It took until Week 5, but the Ryan Grant the Packers expected to see after rewarding him with a four-year contract that could be worth $31 million was on display during Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Grant, who missed most of training camp and the preseason after a contract holdout and subsequent hamstring injury, ran with power, speed and conviction in picking up 83 yards on 18 carries against the Falcons, including 15 attempts for 76 yards after the Packers’ abysmal first quarter. While he was statistically better in his season debut against Minnesota, Sunday’s game was Grant’s best of the season.
The skills that made the Packers believe Grant has the ability to be a special back were on display in the fourth quarter. With the Packers trailing 17-10, Grant ran over Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton while rumbling for 13 yards. On the next drive, with the Packers trailing 20-17, Grant ran around right end for 6 yards. What made the run impressive is he had the speed to get between a pair of defenders who were pinching the hole closed. Two weeks earlier, that run might have gained a yard.
In all, the Packers rushed for 104 yards on 23 attempts. In the previous two games combined, the Packers rushed for 112 yards on 39 carries.
“I think across the board, we did a better job (in the run game),” Grant said. “We did a better job blocking. I think I did a better job running. But at the end of the day, we didn’t do enough, and that’s what counts.”
Starting left tackle Chad Clifton departed midway through the third quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return. In his place, Daryn Colledge slid over from left guard, and Allen Barbre took Colledge’s place. Barbre was called for holding in the fourth quarter.
Defensive end Mike Montgomery, who took Cullen Jenkins’ spot in the starting lineup, injured an ankle and did not return. Receiver Donald Driver had a hand stepped on but bounced back from a one-catch game last week with three catches for 68 yards and a 44-yard touchdown.
Meanwhile, Charlie Peprah made his first NFL start in place of safety Atari Bigby (hamstring) and finished with three tackles.
“Obviously, I could have played better, because when you lose the game, you kind of have a different outlook on your performance individually,” Peprah said, wearing a large bag of ice on his right shoulder. “I had fun, but I wish I could’ve played better and I wish we could have won.”
The Packers had nine penalties marched off for 97 yards, continuing a distressing trend. The Packers have had 44 penalties accepted against them, second-most in the league.
“Well, we’re going to talk about it as a staff, because the approach of how we’re addressing it and the way we’re practicing it, it’s not working,” McCarthy said. “Anytime something happens five weeks in a row, that’s a problem, and penalties have definitely been a problem throughout these first five games.”
A big one came late in the second quarter, when Mason Crosby’s 43-yard field goal was nullified on a holding penalty by rookie tight end Jermichael Finley. McCarthy disagreed with the call, which cost the Packers three points when Crosby misfired from 53 yards.
“Unfortunately, that had to happen and I didn’t hit the second one through,” said Crosby, who booted a season-high 50-yarder later in the game. “It is a little unfortunate whenever you make the first one and you aren’t able to capitalize on the second one.”
Special teams highs, lows
Those lost three points were just part of the story for the Packers’ special teams.
The Packers needed to recover an onside kick after pulling within 27-24 late in the fourth quarter, but Crosby’s kick didn’t give his teammates a prayer of making the recovery. The ball bounced right into the midsection of Atlanta’s Erik Coleman, and the Falcons ran out the clock.
“It wasn’t actually the type of kick we wanted, one,” McCarthy said. “But also, there was miscommunication on when we were set and when we were ready to go. So, that was poor execution both on the timing of the takeoff and the kick.”
Embattled punter Derrick Frost’s kicks weren’t pretty, but he wound up averaging 41.0 yards per punt with a net of 40.0. Atlanta’s Michael Koenen, though, put on a clinic with two punts downed at the Packers’ 2-yard line.
On the drive that led to Crosby’s missed field goal, Will Blackmon returned a kickoff 45 yards to midfield. But the Packers also allowed a big kickoff return, a 48-yarder by Jerious Norwood that set up a field goal that put the Falcons back on top for good, 20-17. Plus, the Packers started the third quarter at their 9-yard line because of a holding penalty on Jarrett Bush on the second-half kickoff.
“There definitely were positives in there and there definitely were some negatives,” McCarthy said.
Joining Bigby on the inactive list were cornerback Al Harris (spleen), running back Kregg Lumpkin (hamstring), fullback Korey Hall (knee), safety Aaron Rouse (knee), defensive end Jason Hunter (hamstring), rookie tackle Breno Giacomini and rookie Brian Brohm (third quarterback).
Among the Falcons’ inactives were defensive tackle Jason Jefferson, a sixth-round pick in 2005 from Wisconsin.
So maybe this is why the Packers have kept Tory Humphrey around after two seasons lost because of injuries.
The Packers’ backup tight end established career highs with four catches for 67 yards, including a 37-yard catch-and-run that helped set up a touchdown.
“I did OK, but we didn’t win, so I can’t look at it that I played well,” he said. “We all played bad because we didn’t win.”
Driver’s second-quarter touchdown catch was the 40th of his career and extended his streak of games with at least one catch to 100. Sterling Sharpe’s 103-game streak is the team record. … The Falcons, who led the NFL in first-quarter scoring with 38 points, tallied 10 against the Packers, who had allowed only a field goal in the first quarter of their first four games. … On the Packers’ first play, former Packers defensive tackle Grady Jackson dropped Aaron Rodgers for a sack. … Tramon Williams had a game-high 11 tackles plus had an interception for the second consecutive week. … The Packers recorded no sacks, and Aaron Kampman had the only hit on Matt Ryan. … The Packers Women’s Association collected $10,950 and approximately 7,200 nonperishable food items at its 22nd annual food drive outside the stadium before the game. Donations went to Green Bay’s Paul’s Pantry.
Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com