Matt Bryant’s 47-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining gave the NFC-leading Falcons (9-2) the 20-17 victory over Green Bay at the Georgia Dome in front of 68,204, snapping the Packers’ four-game winning streak and extending Atlanta’s winning streak to five.
The loss dropped Green Bay to 7-4 on the season and moved them into second place in the NFC North behind the Bears (8-3) after Chicago beat Philadelphia on Sunday. All four of the Packers’ losses this season have been by three points.
“I think we had an opportunity (today) and we let it slip away, and I think we’ll look back and regret that,” guard Daryn Colledge said. “It’s another three-point loss. That’s four losses by a total of 12 points and that hurts because that is a lot of games that could have swung in the other direction.
“But we’re going to re-group. We’ve got a tough San Francisco team coming in (next Sunday). We’ll evaluate this tape and move on.”
Atlanta got on the board first on Sunday, with quarterback Matt Ryan leading the Falcons down the field behind a 12-yard completion to fullback Jason Snelling on third down and a 14-yard pass to wide receiver Roddy White. After moving the ball to Green Bay’s 20, guard Harvey Dahl was flagged for an unnecessary-roughness penalty after a play, pushing Atlanta into a third-and-20 at the Green Bay 34. The Falcons were forced to settle for a 38-yard Bryant field goal and an early 3-0 lead.
After three-and-outs by Green Bay and Atlanta, the Packers offense didn’t take long to move down the field. Rodgers found wide receiver Greg Jennings (119 yards on five receptions) near the left sideline on the first play, and he spun inside to avoid cornerback Dominique Franks and pick up 30 yards. A face-mask penalty on Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters on the next play and a 17-yard completion from Rodgers to wide receiver Donald Driver put the ball at the Atlanta 24.
Rodgers picked up a first down with an 11-yard scamper, and followed that up two plays later with a 5-yard run down to the Atlanta 4 to set up third-and-1. Rodgers handed off to short-yardage back Dimitri Nance on third down, but the rookie was stuffed on the run off left guard for no gain as the Packers settled for a field goal of their own, a 22-yarder from Mason Crosby to even the score.
After Green Bay’s defense forced its second straight three-and-out, the offense found its way into Atlanta territory again through a big pass and a penalty. Rodgers connected with wide receiver Brett Swain on a slant on first down, and Swain did a nice job to get yards after the catch for a 31-yard gain. Swain was hit late on the play by safety William Moore, tacking on an extra 15 yards.
Rodgers then found wide receiver James Jones four times in a five-play span for 26 yards total to put the ball at the Atlanta 2. After initially lining up in shotgun on second-and-goal from the 2, Rodgers came under center and kept the ball for a 1-yard pickup. The Packers kept the ball in the signal-caller’s hands on the next play, but a hit by linebacker Curtis Lofton forced a Rodgers fumble on the sneak, and fellow linebacker Mike Peterson recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
The defense seemed positioned to force a punt on the ensuing series after a Cullen Jenkins sack and an incomplete pass by Ryan set up a third-and-19 at the Atlanta 48. But Ryan’s short dump-off pass to fullback Ovie Mughelli picked up 16 yards as cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Charlie Peprah both missed open-field tackles, putting the Falcons in position to go for it on fourth-and-3 at the 36.
Ryan (24-of-28 for 198 yards) rolled to his right on fourth down with pressure coming, and found tight end Tony Gonzalez for a 6-yard completion with Peprah covering him. Replays indicated that Gonzalez may not have controlled the ball as he went to the ground, but Head Coach Mike McCarthy said after the game that the communication from the coaches upstairs came late because of the replays made available to them.
Two plays later the veteran Gonzalez made a leaping reception over the middle for 21 yards down to the 5, and Ryan found him wide open on third-and-goal for a 4-yard touchdown and a 10-3 lead with just 12 seconds remaining in the half.
