Not Ready For Prime Time

A 10-point favorite against a mediocre opponent and playing at Lambeau Field. Life doesn't get much better for the Green Bay Packers, who had all the momentum they needed to win their third straight game. The Packers were coming off two straight, hard-fought victories and were sitting atop the NFC Central Division.

The Packers also knew that the conditions were ripe for a letdown. Packers coach Mike Sherman preached all week on the importance of beating the Atlanta Falcons. The Packers seemed to follow suit by practicing hard under the mild fall conditions and expecting to win.

Like their clunker against the Vikings in Minneapolis on Oct. 21, the Packers again learned that they cannot show up and win, just because their opponent is the underdog.

By losing 23-20 to the Falcons Sunday, the Packers showed that they are far from a dominant team, or even one that can be taken seriously from week to week. Even if they're at home and in first place. So what happened?

"I think it's some guys not ready to play," said Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who had a miserable day by throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble.

"That's all I can think of. We're a better football team than them. You can say what you want to say. Great job on their part at winning. I know they're tickled to death, as they should be. That wasn't the Green Bay team that I know of." Favre, again, followed one of his better games of the season with one of his poorer games. He has thrown at least one interception in each of the last four games to raise his total to 13 this season.

"Interceptions ... everybody points the finger at the quarterback because he's the last one to touch the football," Sherman said. "I'm not just standing up here defending my quarterback, but if we're going to pat him on the back with a great play he made to Billy Schroeder on a great throw, we have to understand that sometimes when you throw the ball like we throw it there are going to be some turnovers.

"Obviously, we'll look at the tape critically. Brett and I just talked about that and see what we can correct. I'm sure there's enough blame to go around on those turnovers, from the quarterback to me to the players."

All three of Favre's pickoffs were in the direction of Schroeder, including his final throw of the game that was caught by Falcons cornerback Ashley Ambrose with 1 minute, 8 seconds left. Favre connected on a pair of 18-yard completions to Schroeder earlier in the drive as the Packers moved to Atlanta's 45. But after throwing incomplete to Antonio Freeman, Favre unleashed a long pass that was beyond Schroeder, who tried to knock it away from Ambrose at the 2.

Favre figured the Falcons knew that the Packers were playing for a field goal to at least tie the game. Earlier in the game, Favre completed bombs to wide receiver Corey Bradford that set up scores. When he saw Schroeder in a one-on-one matchup against Ambrose, he took a shot, on second down, and went against conventional thought.

"I thought I gave (Schroeder) enough time to get down there," said Favre. "I have to look at the film. I have no idea."

All the Falcons (5-4) had to do at that point was take a knee to run the clock out and snap the Packers' nine-game home winning streak. As much as the Packers were not collectively ready to play, the Falcons were. Quarterback Chris Chandler, who sat out of the Falcons' Nov. 11 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, threw for 352 yards, completing 29 of 50 passes and two touchdowns.

Chandler entered the game having completed 45 of 66 passes for 594 yards and five touchdowns, including a 115.3 passer rating in three road games this year. He threw two interceptions and was sacked three times by the Packers, but avoided a number of Green Bay's blitzes and picked apart the Packers' secondary after LeRoy Butler was lost in the second quarter with a broken shoulder blade.

Chandler's 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brian Finneran with 8:49 remaining in the game gave the Falcons a 23-13 lead. Earlier in the 78-yard drive, the Packers had Atlanta facing a third-and-12 from their own 20. But the Packers were flagged with multiple fouls. Tod McBride drew an offsides penalty when he lept over Atlanta's center, and safety Chris Akins, filling in for Butler, was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he shoved a Falcons player. The Falcons accepted the unnecessary roughness penalty and got a first down at their own 35. After Chandler connected with wide receiver Shawn Jefferson for a 24-yard gain to the 12, he hit Finneran over the middle with a perfect throw.

The Packers, who never led in the game, bounced back when Favre connected on a 39-yard touchdown pass to Freeman to cap a four-play, 75-yard drive to close the Packers to 23-20.

Both teams traded punts, and Packers safety Darren Sharper sacked Chandler to force the Falcons to punt the ball away with less than two minutes remaining.

But Favre and the Packers (6-3) fell short in their comeback attempt and also fell into second place in the NFC Central, a game behind the surprising Chicago Bears (7-2), who edged Tampa Bay, 27-24.

A Milwaukee-game crowd of 59,849 left Lambeau Field on a mild November day miffed by the Packers' poor performance. "I think we have a good group of guys up there," Sherman said. "I think they understand that we disappointed a lot of Green Bay Packer fans in that stadium. We had a good run here of home wins. Now we have to start that up again. We disappointed our fans today and that's what bothers me the most."

Despite turning the ball over three times, the Packers only trailed 16-10 at halftime thanks to their defense, which forced the Falcons to settle for three field goals by Jay Feely.

Atlanta converted a fumble by Favre and one of his two interceptions into two field goals. Atlanta took a 16-3 lead on Feely's 32-yard field goal with 4:57 left in the second quarter. The score came after Favre threw his second interception of the half into the hands of cornerback Ray Buchanan at the Falcons' 46. The Falcons drove 40 yards and settled for the field goal.

Butler was injured while making a tackle on running back Maurice Smith with 6:37 left in the quarter.

But Favre redeemed himself on the ensuing series by completing a 56-yard jump-ball to Bradford, who lept over Ambrose to catch the bomb at the 3. Favre nearly fumbled the ball away a few plays later when defensive tackle Shane Dronett darted past guard Marco Rivera to hit Favre as he was handing the ball off to Ahman Green, but Rivera recovered on the four.

On third and six, Favre eluded defensive end Patrick Kerney and somehow flipped a pass to a wide open Schroeder wide open in the left corner of the end zone as the Packers crawled to 16-10 with 1:52 left in the half.

Terance Mathis led the Falcons receivers with seven catches for 70 yards. Bruising fullback Bob Christian caught five passes, including a 21-yard touchdown in which he bowled over Sharper at the 7-yard line, then dragged cornerback Tyrone Williams into the end zone with him.

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