ATLANTA – They knew what they had to do.
After the Atlanta Falcons scored touchdowns on their first two possessions and seemingly had the Packers defense reeling early in the second quarter, it wasn’t a sideline pow-wow or a fiery speech or a tossed Gatorade cooler that turned things around. Words and actions were few.
“Nothing,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “Nothing needed to be said. Everybody on our team defensively knew that had to be it.”
Turned out that was it for the Falcons, as the Green Bay defense pitched a shutout over the final 42 ½ minutes to help fuel the Packers’ come-from-behind, 25-14 victory at the Georgia Dome.
On Atlanta’s first two drives, the Falcons gained 145 yards, picked up 11 first downs, converted four of four on third down, and grabbed a 14-0 lead with 12:26 left in the first half.
Over their final seven possessions, they gained just 106 yards, picked up seven first downs and went 1-for-7 on third down. After the two early scores, four of the Falcons’ next five drives went three-and-out.
Woodson said the turnaround was rather simple. The Packers tackled better, didn’t miss assignments and played more aggressively. They also didn’t panic.
“Just settle down, settle down,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “With our offense, we knew it was only a matter of time before they catch up, so we just had to weather the storm and hang in there.”
Atlanta hurt itself with penalties, committing an offensive infraction on four consecutive scoreless drives. The Falcons also got away from running the ball despite the fact the margin was within one score all the way until the final minute of the game.
Falcons running back Michael Turner had 10 carries for 36 yards on the first two drives, but he carried the ball just six times for 20 more yards after that.
The Packers also posted a game-changing stop midway through the fourth quarter that protected their one-score lead.
Trailing 22-14, the Falcons drove from their own 16-yard line to the Green Bay 29 with 8:16 to play. A touchdown and two-point conversion would tie the game, but a two-play sequence halted the Falcons in their tracks.
On first down, inside linebacker Desmond Bishop blew through the middle untouched on a blitz and sacked quarterback Matt Ryan for an 11-yard loss. Then, on the next snap, outside linebacker Clay Matthews got in Ryan’s face just as he fired down the middle to tight end Tony Gonzalez.
The pass was a little high and as Gonzalez and safety Charlie Peprah converged, the ball deflected up into the air. Peprah kept his wits about him and spun around to make a sliding interception at the 22-yard line.
“Clay got some pressure on him and made him throw it higher than he wanted to,” Peprah said. “I tipped it up and didn’t want to lose sight of it. I looked up and it stayed in my eyesight, so I was lucky to keep vision on the ball and make the catch.”
It might have been the biggest play, in terms of the situation and the athleticism and awareness required, of Peprah’s career. He has taken the injured Nick Collins’ spot at safety this year after filling in for an injured Morgan Burnett last season.
“Great play, great concentration,” Woodson said. “You get paid in this league to make plays, so hats off to him.”
The defensive effort was exactly what the Packers were looking for after finishing the first quarter of the season ranked 28th in the league in yards allowed and 31st against the pass.
The first two drives may have had that here-we-go-again feel to the outside observer, but on the inside the Packers knew they had this type of defense in them. It was the kind of defense they played last December at the beginning of what is now an 11-game winning streak.
“We buckled down,” Woodson said.
“We knew eventually our offense would put points on the board. You’re not going to stop them for 60 minutes, that’s just not going to happen. As long as we held up our end of the bargain, on our sideline we felt confident we could come back and win the game.”
Added Matthews: “It’s hard to beat the Packers defense for four quarters.” Additional coverage - Packers vs. Falcons