GREEN BAY—The Packers defense wasn’t calling Monday’s second half a setback, but the unit certainly wasn’t happy about it.
Falcons receiver Julio Jones led an Atlanta offensive explosion after halftime that nearly brought the visitors all the way back from a 24-point deficit.
Thirty points and 304 yards later, the defense had to ask the offense to kill the final two-plus minutes to preserve a 43-37 victory at Lambeau Field.
“That’s not the way we wanted to win,” cornerback Davon House said.
With the Packers leading 31-7, Jones began the second half with a 79-yard catch-and-run on the first play from scrimmage, and the comeback effort was underway.
Already with 100 yards receiving in the first half, Jones went on to catch 11 passes for 259 yards in all, the biggest receiving day ever against the Packers. He topped the 244 yards posted by Detroit’s Calvin Johnson in Week 17 of 2011.
Only three of Jones’ 11 catches gained fewer than 18 yards, and the Packers never found an answer for Matt Ryan’s main man, who was the target on 17 of his 39 pass attempts.
“It was back and forth, man to zone, but when we were in zone, they found the soft spot,” defensive back Micah Hyde said.
Practically every member of the Packers secondary took a turn against Jones, with little to no success. Cornerback Sam Shields didn’t practice all week due to his recovery from a concussion, and he wasn’t sharp. He eventually gave way in the fourth quarter to House, who held his own against Jones better than any of his teammates. House broke up one deep ball to Jones and then nearly intercepted a pass to him in the end zone.
Jones eventually left the game with a hip injury after a 9-yard catch that set up a Falcons TD to pull them within 40-30. He wasn’t on the field for Atlanta’s final scoring drive, which might be the only reason he didn’t reach 300 yards, but by then Ryan could seemingly do no wrong no matter who was catching passes. Ryan finished with 375 yards passing and four TDs and was sacked just once.
“Those guys got in a rhythm, got a little too comfortable, throwing pitch and catch,” Julius Peppers said. “That’s something we’ve got to work on, but we won the game.”
That was the bottom line, the win, but it was not the follow-up effort the defense was hoping for after its turn-the-corner performance a week ago against the Patriots.
In the first half, the issues were minimal. The Falcons drove 72 yards for a TD on their first drive but were shut out on four drives thereafter, capped by a blocked field goal on the final play of the half. Earlier, safety Morgan Burnett’s first interception since 2012 set up a Packers TD.
The second half simply got out of hand. Four TDs and a field goal on five drives, and if not for stopping a two-point conversion at 40-30, the Packers’ lead would have been down to one score with 6:15 left, four minutes sooner than when the Falcons eventually cut the deficit to six points.
“At this point in the season, we can’t allow that to happen,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “I said on the field we made Matt Ryan look like Matty Ice again out there.
“We’ve got to get better, and we will.”
Several Packers insisted the defensive struggles Monday night won’t shake the confidence the unit had been building since the bye. They get a short week now to prove it.
“We just have to play better,” Peppers said. “We have to play the whole game. We can’t play one half or three quarters or anything like that. We have to play the whole game out. Regardless of how big a lead we have, we have to finish games.
“We’re going to move on to next week very quickly.”
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