GREEN BAY—The Packers were at the tipping point in their season. They were trailing 21-10 and being booed at home. That’s when the defense – yeah, the Packers defense – saved the day and the season, for at least one more week.
“Excellent win; classified as a character win,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said following a 22-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at frigid Lambeau Field. Combined with a Lions loss in Philadelphia, the 6-6-1 Packers find themselves a half game behind the 7-6 Lions, with the 6-6 Bears to host the Cowboys on Monday night.
It all looked so grim as the Packers went to the halftime locker room on Sunday. The Falcons had just executed a bizarre pick-six interception that was literally kick-started when the ball caromed off a foot and into the hands of Sean Weatherspoon. Seventy-one yards later, the Packers’ season was in dire jeopardy.
“Get booed at home,” McCarthy said in a pained voice. “The energy in the locker room; they never blinked. This is an excellent win and we needed it.”
Needed it? That’s an understatement. The Packers also needed an Eagles win over the Lions, and the Packers weren’t getting it as the first half ended at Lambeau. The mood was as cold as the snow that was falling.
That’s when the Packers’ maligned defense, which had been the goat of the team’s five-game non-winning streak, became the hero of the game and maybe the season.
With the season on the line, the defense pitched consecutive three-and-outs at the Falcons to start the second half, and then forced and recovered a fumble to start the fourth quarter. Four plays later, Matt Flynn threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless and the Packers were in the lead.
“Our defense did a great job of keeping them out of the end zone the rest of the game,” McCarthy said. “Good to win. It’s been a while. I forgot what it felt like.”
Sunday’s come-from-behind win, combined with the Lions’ loss, qualifies as a late-season resurrection. Had the Packers lost and the Lions won, the Packers’ playoff hopes would’ve required winning their final three games and the Lions losing their final three. As it stands, the Packers could climb back into first place with a win in Dallas next Sunday.
Does McCarthy like his team’s chances of winning the NFC North, which is the Packers’ most realistic route to the postseason?
“I like our opportunity in Dallas. That’s where my mind is. The Lions lost and we’re happy about that. It’s about stacking success,” McCarthy said.
It’s also about getting Aaron Rodgers back, which Flynn readily admitted.
“Hopefully, he can get back in the lineup. With him out there, it gives us our best chance to win,” Flynn said.
Flynn completed 24 of 32 passes for 258 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 95.6 passer rating. He played his best football since the 2011 regular-season finale and was coming off a nightmarish performance in the Packers’ Thanksgiving Day loss in Detroit.
“I thought Matt played well. He did an excellent job in the no-huddle. I was very pleased with the way Matt Flynn played today,” McCarthy said.
“It feels good to move the ball, complete some passes. Hopefully, it helps the confidence in the team around me. As a team, everyone feels real good about it,” Flynn said of the win.
What changed for the defense? It had allowed more than 200 yards rushing in three of the Packers’ last four games, but held the Falcons to 83 yards rushing and 285 total net yards.
“I told them it’s lonely being a warrior,” McCarthy said of his halftime address. “I really liked the energy with our players at halftime. We played our best football in the second half, and that’s what you look for from your football team.”
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