Atlanta Falcons get bullied early, fight back but fall 43-37


The Falcons rolled into week 14 on the back of their best win of the season, but were set to run into a red hot Packers team in one of the toughest road trips in the NFL. Roddy White was active after a week off, and William Moore showed no repercussions from his first game since returning from IR. The defense would need his leadership against Aaron Rodgers, who had not thrown an INT at home since 2012. The Packers got the ball first, and promptly used a mix of outside running and deep passing to set up a quick goal line opportunity. After Eddie Lacy chewed up plenty of yards on the first drive, backup RB James Starks punched in the short 3 yard TD for an early 7-0 Packers lead. The defense was struggling with the noise and the ground game, and looked to be in for a long day.

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Matt Ryan’s struggled on the road are well documented, and the Falcons seemed intent to set up the ground game early. A key third down conversion to Roddy White kept the drive alive, and the Falcons were driving slowly but surely. Another key conversion, this time on a third and 7 to Julio Jones, kept the chains moving and the Falcons offense were putting up more of a fight than expected in the cold. On 1st and goal from the 4, the Falcons again pushed the Packers defensive line back with a Steven Jackson plunge for a score, and Atlanta found themselves tied 7-7 on the road against elite competition. So far, so good.

Dec 8, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) carries the football as Green Bay Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21) defends during the first quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons defense was back on the field, and had clearly had enough of being pushed around. A rare sack, by Kroy Biermann on 1st down, followed by a short run and a false start saw the Packers facing a 3rd and 17, and Atlanta had a chance to put their foot in the ground early on. It was not to be, however, as Aaron Rodgers sat in a clean pocket and delivered a bomb to tight end Andrew Quarless for 30 yards. Another deep pickup to Jordy Nelson, and more hard yards on the ground from Lacy, and the Packers were driving. William Moore was forced off the field following a hit and it was clear the Falcons chances rested on the offense, because the defense didn’t seem likely to get a stop.

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On 1


and goal Kemal Ishmael, who replaced Moore on the field, had a terrific break on a corner route and nearly came away with a pick. The Falcons collapsed the pocket on the next play and nearly forced the sack, but Rodgers scrambled towards the goalline and was brought down by Dwight Lowery. The ball was fumbled, and the ensuing pile saw a penalty called against Atlanta for a late hit on the grounded QB. The defense was failing to come up with stops, but at the very least looked fired up. The Falcons were clearly outmatched on the ground, and found themselves down 14-7 following a 1 yard touchdown from Eddie Lacy.

As the Falcons offense came back needing a response, they were hindered by the bellowing crowd noise which was clearly affecting communication across the line. A quick 3 and out saw the ball returned to Green Bay, who showed no signs of being stopped on their previous drives. James Starks rubbed salt into the wounds, and gashed the Falcons for 21 yards on the first play of the drive. The defensive line couldn’t get any sort of push, and Rodgers was being allowed to sit in the pocket for as long as he wanted to survey the field. Eddie Lacy again proved to be the Falcons kryptonite, bullying the defensive linemen and linebackers to dance his way to first down after first down. DT Paul Soliai was also forced out of action with a shoulder injury, seemingly paving the way for more punishment between the tackles from Green Bay. The big play from Lacy may have woken up the defense, as they held on the ensuing set of downs – forcing two incompletions and short run to force a field goal. 17-7.

After stalling on the previous drive, the Falcons offense came back on the field and promptly went for a shot – a 25 yard gain to Julio. However, on the next play, disaster struck. As Ryan went to throw the ball out of bounds, or perhaps force the ball to Devin Hester, an under thrown ball to the sideline saw Morgan Burnett intercept the pass and return it down to the 20. The defense had had no rest, and now found itself back out on the field after just 2 plays. The much maligned Kroy Biermann held Randall Cobb to a loss of yards on a reverse, and seemed to be the only defensive player to have gotten off the bus to Wisconsin. When Rodgers again scrambled to inside the 5 yard line, another Packer touchdown seemed imminent. Rodgers connected with Lacy for a 2 yard passing TD, and the Matt Ryan interception seemed to have put the game to bed early. 24-7.

On the next drive, Matt Ryan was again picked off, this time from a short pass that was batted at the line and caught by a defensive lineman from Green Bay. The game was going from bad to worse and, after a good start, Atlanta found themselves getting blown out on the national stage. The team caught a break when the interception was ruled incomplete, but the offense would need to respond in a big way if Atlanta were to have any chance. They did not, and after failing to get any traction on another drive, the Falcons would have to stop an offensive juggernaught who had the ball at midfield. They could not, as the Packers turned to the skies to move the ball on the drive, culminating in a 10 yard score to Jordy Nelson.  Coach Mike Smith has often been accused of not being aggressive enough, but did take the opportunity to attack with 34 seconds left in the half. A long completion to Julio Jones followed by along Matt Ryan scramble set up a long field goal attempt from Matt Bryant, but the kick was blocked as time expired. The reprieve of halftime was all the Falcons had to look forward to.

