ATLANTA – There would be no thrill of the Hail Mary. No agony of overtime playoff defeat.
And no Super Bowl.
Just an ugly blowout loss in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
The Green Bay Packers were demolished 44-21 by the Atlanta Falcons. In the final game played at the 25-year-old Georgia Dome, Matt Ryan provided the dynamite and an aggressive, blitzing defense served as the wrecking ball.
“We ran into a buzz saw, and those guys performed great and we didn't have enough to keep up with them,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “So with that, here we are. Very proud of my football team, particularly the things that we were able to fight through throughout the course of the year. I can't say enough about the group of men that's been a privilege to coach. This is clearly not the way we anticipate, or prepared for our season to end, but I think it's more a credit to the Falcons and, frankly, we ran out of gas.”
Ryan, hearing "MVP" chants throughout the game, played like game's most dominant player in a showdown with Aaron Rodgers. Ryan feasted on Green Bay's porous secondary, finishing 27-of-38 for 392 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a glittering passer rating of 139.4.
The Packers lost in the NFC Championship Game for the second time in three years. Green Bay fell in overtime vs. San Francisco in 2013 playoffs, overtime vs. Seattle in the 2014 playoffs and overtime vs. Arizona in the 2015 playoffs. This game, however, essentially was over midway through the second quarter, when Ryan had a Rodgers-esque 14-yard touchdown run that made it 17-0.
If it could go wrong, it did go wrong for the Packers, who had won eight in a row after a 4-6 start.
-- After Atlanta took a 7-0 lead, Mason Crosby missed a field goal – snapping his NFL-record streak of 23 consecutive playoff field goals.
-- The Packers hadn’t lost a fumble in their past six games but did when Aaron Ripkowski fumbled around the Falcons’ 10-yard line with a chance to pull within 10-7.
-- An opportunistic Packers defense, which forced 16 turnovers the past six games, missed three golden opportunities in the first half.
But games – especially championship games – are about making plays. And the Falcons made them all in the first 30 minutes.
“That’s the what-if game,” Rodgers said. “But it is definitely uncharacteristic of our football team. Unfortunately, a game like this comes down to the little details. If you’re not on and you’re making little mistakes like that, it’s going to be tough to win against a really tough offense.”
Not even the return of Jordy Nelson from broken ribs mattered. Nelson was productive, with five catches for 64 yards and one touchdown, but Davante Adams was a nonfactor as he played through a sprained ankle. He managed two catches for 8 yards, including the team's first touchdown, a 2-yarder that made it 31-7 with 9:19 left in the third quarter. Rodgers finished 27-of-45 for 287 yards with three touchdowns and one interception while facing constant pressure from the blitzing Falcons. Brett Hundley finished the game at quarterback, with defensive tackle Letroy Guion forced to play right guard due to injuries.
"When I walked out for pregame, honestly, is when I felt the intensity and the juice of the crowd," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "I remember leaning over to one of our coaches and saying, 'Isn't this awesome, man?' And it's not until the end when you allow yourself to have those moments to go to a different spot."
As Rodgers put it on Friday, the home team will get a surge of momentum to start the game. It’s up to the visitor to respond to that surge and then respond.
The Falcons surged. The Packers had no response. The deficit was an insurmountable 24-0 at halftime.
“We didn’t stop them at all defensively,” McCarthy said.
The Falcons got the ball to start the game and rolled right down the field. The score came on third-and-goal at the 2, with Ryan sensing a void to run before flipping the ball to receiver Mohamed Sanu, who made a one-handed catch while tumbling to the turf in the end zone. On back-to-back plays, the Falcons converted a third-and-11 with a 14-yard pass to Sanu, then gained 31 on a fake end-around and short pass to fullback Patrick DiMarco, who rumbled to the 5.
Green Bay offered a decent response. Rodgers hit Nelson for gains of 27 and 15 to get into scoring position but linebacker Deion Jones came untouched on a blitz and forced a throwaway. Crosby, the hero last week, misfired from 41 yards.
Atlanta tacked on a chip-shot field goal on the next drive to make it 10-0 with 14 seconds left in the quarter.
The Packers again mounted a good drive but got nothing out of it. Passes of 17 and 22 yards to receiver Randall Cobb and a 5-yard catch by tight end Jared Cook to convert a third-and-4 got the Packers to the Falcons’ 23. Ripkowski then ran through the heart of the Atlanta defense. As he got to the 10, he had the ball stripped by cornerback Jalen Collins. Collins eventually pounced on the ball in the end zone.
Between the missed field goal and the fumble, the Packers potentially left 10 points on the field.
Atlanta made the Packers pay, with Ryan running it in from the 14. Ryan moved to his right and pump-faked the ball to running back Devonta Freeman, which froze linebacker Joe Thomas and gave Ryan a freeway to the end zone. Again, the Falcons converted a third-and-long, this time a third-and-10 with a way-too-easy 20-yard catch-and-run by Julio Jones.
The Packers went nowhere, with cornerback Brian Poole blitzing untouched off the left edge and forcing Rodgers into an errant throw on third-and-2.
Green Bay missed a huge opportunity on the ensuing possession. The Falcons tried some trickery with a direct snap to receiver Taylor Gabriel, who was motioning from left to right. He dropped the ball, though, and linebacker Jake Ryan had a shot for a clear recovery but couldn’t control the ball.
On Green Bay’s next drive, Poole again came untouched off the edge and rocked Rodgers. Ra’Shede Hageman then bowled over the center Corey Linsley and tripped up Rodgers to make it third-and-long, and Rodgers threw an interception that might as well have been a punt.
The Falcons took advantage and capped the half with a touchdown pass to Jones to make it 24-0 with 3 seconds left in the half. Safety Marwin Evans and cornerback LaDarius Gunter dropped interceptions, with Gunter’s drop preceding the touchdown.
The first-half numbers were as dismal as the score. Ryan was 22-of-32 for 271 yards with two touchdowns and a 115.5 rating. Atlanta had a 325-127 edge in yards and was 7-of-9 on third down compared to 1-of-4 for Green Bay. The Falcons ran 46 plays and hogged the ball for 20 minutes. Green Bay ran 21 plays, with just three runs.
Could the Packers seize momentum coming out of halftime? Nope. Green Bay went three-and-out with two drops. Jones then ran through cornerbacks Gunter and Damarious Randall for a 73-yard touchdown to make it 31-0.
Fittingly considering the state of the injury situation, the Packers were sent home with injuries and insult. In numerical order, the Packers lost safety Kentrell Brice, cornerback Micah Hyde, linebacker Jake Ryan, guards Lane Taylor and T.J. Lang, right tackle Bryan Bulaga and running back Ty Montgomery.
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.