Report Card: Packers-Falcons

The Packers earn rave reviews with their passing offense and passing defense in Saturday's blowout victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus — Greg Jennings, albeit unwittingly on linebacker Stephen Nicholas' tomahawk chop from behind, committed the type of cardinal sin that winds up keeping a team from advancing in the postseason. Fortunately for Jennings, his fumble in the open field on a big-time catch and run of 30 yards on a short post to convert third-and-13 with Green Bay pinned deep in its own territory in its first series was long forgotten thanks to Aaron Rodgers' extraordinary performance. Rodgers may have supplanted Indianapolis' Peyton Manning as the most dangerous quarterback indoors as he willed the Packers to the lopsided victory after they dug themselves a 14-7 hole early in the second quarter. Rodgers engineered five straight touchdown drives thereafter and was nearly perfect with 31-of-36 accuracy for 366 yards and three touchdowns without an interception for the second straight playoff game. His passer rating was a scintillating 136.8. Rodgers was money on third down, converting his first eight chances and finishing 9-of-11 in pass situations before stepping aside for Matt Flynn in the latter stages of the fourth quarter. Of those several clutch throws, the most impressive was James Jones outjumping cornerback Brent Grimes and coming down with the football in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown to put the Packers ahead for the first time and to stay at 21-14 in the final minute of the first half. Jones (four catches for 75 yards) acquitted himself less than a week after dropping a would-be touchdown heave from Rodgers in the wild-card win at Philadelphia. The Packers also had sizable contributions from the other members of their top four wideouts — Jennings (eight catches for 101 yards), Jordy Nelson (eight catches for 79 yards, touchdown) and Donald Driver (six catches for 76 yards). Rodgers' athleticism came to the forefront on the fast track as he escaped three sacks in the pocket and extended several more plays with his feet, including a 7-yard scramble for a touchdown. Tackles Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga fared well in pass protection, though each gave up a sack to ends John Abraham and Kroy Biermann (half sack), respectively.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C — The volume of run plays stayed higher than normal for the second straight week, as Green Bay amassed 28, not including two scrambles (for 13 yards) by Rodgers and a game-ending kneel-down for Flynn. Yet, the production wasn't nearly as substantial as rookie James Starks provided in his 123-yard performance against the Eagles. The Packers accumulated just 96 yards on the ground. Starks rushed for only 14 yards in nine carries in the first half Saturday before the lopsided score that was established in the third quarter enabled him to rack up the carries for a final output of 25 for 66 yards. Starks ran with authority, speed and power on a few cutbacks with a long of 13, but he also was driven back for two minus runs. Brandon Jackson matched Starks with a 13-yard burst in his lone carry. A newly installed play featuring nose tackle B.J. Raji beside fullback Quinn Johnson paved the way off right tackle for a 1-yard touchdown plunge by John Kuhn to tie the score at 14-14.

Tramon Williams was a hero.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
PASS DEFENSE: A-minus — The encore for cornerback Tramon Williams was better than his clinching interception of an underthrown pass by the Eagles' Michael Vick into the end zone the previous weekend. Williams picked off two ill-advised throws from the usually infallible Matt Ryan in a key span of two-and-a-half minutes to end the first half. Ryan threw late on a pump fake to an open Michael Jenkins on a third-and-21 deep ball into the end zone, and Williams' closing speed coupled with Jenkins' slip to the turf allowed Green Bay's top playmaker this season to sail through the air for the pick. Williams then foiled another scoring opportunity for the Falcons in their next possession, perfectly reading Ryan's short throw to Roddy White on an out pattern designed to pick up a few yards to set up a field goal and bolting to the inside of White and taking the football the other way 70 yards for a half-ending touchdown that crushed Atlanta's spirits as Green Bay went ahead 28-14. Three of the Packers' four takeaways were in pass situations, including a strip of Jenkins by safety Charlie Peprah late in the game. All five sacks of Ryan (20-of-29, 186 yards, one touchdown, 69.0 passer rating) — led by linebacker Clay Matthews' two — were born of blitzes. Some coverage breakdowns cropped up, but primarily Williams and Charles Woodson kept White (six catches for 57 yards) from having a huge night with 10 throws made to him. The Packers were guilty of four contact penalties in pass situations, including roughing the passer by end Cullen Jenkins and interference calls on nickel back Sam Shields and Williams on back-to-back plays.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus — The rout that broke out in the third quarter rendered the Falcons' powerful rushing attack null and void. All but three of their meager 14 run plays came before halftime, and they totaled just 45 yards. Michael Turner was headed toward another 100-yard performance against the Packers with 37 yards in nine attempts, highlighted by a 12-yard touchdown run up the middle in which he plowed through five would-be tacklers. Turner, however, had only one carry the last 33 1/2 minutes and finished with 39 yards. The Turner touchdown, which started the scoring after the Jennings fumble, came on the next play after Green Bay gave up a fourth-and-1 conversion to fullback Ovie Mughelli on an inside handoff. Jenkins dropped Turner for a 2-yard loss earlier in the game. Matthews struck again with a recovery of a bungled center exchange on what had the appearances of a sneak by Ryan on third-and-1 in the final quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D — Tim Masthay, who wasn't needed to punt once, was off the hook from a lot of blame to go around with another lousy performance by the special-teams units. Eric Weems added to Green Bay's malaise in the early going with a record-setting 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to put the Falcons up 14-7 in the second quarter. The Packers had three missed tackles, the latter by kicker Mason Crosby, on Atlanta's side of the field as Weems jetted up the middle. Starks then inexplicably tried to field the ensuing kickoff as it sailed toward the sideline, and the ball glanced off him out of bounds inside the Packers' 10. Starks averaged just 10 yards in two runbacks, and the Packers also tried Pat Lee on another kickoff. Williams didn't have a punt return with two fair catches. Crosby rallied after a 50-yard field-goal attempt hit off the left upright with makes of 43 and 32 yards in the second half.

COACHING: B — Maligned special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum can thank his colleagues for bailing him out with a dominating performance by the offense and defense when Weems' touchdown return and other miscues throughout the game could have spelled a season-ending loss. The Packers' 48 points are the most in franchise history during the playoffs, and the 27-point margin of victory is the greatest in postseason team annals since a 37-0 rout of the New York Giants in the 1961 NFL Championship. Given the magnitude of the game, which put Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game for the first time in four years, fifth-year coach Mike McCarthy had his finest three hours in orchestrating the offense from the sideline. McCarthy unleashed Rodgers and the deep stable of receivers on an injury-marred secondary in uptempo fashion. What's more, McCarthy didn't abandon the previously effective running game to do so, intermixing runs here and there to soften up the Falcons even more on play-action. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers applied the full-court pressure in the indoor venue, shaking, rattling and rolling Ryan out of his unflappable tendencies in the pocket with a heavy dose of blitzes from all angles.

Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

Packer Report Top Stories