31. 49. 7. 44. Final

The Falcons limped out onto the field in the second half faced with a huge deficit, and needed a big play to spark them. They absolutely got it, as on the first play of the half Julio Jones went off for a 79 yard reception after a quick slant and go. The Falcons had the ball at the 2 yard line, and had a chance to come out swinging. The plays run from the goal line were fairly pedestrian, and on 3rd and goal a rollout to Jones in the corner was broken up by Micah Hyde. Down 24, Atlanta went for it, and the rare reception for Eric Weems went for a touchdown. Screaming ‘the game ain over yet’, Weems was rewarded for his excellent special teams play with a score which snapped 24 unanswered points from the Packers. 14-31.

Something must have been said to the defense at half time, as the line brought pressure for the first time with any consistency. After forcing a 3 and out and a short punt, the Falcons found themselves with the ball just shy of midfield and a chance to score on back to back drives. After a decent gain to Harry Douglas, Matt Ryan again connected with Julio Jones on a deep shot to the end zone – however the receiver was out of bounds. The offense looked more lively, but on 3rd and 10 Clay Matthews got past his younger cousin to sack Matt Ryan, bringing up a 50 yard field goal attempt from Matt Bryant. The kick was up and good, and the Falcons had scored on back to back drives. 17-31, and Atlanta were pegging it back.

Green Bay were faced with an early third down on the next drive, but a deep connection to Randall Cobb saw the chains moved and safety Kemal Ishmael injured. After laying the big hit, it was Ishmael who came off far worse for wear, and the defense seemed likely to be lose its third player of the game. Paul Worrilow stood up late in the drive, breaking up an attempt to Eddie Lacy in the end zone, forcing a Green Bay field goal, pushing the Packers out to a 17-34 lead.

Dec 8, 2014; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) gets a pass away in the second quarter during the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons came out firing on the next drive, and went to the ground and check down game early to soften up the defense and relax the pass rush. After going for 189 yards last week against Arizona, Julio Jones was burning for the second straight week, and went for a new career high of 191 yards after catching a pass to move the Falcons into the redzone. On the next play, he cracked the 200 yard mark for the first time in his career, catching a 20 yard touchdown over the top and breathing life into the game. 24-34, with 13 minutes left for Atlanta to make up the difference. The Packers had been contained well in the half, but an early deep shot to Jordy Nelson went for 60 yards and a touchdown, before a blocked extra point, blowing the score out to 40-24. It would be an uphill battle, but Atlanta had shown improvement in the second half worth taking as a positive.

With 10 minutes left in the game, down 16, Atlanta came out firing. Ryan and Jones connected yet again for a deep gain, and the former Alabama wide receiver found himself in rare air, becoming one of only 23 platers to have ever surpassed 250 yards receiving in a single game. Matt Ryan again showed some athleticism, scrambling inside the redzone. The Falcons found themselves driving well, and on 3rd and 6 from the 14 yard line. Who else but Julio Jones – the star receiver caught the slant route and took the ball inside the 5. Matt Ryan then connected with Roddy White for a 2 yard TD.The Falcons failed to convert the 2 point conversion, but found themselves down just 10. Game on.

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The decision to go for an onside kick with 6 minutes to go down 2 scores was a fair one, but the Packers recovered and were looking to kill the game off. The Falcons defense gritted their teeth and held, and forced a three and out. The Packers had a choice to go for the 53 yard field goal or punt, and when Crosby’s bomb was up and good, the game seemed done. To make matters worse, Julio Jones seemed unlikely to return with a hip injury, and the 259 yards for #11 seemed to be where his record setting night would stop. Matt Ryan turned to his other All Star WR, Roddy White, and drove the field before hitting Harry Douglas for a touchdown. 37-43. The ensuing onside kick was recovered by the Packers, who then turned to the ground to kill the game. James Starks broke loose for a 42 yard gain, bringing the ball to the goalline.

Overall this game was a tale of two halves. Atlanta conceded 20 first downs and 31 points in the first half, before storming back with 30 points of their own in the second, whilst allowing just 12. Ultimately this was as good of an offensive showing as Matt Ryan will ever deliver on the road, and it may go down as his best road performance of his career. Julio Jones set the franchise record for receiving yards, but the defense just couldn’t do enough to stop the Green Bay Packers offense. A disheartening first half, followed by a defiant second shed some light into how far this team could go in a playoff run, but ultimately the defensive talent just isn’t there for this Falcons team to compete.

Final. 43. 49. 37. 44