Aaron Rodgers remembered the play, and the noise, rather vividly this week.
On the Packers’ first possession of the NFC Divisional playoff in Atlanta last January, they faced third-and-13 from their own 8-yard line. The Georgia Dome crowd was in a frenzy.
Rodgers hit Jennings on a quick slant over the middle and Jennings broke into the clear, briefly quieting things down. Then Jennings was hit from behind, coughing up the ball, and the Falcons recovered. The pandemonium immediately returned.
“That’s as loud as I’ve heard,” Rodgers said. “Right up there with any third down in the Metrodome.
“We know it’s going to be tough. We have to have good communication with our three interior guys and hope the tackles get off on the snap count as well.”
The Packers have said all week they’re preparing for a playoff-like atmosphere at the Georgia Dome on Sunday night, even if the stakes don’t compare to the actual playoff game from nine months ago. They piped crowd noise into their practices this week, concluding with a workout Friday inside the Don Hutson Center.
This will be the Packers’ third trip to the Georgia Dome in their last 15 games. Relative to the noise factor, Green Bay will have two new offensive linemen this week compared to those previous trips.
Left guard T.J. Lang and right tackle Marshall Newhouse – who is starting for a second straight week in place of an injured Bryan Bulaga – will get their first extended taste of a road atmosphere like this.
As a rookie, Lang was thrown into a Monday night game at the Metrodome in 2009 in the fourth quarter, though that was a forgettable night for the entire offensive line (eight sacks). Newhouse, who didn’t play at all as a rookie last year, said the loudest place he’s ever played was Norman, Okla., when Newhouse’s TCU squad took on the Sooners.
“It’s just being in tune with each other,” Newhouse said of handling the noise. “It’s on all of us to know what everybody else is doing. You’re not preoccupying yourself with what their job is per se, but just knowing all the responsibilities, making sure we’re all on the same page and Aaron knows what we’re doing, too.”
The last thing the Packers want to see is false starts cropping up again. After committing five false starts in Chicago two weeks ago, the Packers didn’t have a single one last week vs. Denver. The Broncos game, of course, was at home.
“We have to eliminate the penalties,” Lang said. “Don’t give the crowd anything else to cheer about.”
Back in January, by the time the second half of the playoff game rolled around, the crowd couldn’t do anything to stop the Packers. Green Bay overcame the early turnover, scored touchdowns on five straight possessions spanning the first through third quarters, and ran away, 48-21.
If Rodgers gets in another groove like that, the Falcons hope the addition of rookie receiver Julio Jones, the sixth overall pick in the draft, will give them the firepower to keep up. Jones joins an arsenal of quarterback Matt Ryan’s that already includes receiver Roddy White, running back Michael Turner and tight end Tony Gonzalez.
“They’ve got some weapons on that side of the ball,” Rodgers said. “It will be important for us to put some points on the board. Anytime you’re on the road, it’s important to start fast and take the crowd out of it.”
Atlanta Head Coach Mike Smith said this week his team doesn’t circle games on its schedule, but that seems hard to believe. Even if it’s true, it’s a given the fans did.
Either way, the Packers aren’t buying Smith’s line. Lang said there’s “a bullseye on our back” for this one, and the Falcons would love nothing more than to be the first team to beat the Packers since last December.
“Those guys definitely have a bad taste in their mouth from the last time we played them,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “It will be a great test to see where we are this early in the season.”
For more Packers-Falcons stories from the past week, click here.