Report card vs. Falcons

Coaching defense, special teams receive lowest marks

PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Aaron Rodgers deserved high marks for not only having the fortitude to play in pain with a sprained right shoulder but also turning in perhaps his best performance in the early going of his first year as a starting quarterback.

Rodgers held up from start to finish and completed 25 of 37 passes for 313 yards and a career-high-tying three touchdowns. Rodgers had enough strength in the arm to make a 44-yard pass to Donald Driver (three catches, 68 yards) in the end zone in the first half, a play on which Driver did his part to make the score stand up by catching the throw between two defenders and holding onto it when his hand was stepped on. Rodgers also had a good downfield throw to Greg Jennings (four catches, 87 yards) for a 25-yard touchdown in the final quarter.

The effects of the ailing shoulder for Rodgers, though, were seen on a badly underthrown ball down the middle to a wide-open Jennings in Falcons' territory.

The Packers' tight ends were heard from after a quiet start to the season. Tory Humphrey and Donald Lee each had four receptions, with Humphrey making an impact as a down-the-field target in the second half with 67 receiving yards and Lee scoring a late touchdown.

Green Bay's pass protection wasn't solid. Rodgers was sacked twice in the first half. After LT Chad Clifton aggravated a hamstring injury early in the second half and left the game, replacement Daryn Colledge, who moved from left guard, had a critical mistake late in the game. Colledge was beaten soundly to the outside by speedy John Abraham, who forced an intentional grounding by Rodgers. That put the Packers in a third-and-19 hole deep in their territory, and Rodgers threw an ill-advised pass that was picked off by Michael Boley and set up a decisive touchdown run.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- The Packers still haven't turned the corner with their running game, but they made some encouraging strides toward getting it right before too long. They chipped away to average of 4.5 yards per carry and piled up 104 yards, their first rushing total in triple digits since Week 2.

After being virtually shut down in gaining but 20 yards on 15 carries in two of the previous three games, Ryan Grant generated 83 yards on 18 carries (4.6 average). He had a few opportunities to run full throttle after being hindered the first four games because of an ailing right hamstring. He cranked out three explosive runs of 12, 14 and 13 yards. On the latter run, Grant managed to stay on his feet when it appeared he would be taken down for a modest 3-yard gain on a toss play and kept his legs moving to churn out 10 more yards. Grant also converted two third-and-1 runs, which was a bugaboo in Green Bay's last game.

Brandon Jackson has proven to be a big-yardage producer, but he was handed the ball only twice, picking up 11 yards.

An end-around by Driver didn't fool the Falcons, and Driver paid for it at the end of a 6-yard run when he was popped by safety Lawyer Milloy.

PASS DEFENSE: D-minus -- What keeps the Packers from getting a flat F for their effort in this one is CB Tramon Williams' heads-up read-and-react play in zone coverage and closing fast to make an exceptional one-handed interception on an almost-sure touchdown pass to TE Ben Hartsock in the fourth quarter.

Otherwise, the Packers were brutal against rookie Matt Ryan and his receiving corps. Ryan's numbers weren't eye-popping -- 16-for-26 for 194 yards -- but he made a number of big-time throws at the expense of Green Bay's banged-up secondary. The Packers allowed Ryan, who had struggled in his first two road games, to get into a rhythm early by completing his first six passes.

Roddy White was the target early and often. No matter who was on him in man-to-man or shaded his way in zone coverage -- Williams, Will Blackmon, rookie Pat Lee, S Nick Collins -- White was unstoppable in the first half. He had all eight of his catches, totaling 132 yards with a touchdown, in those initial two quarters.

Michael Jenkins had a 31-yard reception against Blackmon in the second half. Tight end Justin Peelle had enough separation on ailing linebacker A.J. Hawk to snare a 1-yard TD catch in the first series of the game.

Ryan's breakout day away from Atlanta was buoyed by a nonexistent Packers pass rush. Ryan was hit only once, and Green Bay didn't register a sack for the second consecutive game.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- A trend is developing with Green Bay's pathetic run defense, which for the third straight game was gashed for at least 175 yards. After allowing Dallas to pin 217 on them in Week 3 and then Tampa Bay to roll up 178 in Week 4, the Packers surrendered 176 to the Falcons' top-rated rushing attack. Atlanta averaged 4.9 yards per carry and inflicted damage in more ways than simply leaning on powerful workhorse Michael Turner.

Diminutive rookie WR Harry Douglas ripped off 18 yards on a well-designed end-around. Ryan took off for 17 yards on a delayed keeper out of shotgun up a vacant middle of the field.

The well-oiled Turner, though, was the difference-maker against a Green Bay defense that is getting pushed around up front and has linebackers, namely Nick Barnett, who can't shed blocks. Turner was held in check for much of the game -- he had 59 yards on 15 carries at halftime, thanks to one explosive run (22 yards) -- but he wound up with a healthy 121 yards on 26 attempts (4.7 average). When the Packers needed to hold Atlanta to three-and-out inside the two-minute warning with the Falcons clinging to a 27-24 lead, Turner busted through three straight times between the tackles for 11 yards to gain the first down and let the clock run out from there.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F -- A faulty onside kick by Mason Crosby right before the Falcons' game-clinching trio of runs by Turner perfectly capped a disastrous day for Green Bay's special teams units.

Crosby's poor kick made for an easy cover-up by the Falcons' Erik Coleman with no Packers players in the vicinity. Earlier in the final quarter, Crosby whiffed on a tackle attempt as Jerious Norwood flew by for a 54-yard kickoff return to the Packers 48, setting up a field goal by Jason Elam that put the Falcons ahead for keeps at 20-17.

The most egregious turn of events also involved Crosby. Rookie TE Jermichael Finley was called for a holding penalty on a successful 43-yard field goal by Crosby late in the first half. Crosby had to re-kick from 53 yards and missed wide right on what would have tied his career long. Also squandered in that sequence was a 45-yard kickoff return by Will Blackmon, which put the Packers offense at midfield to start the drive.

Derrick Frost was booed lustily by the Lambeau Field crowd after his first punt was a line drive that traveled just 37 yards. Frost bounced back on his next two kicks but still averaged only 41 yards gross, with a net of 40.

COACHING: D -- With the decision made before the game that Rodgers would start after much uncertainty about his availability for the game because of his bum throwing shoulder, the Packers never should have been beaten by an inferior Atlanta club, on their home turf no less.

Mike McCarthy rolled the dice in granting Rodgers' wishes after the medical staff gave its blessing for him to play. McCarthy will have to keep his fingers crossed that Rodgers isn't further damaged for having played, when perhaps sitting him a week would have been for the greater good of the season.

Although the coaches' hands are tied with their injury-riddled defense, the unit is hopeless against the run and becoming more and more susceptible against the pass with the absence of quarterback pressure.

For as much as special teams coordinator Mike Stock questioned Crosby's decision to make the onside kick late in the game when he said the other players didn't seem to be set, why wasn't a timeout called at that critical moment when the Packers had a couple in hand?

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