GREEN BAY – During his two years in Jacksonville, Davon House never stopped rooting for the Packers.
As such, he didn’t enjoy watching last January’s NFC title game in Atlanta that the Falcons’ explosive offense dominated to end Green Bay’s remarkable stretch run.
“It was tough. A game away from the Super Bowl again,” said House, who was with the Packers when they came up short in 2014 as well. “As a fan, after the game, I felt like I lost the game, and I wasn’t even out there, (just) rooting for them. It was tough.”
Well, now House has a chance to do something about it.
His presence in the Packers’ secondary will be the biggest difference defensively for the rematch with the Falcons on Sunday night.
More to the point, he’s likely to get his share of snaps lined up across from All-Pro receiver Julio Jones, whose nine catches for 180 yards and two scores stole the show eight months ago.
“You try to contain him,” House said. “The guy’s good. If not the best, he’s No. 2, if not No. 1. The guy is phenomenal. Big, strong, fast, physical. He’s everything you want in a receiver.”
House is plenty familiar with him. Back in 2014, Jones was in the midst of a monster 259-yard night in Green Bay when the Packers turned to House late in the contest, and the (then) fourth-year pro helped stop the bleeding. He had an impressive pass breakup against Jones in the end zone that helped Green Bay hang on for a six-point win.
Then the following year, his first in Jacksonville, House shadowed Jones in a December game. Jones had nine catches for 118 yards and a TD – a strong but not dominant performance – in a six-point Falcons victory.
“It’s a good thing I’ve faced a guy like him already, but everyone is going to get a chance to guard him,” House said. “Me, ‘D,’ Kevin, ‘Q.’ Everyone is going to have a chance to see what they’ve got on him.
“I feel like I’m a small piece to this big puzzle we have here. The good thing about it is I don’t feel it’s one-on-one. It’s 11-on-11.”
House may feel he’s a small piece, but he’s a key one, even though he isn’t the only change to Green Bay’s cornerback group since January. Kevin King was drafted at the top of the second round, while Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins are healthy again.
The greatest representation of change is the fact that the Packers’ No. 1 corner for the NFC title game, LaDarius Gunter, was released this week.
“It’s a different year, and we’re a different group of guys,” Randall said. “Every year, you have a different type of team identity.”
It’s too early to say whether Atlanta’s offensive identity has changed at all under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Personnel-wise, it’s much the same, with Devonta Freeman now one of the highest-paid running backs in the league, plus receivers Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel catching passes from MVP quarterback Matt Ryan.
Tight end Austin Hooper turned out to be their big-play guy in Week 1, hauling in an 88-yard touchdown and a 40-yard grab in a tight victory over Chicago.
“They’ve got more than just Julio,” Randall said.
Added House: “Sanu is a smart, instinctive route-runner, does a good job sitting in the holes, and he can take you over the top as well. Gabriel is their shot guy. World-class speed, and you’ve seen him run past people all the time.”
But at the end of the night, it very well could come down to Jones. Just look at last year’s two games.
The Packers’ secondary wasn’t healthy in the October meeting, either, but Jones was playing on a bum ankle and was held to three catches for 29 yards. The Falcons needed Sanu’s TD catch with 31 seconds left to win by a point.
In January, the second half was barely more than a minute old when Jones had seven catches for 144 yards and both his TDs. Atlanta led, 31-0.
“We lost,” Randall said about what he remembers from the game. “I mean, we lost the chance to go to the Super Bowl.
“Everybody in the locker room felt that loss, and we’ve just been moving forward from it and looking forward to Sunday night.”