Falcons Fizzle After Fast Start

After posting 140 yards and two touchdowns to open the game, the Packers slammed the door on Atlanta. "We're just a better team than they are," B.J. Raji said. "Honestly. Those guys talk a lot ... they make a lot of noise."

ATLANTA - For the Green Bay Packers, trailing 14-9 at the time and sputtering badly on offense, the alarm finally went off with just less than four minutes to play in the third quarter, when wide receiver James Jones flew past cornerback Brent Grimes up the right sideline on and out-and-in move, gathered in a bomb from quarterback Aaron Rodgers and finished off the 70-yard touchdown play by dashing untouched for the last 30 yards or so.

Unfortunately, for the Atlanta Falcons, particularly an offense that had dominated the reigning Super Bowl champions for the first 20 minutes of Sunday night's game, the wake-up call never came.

Or, if it did, the Atlanta offense kept reaching for the snooze button.

"They really came out on fire," acknowledged Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk, after the Packers remained one of only two unbeaten franchises in the league, moving to 5-0 with a 25-14 victory at the Georgia Dome. "That was their game to a 'T.' They probably couldn't draw it up any better, right? They were running the ball, keeping (Rodgers) and our offense off the field, and pounding it pretty good. We had to tighten up and get things right. Luckily, we did it in time."

Trailing 14-0 less than three minutes into the second quarter, the Packers outscored the Falcons 25-zip the rest of the way. They did it the usual way, with Super Bowl most valuable player Rodgers throwing for 396 yards and engineering an offense that at one point scored on five of six possessions, but most of all the Packers did it with a defense that came into the game slightly maligned, especially in the back end.

In a nasty game between two teams that don't play each other very often but clearly don't like each other at all - the contest included two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls, an unnecessary roughness flag and a pair of penalties for illegal hands to the face - the good news for the Falcons was that they limited the Packers to almost half the points Green Bay scored in last year's 48-21 playoff rout here nine months ago. The bad news is that Atlanta lost by 11 points, despite surrendering only a pair of touchdowns.

The worst news: After scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions, on a 5-yard catch by wide receiver Roddy White and a 1-yard blast from tailback Michael Turner, the Atlanta offense experienced the kind of maddening lull that has become commonplace to a talented unit that periodically goes into hibernation.

This time, the offense dozed off for nearly three quarters as the Green Bay defense made a few key adjustments, played far more disciplined in its gap responsibilities versus the run and began to pressure quarterback Matt Ryan.

After opening the game with two long touchdown drives, of 80 and 60 yards, and totaling 140 yards on those two series, the Falcons managed a scant 111 yards the rest of the way. Not counting a one-play/kneel down possession to run out the clock at the conclusion of the first half, Atlanta eked out just 38 yards on its next five series. During that stretch, the Falcons recorded only two first downs. Of the 111 yards the Falcons posted after their first two drives, 73 came on the final two series, after Green Bay had rallied to a 22-14 lead.

Both those final two possessions ended on Ryan interceptions. The previous five offensive series, not counting the first half kneel-down, ended on punts.

"I don't know what happened," said White, who had six catches for 50 yards and the one touchdown. "We felt like we were in control early and then, 'poof,' it was gone, and we couldn't get it back."

Said coach Mike Smith: "The way you play the first quarter is the way you want to play football. (But) after that, well, it's not the way we want to play. We made too many mistakes ... and we couldn't move the ball."

And couldn't slow Rodgers, who has thrown for more than 300 yards in all four of his starts against the Falcons, and who owns a 121.1 passer rating against them. Once again escaping an Atlanta pass rush that appeared to have him dead to rights at times, Rodgers completed 26 of 39 attempts.

Ryan was 18-for-32 for 167 yards but cooled off considerably after his hot start.

"I know they will say they kind of hit some bumps, but credit us for putting up a lot of those roadblocks," said Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson. "They took it to us at the start, but it's a 60-minute game, as we all know."

Apparently, the Falcons' offense is struggling with that truism.

The latest lapse for a 2-3 Atlanta team that has dropped as many games as it did all last season, when the Falcons were the No. 1 seed in the NFC, is likely to raise questions about offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, and perhaps precipitate some calls for more no-huddle offense. The Falcons, who nearly squandered a big lead last week at Seattle, when the offense went comatose again, appear to be at their best when operating at a quicker tempo.

No doubt, there is considerable ability on the unit, even though the Falcons lost superb rookie first-round wide receiver Julio Jones. But the Falcons are a baffling bunch, no more so than to themselves.

"Everybody's good in this league, so you can never let up, and you have to finish a team when you have them down," noted tight end Tony Gonzalez. "We just fell apart in the second half, and could never get the momentum back. I really believe, even after this, we can play with 'em, but ..."

But the Packers, who triumphed in a chippy game that included plenty of pushing and shoving and harsh words, don't necessarily by into that assertion.

"We're just a better team than they are," announced nose tackle B.J. Raji, who helped close down the inside gaps after the Falcons' first two series. "Honestly. Those guys talk a lot ... they make a lot of noise."

Maybe so, but not on offense, they don't.

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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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