ATLANTA – So much for getting to play the Falcons healthier this time.
The Packers entered Sunday night’s game without their starting offensive tackles and left it even more banged up, and not just due to the disappointing 34-23 final score at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
After announcing 90 minutes before kickoff that both left tackle David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (ankle) would miss this NFC title game rematch, the Packers then lost several regulars in the first quarter to injury, including defensive lineman Mike Daniels (hamstring), receiver Jordy Nelson (quad) and safety Kentrell Brice (groin).
By game’s end, receiver Randall Cobb (shoulder) and cornerback Davon House (groin) had also exited, and the Packers will have to find out over the next week just what shape their lineup is in to try to improve on their 1-1 record through two weeks.
“Tough ballgame this evening,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said.
The game got out of reach at the end of the second and start of the third quarters.
Trailing 17-7 in the final minute of the first half, Rodgers threw an interception on a deep ball for receiver Geronimo Allison that the Falcons converted into a touchdown just before halftime.
Then, on the opening drive of the second half, Rodgers was drilled by linebacker Vic Beasley as his pass floated sideways toward the sideline. Cornerback Desmond Trufant scooped it up and returned it 15 yards for a score to make it 31-7, which held up after replay review was too close to reverse the call to a forward pass.
“We’re in it, and I gave them seven on the fumble, another seven on the pick, and we lose by 11,” Rodgers said. “We’re in the game. I can’t turn the ball over like that.”
Green Bay’s defense wasn’t helping much, though, against MVP quarterback Matt Ryan (108.0 passer rating) and his array of weapons. The Packers didn’t have much better luck slowing them down eight months after they dominated Green Bay’s defense on the way to the Super Bowl.
As running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 126 rushing yards, and receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu combined for 193 yards through the air, the Falcons turned in 10 plays that gained 15-plus on their way to 34 points by late in the third quarter.
“Big-play production, Atlanta was in the favor there,” McCarthy said. “Defensively, we were just not getting the stops.”
The Packers answered the Falcons’ initial touchdown in the first quarter with an impressive drive, but any consistency on offense eluded Green Bay until playing catch-up in the fourth quarter.
Rodgers finished with 343 yards passing with two fourth-quarter TDs, including his 300th career, but a lot of circumstances were working against finding much rhythm against the defending NFC champs.
“Two new tackles, brand new loud stadium on turf, a nine-man rotation D-line, that’s all part of game-planning,” McCarthy said. “We were prepared to play whatever direction we needed to play. That’s the NFL. That’s football.”
Both McCarthy and Rodgers credited young linemen Kyle Murphy, who flipped over to left tackle after playing the right side last week, and Justin McCray, an interior lineman playing out of position at right tackle, with hanging tough.
McCarthy said schematically he didn’t help Murphy much from the second quarter on, and he thought McCray showed “a lot of fight.”
“Offensively, I wish we could have played the whole game like the first series, (with) the ability to mix the run and pass and move it,” McCarthy said.
Receiver Davante Adams led the receivers with eight catches for 99 yards, including a spectacular diving 33-yard TD grab on fourth down to keep the Packers alive early in the fourth quarter.
“Our guys had a lot of grit, and a lot of injuries,” McCarthy said. “We have a long plane ride home, we’ll get back late, and we have a lot of work to do before we start on Cincinnati.
“We’re 1-1. We were not good enough tonight.”
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