GREEN BAY – This one has all the makings of another Packers-Falcons barnburner.
The history between these two teams in the Aaron Rodgers-Matt Ryan era has been chock full of close games and comebacks, and there’s little reason to think Sunday will be any different as both teams come in above .500 and looking to make a statement of sorts.
The matchup Packers fans remember most is the 2010 NFC Divisional playoff at the Georgia Dome, where Rodgers put together an otherworldly performance and No. 6 seed Green Bay ran away with the victory over top-seeded Atlanta.
But that’s the outlier in terms of the lack of fourth-quarter drama in a modern-day Packers-Falcons clash. In the rest, little has separated the two teams.
“Some tough battles,” Ryan said in a conference call with Green Bay media this week. “Anytime you go against Aaron, anytime you go against Green Bay, you know that they’re going to come in very well prepared and they’re capable of making a lot of plays.
“You have to be on top of your game and on top of your game plan.”
The head-to-head contests between two of the NFC’s best quarterbacks began in 2008, Rodgers’ first season as the starter and Ryan’s rookie year. The Boston College product came into Lambeau Field and knocked off the Packers, 27-24, with a fourth-quarter interception by Rodgers a turning point. It remains the only pick Rodgers has thrown against the Falcons in his career.
In 2010, in the regular season, the teams went down-to-the-wire again, with a fourth-and-goal rocket TD throw from Rodgers to Jordy Nelson tying the game late, only to have Ryan drive the Falcons into field-goal range for a walk-off decision, 20-17.
Following the 2010 postseason meeting, the Packers went back to the Georgia Dome in 2011 and fell behind 14-0 before rallying for a 25-14 triumph. This began the comeback trend in the series, which continued without Rodgers (broken collarbone) in 2013. Matt Flynn brought the Packers back from a 21-10 halftime deficit for a 22-21 win that kept Green Bay in the playoff hunt.
“That was a cold game,” Ryan said of the 9-degree, early December day at Lambeau. “I do remember that.”
Then in 2014, it was Atlanta’s turn to come from behind, as Ryan and Julio Jones (259 receiving yards) made a game of it despite a 31-7 halftime deficit. The Packers hung on for a 43-37 victory.
All told, that’s five regular-season meetings decided by a grand total of 24 points, and the 2011 contest with the biggest margin was a one-point game (15-14) heading into the fourth quarter.
That was Green Bay’s last visit to the Georgia Dome, which is being replaced by a new stadium. Having won two straight there, Rodgers was asked if the confidence in a given venue can carry over.
“It does for me,” he said, knowing full well that less than one-fourth of the Packers’ current roster (13 of 53 players) has ever played there.
“The thing about this league that’s special is you have so many young guys every year who are hungry, who get to experience those feelings for the first time – a big win at home, a big win on the road, a plane ride after a big win. Those are all fun experiences that you hope for every season. Games like this can be benchmarks for the memories that we can store away in our minds, if we go take care of business and play the way we want to play.”
If the Packers are going to establish what it takes to win on the road, now is the time to start. The Atlanta trip begins a run of four road games in five weeks, all against teams currently .500 or better.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve been on the road,” Rodgers said. “This is a tough stretch in our season. It’s going to tell us a lot about the kind of team that we are.
“We’re going down there with some confidence. We’ve won in that building before, and we’ve won big games on the road before. We just have to put it all together.”