Through Week 11, Green Bay ranked No. 3 in the league in red-zone efficiency, scoring 20 touchdowns on 30 opportunities (66.7 percent). That included six touchdowns on their last eight trips inside the 20. While they were successful half the time (2-of-4) at Atlanta, the two they didn’t convert factored heavily in a closely fought game.
“It’s frustrating,” center Scott Wells said. “Anytime we get into the red zone, we expect to get touchdowns. To get on the 1-yard line, we expect to get a touchdown. It’s frustrating not to get that.
“It’s a bit of attention to detail and execution on that play that we have to find a way to get that ball into the end zone.”
The Packers’ first scoring opportunity came late in the first quarter after quarterback Aaron Rodgers quickly moved the offense down the field behind completions of 30 and 17 yards respectively to wide receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver on a drive that started at the Green Bay 15.
After Rodgers scrambled 11 yards to the Atlanta 13 for a first down, running back Brandon Jackson picked up 4 yards off right tackle and Rodgers gained 5 yards on a run around right end to set up a third-and-1 at the 4-yard line. But running back Dimitri Nance, who saw his first significant action of the season last Sunday at Minnesota, was stuffed for no gain on third down, forcing the Packers to settle for a 22-yard Mason Crosby field goal that evened the score at 3.
Green Bay’s defense came through by forcing a three-and-out on the next series, and the offense took over again at its own 15. Rodgers picked up big yardage right away on a slant to wide receiver Brett Swain for 31 yards, plus 15 yards on top of that when safety William Moore was flagged for a late hit on Swain out of bounds.
Four straight completions by Rodgers moved the ball to Atlanta’s 2. On first down, Rodgers’ pass in the flat to fullback Quinn Johnson was high and went incomplete, and on second down Rodgers lined up in the shotgun.
Rodgers checked out of the play, instead moving under center to keep the ball for the sneak, but picked up just a yard.
“I thought there was no way we couldn’t get that in,” Rodgers said. “You line up and they're in an even front, the center is uncovered. (It was) similar to the Miami game. We had the call. We talked about it in the huddle, and we just didn’t execute.”
Not only did Rodgers not get in the end zone on the play, but he said after the game that he got hit on his funny bone by an Atlanta defender on the play.
Now facing third-and-goal at the 1, Head Coach Mike McCarthy sent in an extra offensive lineman, T.J. Lang, along with two tight ends, Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree, and fullback Quinn Johnson. Rodgers kept it again, but linebacker Curtis Lofton delivered a hit that jarred the ball loose, and linebacker Mike Peterson recovered the bouncing ball in the end zone for the touchback.
“As I got it, I went to bring it in and start moving and the guy hit me right on the ball and the ball came out,” Rodgers said of his first fumble of the season. “Inexcusable.
“We just need to convert those, whether it is running it or throwing it. Third-and-1, you expect to convert those.”
Not only did the Falcons turn around and drive 80 yards for a touchdown and a 10-3 halftime lead, but it meant two trips inside the 20 for the Packers in the half had yielded just three points.
“The things we talked about during the week, making sure we get seven in the red zone and converting third downs, we didn’t do very well today,” Rodgers said. “We had 17 points in four red-zone trips. We had a turnover, personally I had a turnover, and we couldn’t convert and had to kick a field goal on our first drive. That’s where we lost the game.”
The Packers would go on to finish the afternoon with 418 yards of offense, their second-best mark this season, but the ineffectiveness in those short-yardage scoring situations left them shaking their heads.
“In games like this, you have to chase perfection,” Wells said. “Everything matters. You don’t get a do-over, so there is very little room for errors. You really have to go out and have all of your ducks in a row and execute the best you can and move forward when something does go wrong and handle adversity a lot better than we did.”