Green Bay evened the score in the third quarter, largely behind a pair of big completions by Rodgers. The first big gain was a 34-yarder to Jennings on a flea-flicker, with Jennings fumbling at the end of the play and fullback Korey Hall recovering. Then on third-and-1 at the Atlanta 29, Rodgers lofted a pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who made a leaping grab over cornerback Brent Grimes at the Atlanta 1. Rodgers kept it on a draw on the next play, making a nice effort to avoid a leg tackle and get into the end zone.
Atlanta responded with a methodical drive, eating up nearly eight minutes as they drove 80 yards in 14 plays. Ryan converted a pair of third downs with completions to Snelling and White, and running back Michael Turner (110 yards on 23 carries) posted his long run of the afternoon, a 26-yarder down to the Green Bay 12. Turner became just the second running back since Week 3 of 2009 to register 100 yards on the ground against the Packers.
“When he bends, he doesn’t give you much surface to hit on,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “You see that happen consistently. We weren’t as sharp in our tackling as we need to be. We had guys in position to hit and he ran through a number of tackles today.
“We’ve got to take a good look at that and we’ve got to make sure that we improve in that area because we’re going to be playing against backs like this.”
The defense did come up with stops on three consecutive plays at the 1-yard line, with Peprah stopping Snelling for no gain on first down and Hawk stuffing Turner for no yardage on second down. Peprah made another big play on third down, keeping Gonzalez out of the end zone on a completion in the flat. The Falcons elected to go for it on fourth down, with Turner bouncing out easily around left end for the score.
The Packers were unable to convert a fourth-and-1 of their own on the next series, as Donald Driver made a diving attempt on a pass over the middle near the Atlanta 30. Green Bay’s defense came up with a stop on the next series though, and Rodgers and the offense had six minutes to work with as they looked to tie the game.
Rodgers (26-of-35, 344 yards), working out of the no-huddle on the drive, connected with rookie tight end Andrew Quarless twice, for 11 and 19 yards respectively, and found Jennings near the right sideline for a 15-yard pickup to Atlanta’s 30. On fourth-and-1 a few plays later, Rodgers avoided pressure to do a backhanded flip over the middle to Jones, who took it 18 yards down to the Atlanta 3.
The offense found itself facing a do-or-die situation again, this time looking at fourth-and-goal from the 10. Working out of a five-wide receiver formation, Rodgers had plenty of time in the pocket to survey the end zone before finding Nelson in the back left corner for a 10-yard touchdown with 56 seconds left.
But on the ensuing kickoff, returner Eric Weems found a seam up the middle to take Crosby’s kick from 4 yards deep in the end zone out to the Atlanta 36. Adding insult to injury was linebacker Matt Wilhelm being flagged for a face-mask penalty on the tackle, and those 15 additional yards put the ball in Green Bay territory.
“I had good hang time and I think I got it 4 yards deep or something like that, but he just brought it back out at us,” Crosby said. “They did a good job kind of sealing off our left side and he found a seam there. This guy has been pretty dangerous.
“We weren’t able to keep him in and then we got the face mask. If we can get him down where we got him down, it’s one thing, but to add on 15 yards and they are at the 50, that makes it tough.”
Ryan found White (five catches for 49 yards) for 9 yards on first down, and then completed three short passes for a total of just 11 yards on the next three to put the ball at the 29. His pass to White went incomplete on third down, but Bryant came on and drilled a 47-yarder to give Atlanta the 20-17 victory.
“At 7-4, we still have a lot of football in front of us, but we need to get this next one, because now we’re into December football,” McCarthy said. “There are no redo’s or ‘Hey, we can get ‘em next week.’ We’ve been playing good football, and we did a lot of positive things today, a lot of positive play from a number of different players.
“You have to play big at the adverse times in the game. We talk about adversity play calls on offense, we talk about playing adversity defense – and actually, we’ve been playing outstanding adversity defense throughout the year – and the big play on special teams definitely hurt us there at the end.”