The Green Bay Packers were outmanned and, at crunch time, outgunned by the Atlanta Falcons.
Matt Ryan led the game-winning drive, hitting Mohamed Sanu for the winning touchdown with 31 seconds remaining to send the Falcons past the Packers 33-32 on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
The Packers’ inactives list would have formed the nucleus of a darned good team, with receiver Randall Cobb, receiver/running back Ty Montgomery and outside Clay Matthews being surprise inactives. But the Packers took a 32-26 lead with 3:58 remaining on Aaron Rodgers’ 7-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Janis and Rodgers’ two-point keeper. The touchdown capped a methodical 13-play scoring drive, with the key being coach Mike McCarthy's challenge of a third-and-4 completion to Jordy Nelson in which Nelson gave up the first down and was tackled a half-yard short. The Falcons were flagged for 12 men on the field to give Green Bay a first down at the 13.
The final 4 minutes, however, were dominated by the Falcons.
Ryan sliced through a Packers defense playing without its top three cornerbacks and Matthews with ease on the pivotal drive. Ryan connected with Sanu five times, including a 12-yard gain on third-and-2 early in the drive. On the touchdown, Sanu took his crossing route behind linebacker Jake Ryan and made a leaping grab in the end zone. The Falcons had only a third-and-1 and the aforementioned third-and-2 on the drive.
Rodgers had 31 seconds left to find some magic. He did just that at the end of the first half, taking the Packers almost the length of the field in 27 seconds to get a field goal. But this drive never got close to scoring range. After a 7-yard pass to Janis, Rodgers threw too high to Nelson, who couldn’t make a leaping grab at midfield. Rodgers threw behind Geronimo Allison on third down and was almost intercepted. His fourth-down pass was nowhere close to Davante Adams. Rodgers said he expected Adams to break his route to the sideline but Adams thought he had his man beaten deep.
"We’re disappointed we did not win the game," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I fully expected to win, put ourselves in position to win, and I think this is an excellent illustration, as I told the team, of what these tough games come down. It’s about making plays, making plays at key times and we didn’t make enough plays to win the game."
Three of Rodgers’ 10 incompletions came on that final drive. Playing without Cobb, Montgomery, Eddie Lacy, James Starks and Jared Cook, he completed 28-of-38 passes for 246 yards and four touchdowns, plus added a career-high and game-high 60 rushing yards. After catching 13 passes last week, Adams caught 12 passes for 74 yards.
While the Green Bay offense found a way to thrive for most of the first 59 1/2 minutes despite injuries, the equally short-handed defense was outclassed. Matt Ryan was even better than Rodgers, going 28-of-35 for 288 yards and three scores. Sanu caught nine for 84, picking up the slack as Julio Jones limped his way to three catches for 29 yards.
Green Bay, which had won four in a row over the Falcons, fell to 4-3. Atlanta improved to 5-3 and snapped a two-game winning streak.
Rodgers was a sensational 17-of-21 for 170 yards with three touchdowns and the defense was good enough to stake the Packers to a 24-19 lead at halftime.
A 58-yard completion to Jordy Nelson set up Nelson’s 5-yard touchdown catch to give Green Bay an early 7-3 lead. Davante Adams turned a quick pass into a gain of 21 to set up a 4-yard touchdown to rookie practice squad call-up Geronimo Allison to make it 14-10. Rookie Trevor Davis showed his blazing speed by running past two would-be tacklers for a 55-yard punt return. Just like Nelson’s long catch set up a Nelson touchdown, Davis’ long return set up a Davis touchdown, an 8-yarder that put Green Bay in front 21-13.
A key moment came late in the first half. Running back Devonta Freeman scored on a 5-yard receiver screen to cut the margin to 21-19. Julius Peppers sacked Ryan on the two-point play. The Packers took over at their 25 with 27 seconds to go. That was enough time to tack on a field goal. After Rodgers ran for 23, Nelson made a juggling 21-yard catch to the Falcons’ 31. A run by fullback Aaron Ripkowski and an unnecessary-roughness penalty set up Mason Crosby for a chip-shot field goal on the final play of the half to bump the lead to 24-19.
The Falcons had 226 yards in the half, with Ryan a sizzling 16-of-20 for 183 yards, but the Packers held them to field goals on drives that reached 18 and 22.
Combined, the quarterbacks threw five touchdown passes and had nine incompletions in the first half.
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.