PLAY OF THE GAME
The Packers have run this play – or, at least, a similar version of this play -- how many times for a touchdown over the years?
Well, add one more to the count.
With Green Bay leading 34-24 with just less than 11 minutes left in the game, it suddenly was in the position of needing to add to its score to fend off the hard-charging Falcons.
So, coach Mike McCarthy sent out a run-heavy package on first-and-10 from the 40, with tight ends Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers to the right side of the formation, receiver Jordy Nelson lined up just a few yards to the right of Rodgers, Randall Cobb split out wide left and James Starks the lone setback. Before the snap, Quarless motioned to the left and stationed himself between tackle David Bakhtiari and guard Josh Sitton.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ play-action fake to Starks worked like a charm, as Nelson streaked down the field. Nelson took his route straight down the field, took a few steps to the right and then broke back to the middle. Safety Kemal Ishmael, who was in decent position, took a horrible angle. When Nelson caught the ball at the 12, Ishmael was at the 19. Cornerback Desmond Trufant, who was lined up on Cobb, had no chance to catch Nelson. Rodgers’ bomb traveled about 53 yards and Nelson was on the receiving end of a 60-yard touchdown – his league-high fifth receiving touchdown of at least 50 yards.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Rodgers’ 100th career start played out like so many of the previous 99.
Simply, he was the best player on the field. Given superior pass protection from his offensive line, Rodgers did what was expected against the NFL’s last-ranked pass defense. He completed 24-of-36 passes for 327 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. The objective is to score points, and Rodgers helped the Packers put 43 on the board. Of their 10 possessions, eight ended in scores and a ninth ended with Rodgers taking a knee to run at Atlanta’s 9-yard line to end the game.
Green Bay went 7-of-12 on third down (58.3 percent) and 4-of-6 in the red zone (66.7 percent; skewed by the take-a-knee to end the game, which shows up as a red-zone failure).
“It’s been fun. It’s been a great 100 games started,” Rodgers said. “When you’re a young player, you can only dream about these kind of opportunities. Then you get into it and you think ‘I’d love to do 100 more.’ It’s fun to be able to be healthy after 13 weeks and to be able to play the way I want to play. Obviously, it’s a team effort. The offensive line, again, I’m going to say it, they’ve been playing great. When they give me that kind of time, we have so many playmakers outside, we expect to be able to make some plays in the passing game.”
GAZING INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL
Was Atlanta’s second-half explosion a cause for concern? Or was it a combination of quarterback Matt Ryan getting hot against a defense that took its foot off the gas with a 31-7 halftime lead? We might not get that answer until the playoffs. Up next is Buffalo, which is averaging 21.6 points per game (tied, 18th in the NFL). Then it’s a game at Tampa Bay, which is averaging 18.2 per game (28th). The finale is at home against Detroit, which, despite the big-name firepower, is averaging 20.4 per game (24th).
“We’ve got all the pieces we need to make a run at it,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “It’s not a setback, but it’s a learning opportunity and a learning experience of where we need to get better. We made Matt Ryan look like Matty Ice again out there. He was fantastic tonight. More power to him, but a lot of that was our doing. We’ve got to get better, and we will. But we won this game, and that was big, especially for what they’re competing for in their division. Ultimately, we came away with the win. We’re happy about that, but we’ve got to finish stronger and four quarters’ worth.”
NUMBERS WORTH NOTING
0: Interceptions thrown by Aaron Rodgers, running his streak to 175 consecutive passes since throwing his second interception at New Orleans on Oct. 26.
0: Giveaways by the Packers, their fourth consecutive game. The Falcons had forced 11 turnovers in their last four games.
0: Seconds in which the Packers have trailed during their five-game winning streak.
3: Players with at least 10 touchdowns this season for the Packers. Jordy Nelson scored twice and has 12, Eddie Lacy scored twice and has 11 and Randall Cobb has 10.
4: Touchdowns, in six possessions, in the red zone by Green Bay’s offense. The Packers went 0-for-4 last week against New England.
8: Games this season by Rodgers with three-plus touchdown passes and zero interceptions, which ties Tom Brady’s single-season record set in 2007.
22: First downs in the first half by the Packers.
22: Plays run in the first half by the Falcons.
23: 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.
24: Touchdown passes of at least 60 yards by Rodgers since 2008. That’s eight more than Eli Manning, who is second with 16.
34: Consecutive touchdown passes without an interception at home by Rodgers, extending his NFL record.
89: Consecutive first-quarter points by the Packers, starting with the Week 2 game against the Jets. That streak ended in the first quarter.
98: Wins by Mike McCarthy, tying Vince Lombardi for second-most in franchise history.
100: Yards after contact out of the Packers’ 179 rushing yards by Packer Report’s unofficial count.
116.9: Matt Ryan’s passer rating. He is now 37-4 when topping 100 for his career.
132.7: Rushing yards per game in the last nine games by the Packers. They averaged 73.0 rushing yards in the first four games.
179: Rushing yards by the Packers, by far their best total of the season (156 vs. Minnesota on Oct. 2 and 155 vs. Minnesota on Nov. 30). They had five games of 180-plus rushing yards last season.
259: Receiving yards by Atlanta’s Julio Jones, the most given up by the Packers in franchise history (Calvin Johnson’s 244 yards in Week 17 of the 2011 season). It’s also the most in a game played at Lambeau Field (Billy Howton’s 257 yards vs. the Rams in 1956).
396: Consecutive passes without an interception at home by Rodgers, extending his NFL record.
firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.