The Falcons beat the Packers 20-17 in a hotly contested battle at the Georgia Dome to run their record to 9-2. The Packers, who entered the game as one of five teams in the NFC with seven wins, saw their four-game winning streak snapped and are 7-4.
Aaron Rodgers led a game-tying, 90-yard touchdown drive but a long kickoff return and 15-yard facemask by Matt Wilhelm set up the Falcons at the Packers' 48 with 49 seconds to go. Four short completions later, Matt Bryant hit a 47-yard field goal with 9 seconds remaining.
The Falcons did what they've been doing all year: Mount one long drive after another and play virtually error-free football.
Michael Turner's easy touchdown run on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on the second play of the fourth quarter gave the Falcons a 17-10 lead. Green Bay's next drive stalled when Rodgers missed a wide-open Donald Driver on fourth-and-1 from the Falcons' 42. The Packers' defense held to give Rodgers another chance, and did he deliver.
Starting from their 10-yard line, Rodgers hit Andrew Quarless for 12 and 19 yards and Greg Jennings for 15 to the Falcons' 37. On fourth-and-1 from the 21, an ad-libbing Rodgers bought time and flipped the ball end-over-end to James Jones, who juked a linebacker and moved the ball to the Falcons' 3. On fourth-and-goal from the 10 after a sack and penalty, Rodgers had all day, moved to his left and fired a laser to Jordy Nelson in the back of the end zone for the game-tying touchdown.
The first half played out perfectly for the Falcons. They dominated field position, controlled the ball – with Green Bay's offense getting on the field just three times – and won the turnover battle 1-0 to lead 10-3 at intermission.
The big sequence came in the second quarter, with the scored tied at 3. The Packers drove from their 15 to the Falcons' 2. On second-and-goal, Rodgers gained a yard on a sneak. The Packers called another sneak on third down, but Rodgers was stuffed and fumbled. Making matters worse, the ball bounded into the end zone, where the Falcons recovered for a touchback rather than near the 1.
Matt Ryan, who is an NFL-record 19-1 for his career at home, completed 7-of-8 passes on the ensuing possession. Again, the Falcons made the key plays. On third-and-19 near midfield, Ryan dumped it off harmlessly to fullback Ovie Mughelli, who broke tackles by Charles Woodson and Charlie Peprah to gain 16 yards. So, rather than punt, Atlanta went for it on fourth-and-3, with Ryan shuffling out of trouble and hitting Tony Gonzalez for 6 yards. It appeared Gonzalez dropped the ball, but part of the problem with playing on the road is the scoreboard operators conveniently don't show replays of controversial plays. So, the Packers didn't challenge. Then, on third-and-goal from the 4, Ryan hit Gonzalez for a touchdown and a 10-3 lead with 8 seconds to go.
The Packers seemed destined to take a 10-3 lead, with a first-and-goal from the 2-yard line midway through the second quarter. On first down, Rodgers' had tight end Andrew Quarless matched up against a defensive lineman but fullback Quinn Johnson was in the area and deflected the ball. On second down, Rodgers tried to catch the Falcons by surprise with the same quarterback sneak they scored a touchdown on against Miami but Peria Jerry got off Daryn Colledge's block and held Rodgers to 1 yard. On third down, he tried the sneak again but the Falcons' defensive line got penetration and a linebacker jarred the ball loose for the game's only turnover.
The Falcons' Eric Weems entered the game ranked ninth in the NFL with a 26.-0-yard average on kickoff returns, and he was the difference after the tying touchdown. The coverage wasn't bad but Weems found a small crease between Brandon Underwood and Tom Crabtree, who appeared to get caught up in a block on Korey Hall. Weems burst past the 30, when Wilhelm grabbed Weeks' facemask. The Falcons got the ball at the Packers' 48, giving Ryan the easiest "game-winning drive" he'll ever have.
Seven: The number of possessions for the Packers, not including taking a knee to end the first half and their last-gasp, one-play possession to end the game. In a typical game, each team gets the ball 11 or 12 times.
Wilhelm, on the penalty: "I just threw a hand in there. If I grab his collar, his facemask, his jersey, whatever it may be, I'm trying to get him on the ground. Coming to the sideline, guys were saying, ‘You saved a touchdown.' Does it make anything better? Absolutely not. The reason we've been so successful on special teams and as a team is because we've been able to limit penalties. Again, (it happened at) an unfortunate time in the ballgame."
In the big game, Chicago got off a fast start against Philadelphia and held off the Eagles 31-26. Behind Jay Cutler's four touchdown passes, the Bears improved to 8-3 – one game ahead of the Packers in the NFC North. The Vikings, with Toby Gerhart replacing an injured Adrian Peterson, improved to 4-7 by winning Leslie Frazier's head coaching debut at Washington 17-13. Gerhart rushed for 76 yards and a touchdown. The Lions (2-9) were thumped at home on Thanksgiving by New England 45-24.
The other things you might have missed
-- The injury report: Spencer Havner reinjured the hamstring that cost him his roster spot in Detroit and linebacker Brandon Chillar reinjured his shoulder. That left the Packers without two "starters" on the final kickoff. Also lost for the game were Nance (concussion) and cornerback Pat Lee (reinjured ankle).
-- Veteran tight end Donald Lee was one of the inactives, even though he wasn't injured. Also inactive were safeties Atari Bigby (hamstring) and Anthony Smith (ankle), and defensive end Jarius Wynn, linebacker Diyral Briggs, running back James Starks and offensive linemen Mike McDonald and Marshall Newhouse.
-- Capers, on the tackling: "I didn't like the way we tackled. I knew coming in that this guy (Turner) was going to be a challenge. You see him break an awful lot of tackles. He's so strong, he doesn't give you much body surface to hit. You have to get down low, you have to wrap up, you have to drive your feet and tackle better than we did today."
-- McCarthy didn't use it as an excuse, but there was a lengthy delay in getting replays throughout the game – including on Gonzalez's fourth-down reception that looked like a clear drop. Capers said he didn't see a replay before the Falcons rushed to the line of scrimmage and snapped the ball.
-- The Falcons' average starting field position was the 30-yard line compared to the 17 for the Packers. Green Bay started outside its 25 just once.
-- Jennings' streak of six- or seven-catch performances ended at five games, but he still caught five balls for 119 yards.
-- NFL sacks leader Clay Matthews was held without a sack or quarterback hit. Frank Zombo and Cullen Jenkins had the Packers' sacks.
-- Just before the game, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its 26 semifinalists for the Class of 2011. Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene is among them and is the only player with Packers ties.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.