But against the cream of the crop – and the Atlanta Falcons certainly would qualify as that – the Packers simply haven't put together the kind of complete-game, all-phases performance needed to propel themselves to a truly elite team.
It's not like the Packers can't stand toe to toe with the likes of the Falcons and the Bears. But until the Packers play to their immense potential on offense, defense and special teams against a true juggernaut, than these Packers will be relegated to pretender status.
In fact, the Packers haven't had that kind of game since the middle of the 2008 season, when they posted a 34-14 rout of the Indianapolis Colts, who finished the season 12-4.
In six games against teams that won at least 10 games last year, the Packers went 2-3. They were swept by Minnesota and lost at home to Cincinnati (not to mention the loss at Pittsburgh, which finished 9-7). One win came against Dallas, a horrible offensive performance but a signature game by Dom Capers' defense. The other win came against Arizona, which used the season finale as a bye week preceding the playoff rematch against Green Bay.
Through 11 games this year, the Packers have faced four teams that seem bound for the playoffs, going 2-2. They impressively won at Philadelphia, but that was before Michael Vick was an MVP candidate, and they beat the Jets in a listless performance offensively. The losses came at Chicago, with a litany of penalties and special-teams breakdowns, and on Sunday at Atlanta.
The Packers really didn't do anything poorly against the Falcons. They just didn't do enough things at a high enough level – or match the level they had grown accustomed to reaching in wins against Dallas and Minnesota.
Start with turnovers. The Packers had forced 12 turnovers in their last three-and-a-half games but never got close to taking the ball away from the Falcons. During that same timeframe, the Packers didn't have a giveaway. They had one on Sunday, a killer fumble by Aaron Rodgers at the goal line.
On offense, a unit that had been clicking on third down regressed to 4-of-11, including one of their first seven. Some of that can be pinned on a horrific running game. Ryan Grant, Marshawn Lynch or Adrian Peterson wouldn't have made an ounce of difference with blocking that only can be called abysmal. Brandon Jackson (six carries, minus-3 yards) and Dimitri Nance (one carry, 0 yards) combined for minus-3 yards through the first three quarters before Jackson found some running room on draw plays with the offense in passing mode late in the game.
And for as good as Rodgers was late in the game, he'll be dogged by the fourth-and-1 pass to Donald Driver that he missed with the Packers trailing 17-10 in the fourth quarter. Driver was in the slot, and the cornerback covering him blitzed. Either Rodgers saw it coming or he should have saw it coming. Either way, with the cornerback in his face, he threw awkwardly to Driver, who had broken open for what would have been, at worst, a first down near the Falcons' 30.
On defense, a unit that had played so well in "adversity" situations – Capers' term – gave up touchdowns on both of the Falcons' trips into the red zone and couldn't get a stop after the special teams all but gave away the game on the final kickoff.
The tackling wasn't nearly good as it had been. Lost in the shuffle of the Falcons' first touchdown drive were missed tackles by Charles Woodson and Charlie Peprah that turned a third-and-19 into a fourth-and-3. And they just couldn't get off the field. The Falcons are the kings of the long drives, and their first three scoring drives went 10 plays, 14 plays and 14 plays with four third-down conversions (including a touchdown) and a fourth-down touchdown.
Boil it down, and the Falcons made the plays that championship teams have to make and the Packers only can cling to the loser's lament of would-of, should-of, could-of. Green Bay boasted a 123-yard advantage in total offense and Rodgers' stats were glittering but it added up to just three scores. And while the Packers had to settle for one measly field goal on their first two trips inside the 5-yard line, the Falcons scored touchdowns both times.
On the bright side, only good teams get the opportunity to play in big games. At some point, though, for this team to take the next step, it needs to start winning those big games. Their failure to do so is a big disappointment.
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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.