay the ball with 1:55 remaining.
The Packers couldn’t get a first down to run out the clock, giving Ryan one last chance with 44 seconds remaining and the ball at Atlanta’s 9-yard line. Ryan completed at 21-yard pass to Roddy White, but Harry Douglas dropped a pass at Green Bay’s 40 with 11 seconds remaining. Bush’s interception on the next play clinched the Packers’ victory.
It was Green Bay’s first victory since Aaron Rodgers sustained a broken collarbone against Chicago on Nov. 4. Sunday’s win got the Packers to 6-6-1 and into scoreboard-watching mode, with first-place Detroit battling Philadelphia.
The Falcons seemingly took control late in the first half with a remarkable pick-six.
With Green Bay driving late in the first half, Flynn’s pass to fullback John Kuhn was deflected by defensive tackle Peria Jerry. The ball went over Kuhn’s shoulder and appeared headed toward the turf. Instead, if bounced off linebacker Paul Worrilow’s foot and into the waiting mitts of linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. With most of the players acting as if it were an incomplete pass, Weatherspoon ran down the left sideline, broke T.J. Lang’s tackle attempt near the 25-yard line and scored on a 71-yard return. Instead of the Packers getting a field goal or go-ahead touchdown, the Falcons took a 21-10 lead into halftime.
Green Bay took the opening drive for an impressive touchdown – its longest of the season in terms of plays (18) and time (9:07) and second-longest in yards (90). Lacy was a beast, with seven carries for 27 yards and two receptions for 22 yards, including a 16-yard screen in which center Evan Dietrich-Smith blocked two defenders. That made it first-and-goal at the 8. Lacy had runs of 1 and 6 yards, then plowed in from the 1.
The Falcons came charging back. Ryan hit receiver Drew Davis for a 36-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-3 play in which Davis initially blocked Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. Davis beat safety Morgan Burnett, then broke safety M.D. Jennings’ tackle attempt at about the 25.
On the first play of the ensuing possession, safety William Moore blitzed untouched off the Packers’ left side for a blind-side sack of Flynn that forced a fumble. Ryan converted a third-and-9 with an 11-yard completion to Roddy White, and Ryan hit Gonzalez for a 1-yard touchdown on the next play after a great play-fake suckered Burnett.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.