The Atlanta Falcons, well, they remain in pursuit of the championship in the woeful NFC South.
The Packers dominated the first half, then held off the Falcons 43-37 on Monday night at Lambeau Field. Making his 100th career start, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 24 of 36 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns.
Led by quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons chipped away at a 24-point deficit to pull within 10 points early in the fourth quarter. However, the Packers briefly restored order on Rodgers’ 60-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jordy Nelson. Ra’Shede Hageman blocked the extra point, but the Packers led 40-24 with 10:38 to play.
The Falcons responded, with Ryan hitting Jones three times to set up a 1-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White. The two-point play failed, leaving Green Bay ahead 40-30 with 6:15 remaining. Jarrett Boykin recovered the onside kick, and Mason Crosby tacked on a 53-yard field goal to extend the advantage to 43-30.
Atlanta wouldn’t go away quietly, with Ryan’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Harry Douglas on fourth-and-goal making it 43-37 with 2:11 remaining. However, Matt Bosher’s dribbling kickoff was easily corralled by Nelson at Green Bay’s 39.
Needing a couple first downs to run out the clock, Rodgers ran for 12 yards and James Starks delivered the crushing bowl with a 41-yard run to the 6.
The Falcons got back in the game in the third quarter. On the first play of the second half, Ryan hit Jones for a gain of 79 to the Packers’ 3. Green Bay got it fourth-and-goal from the 5, but Ryan hit Eric Weems for the touchdown. After Atlanta forced Green Bay’s first punt of the night, Matt Bryant hit a 50-yard field goal to pull within 31-17.
The Packers had to settle for a field goal on the ensuing possession to make it 34-17. Rodgers hit Nelson for 28 yards on a broken coverage, but a better ball would have resulted in an easy touchdown, and Atlanta linebacker Paul Worrilow broke up a pass to Lacy in the end zone on third down.
Atlanta cut further into the deficit on its next possession, with Ryan floating a perfect 22-yard touchdown pass to Jones. The reception, Jones’ eighth of the night for 213 yards, made it 34-24 with 12:33 remaining in the game.
The Packers led 31-7 at halftime, with Rodgers completing 18-of-25 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns and Green Bay enjoying a 296-161 edge in yards.
Green Bay pulled away midway through the second quarter. After it kicked a field goal to take a 17-7 lead, Ryan was intercepted by safety Morgan Burnett. That set up the Packers at Atlanta’s 15, with Rodgers converting a third-and-5 with a scramble, then dumping it to running back Eddie Lacy for a 1-yard touchdown.
The Packers put the game away by forcing a punt and scoring again. On third-and-goal from the 10, Rodgers sidestepped a delayed blitz by Kroy Biermann and rifled a 10-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jordy Nelson. That made the Packers 4-of-4 in the red zone; they were 0-for-4 vs. New England.
Regardless of the field position, Green Bay had an easy time against Atlanta’s defense, which ranked last in the league in total yards and passing yards entering the night. The first drive, highlighted by a 22-yard run by Lacy and a 22-yard catch by Nelson, was punctuated by running back Starks’ 3-yard touchdown run.
The Falcons answered, with Ryan converting a pair of third downs with completions to White and Jones before running back Steven Jackson powered in from the 4 to tie the game at 7.
The Packers responded with Lacy scoring from the 1 on the first play of the second quarter. There were two key plays. The first was a 30-yard completion to tight end Andrew Quarless on third-and-17. The other came on the final play of the first quarter. Rodgers scrambled for 5 yards but was stripped by safety Dwight Lowery. Rodgers recovered, and Atlanta’s Tyson Jackson was penalized for unnecessary roughness.
Both quarterbacks came out hot. In the first quarter, Rodgers went 10-of-11 for 110 yards and Ryan went 4-of-5 for 57 yards; Ryan’s incompletion was a throwaway as he fought off a sack. However, Ryan was just 2-of-8 in the second quarter.
The Packers became the first team since the 1973 Dolphins to lead five home games by 20-plus points at halftime, according to ESPN’s Stats & Info Twitter feed. Green Bay became the first team in NFL history to score at least 23 points in the first half of six consecutive games in a season.
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