Falcons Blow Halftime Lead to Packers in 22-21 Loss

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Gonzalez is tackled by a Packers defender.

The Atlanta Falcons blew a halftime lead to lose to the Green Bay Packers 22-21. The Falcons were up 21-10 at the midway point, but were unable to generate any offense in the second half to prevent the Packers comeback. The Falcons have three possessions in the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter to retake the lead and win the game, but failed to capitalize on any of them. Atlanta’s record falls to 3-10 for the 2013 season.

Matt Ryan led the team, completing 20 of 35 passes for 206 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception. His interception came on the final offensive play of the game, but had mostly been solid up to that point. Steven Jackson led rushers with 71 yards on 15 carries. Roddy White led receivers with eight catches for 74 yards. Jacquizz Rodgers and Tony Gonzalez each had three receptions for 33 and 25 yards respectively. Gonzalez had a touchdown grab for two yards. Drew Davis caught Ryan’s other touchdown on his lone reception for 36 yards. Matt Bryant missed on his only field goal attempt, a 52-yarder that fell short. Matt Bosher punted four times for an average of 44.5 yards, with two kicks being placed inside the 20-yard line. Robert McClain returned one punt return for eight yards, while Rodgers averaged 21 yards on six kickoff returns. The Falcons started strong on third down conversions, converting four of six in the first half, but finished only converting two of seven in the second half. Atlanta netted only 285 total yards on offense, their second-lowest output of the season.

Defensively, the Falcons gave up 334 total yards, including 112 yards on the ground, marking their tenth consecutive game in which they have given up 100 or more rushing yards to an opponent. The Falcons forced two Packer turnovers, an interception and forced fumble on a sack. The interception resulted in a 71-yard touchdown return for Sean Weatherspoon. Paul Worrilow led the defense with 12 tackles, including one for a loss, 1.5 sacks, and 1 pass deflection. Robert Alford (5 tackles); Malliciah Goodman (1 tackle, 1 fumble recovery); Jonathan Massaquoi (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1.5 sacks); Robert McClain (5 tackles); William Moore (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble); Zeke Motta (6 tackles); Corey Peters (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack); Desmond Trufant (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss); and Weatherspoon (7 tackles, 1 interception, 1 pass deflection) had noteworthy performances.

To open the game, the Falcons offense featured quite a bit of Steven Jackson and Roddy White on a ten-play opening series. Jackson carried the ball four times for 15 yards, while White had three catches for 20 yards. But the Falcons failed to capitalize on their success moving down the field, as Ryan overthrew Darius Johnson on deep pass on third down. That set up a 4th-and-2 at the Packers 35-yard line, but head coach Mike Smith made the questionable decision to punt rather than go for it. It resulted in a 25-yard punt from Matt Bosher that was fair-caught by Micah Hyde at the 10-yard line.

But despite the poor field position, the Packers had no problem moving down the field with a drive that heavily featured running back Eddie Lacy. Lacy caught two passes for 22 yards and had six carries for 26 yards, including a one-yard score to cap off an 18-play, 90-yard drive. The length of the drive took up the remainder of the first quarter, lasting nine minutes.

The Falcons were able to respond with a scoring drive of their own to start the second quarter, thanks to the legs of Jackson, who kicked things off with a 22-yard run. Three plays later, he was able to extend the drive with a four-yard run on 3rd-and-1. Three plays later, Ryan found Drew Davis over the middle on a slant, who then broke a tackle and scored from 36 yards out.

The Falcons defense got a boost from the score, as on the opening play of the Packers drive, William Moore came unblocked off the edge on a blitz and delivered a huge blindside hit to Packers quarterback Matt Flynn. That sack forced a fumble, which Malliciah Goodman fell on, giving Atlanta the ball at Green Bay’s 13-yard line. White made a 10-yard grab to convert on 3rd-and-9 and get the ball down to the two-yard line. That was followed up by a touchdown catch by Tony Gonzalez on a two-yard score off play action. That pushed the Falcons lead to 14-7 with 8:43 left in the first half.

The Packers dialed up Jordy Nelson on the next drive, as a pair of catches and first downs were able to get the ball deep into Falcon territory. Once the Packers were in the red zone, they turned to Lacy again with a pair of runs. But on 3rd-and-9 at the Falcons 13-yard line, Flynn was sacked by Corey Peters, forcing the Packers to settle for a field goal. Mason Crosby hit on the 40-yard kick and the score was 14-10 with 3:39 left in the half.

The Falcons didn’t do much with their next possession, as on third down, pressure rushed Ryan’s throw which was deflected off one of his linemen. That resulted in a Bosher punt back to the Packers with 2:20 left in the half.

Green Bay responded by moving the ball to midfield in six plays. On the next play, Flynn scrambled from pressure for a 17-yard gain to convert on third down and get into Falcons territory. But on the next play, the ball was deflected off Peria Jerry before ricocheting off the foot of Paul Worrilow and into the arms of Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon weaved his way down the field for a 71-yard touchdown return to give Atlanta a 21-10 lead to close out the first half.

To start the second half, both teams swapped three-and-outs. The Packers got things going on their second third-quarter series, hitting Jordy Nelson for 46-yard catch and run on the second play of the drive. Flynn would be sacked two plays later by Jonathan Massaquoi however, pushing the Packers to a 3rd-and-12, which they failed to convert. That led to a 33-yard field goal from Crosby to close the Falcons lead to eight points.

But the Falcons couldn’t take advantage of their defensive stop, and had another three-and-out, as Ryan’s pass to Gonzalez was short of the sticks on 3rd-and-9.

The Falcons defense started the next drive strong, with Worrilow coming unblocked up the middle on a blitz for a 7-yard sack. But Flynn hit tight end Andrew Quarless on a 21-yard pass on the next play. That was followed up by a 19-yard catch by Jarrett Boykin to get into Atlanta territory. Four plays later, Flynn would find Quarless against on a 13-yard catch to get to the Falcons 13-yard line. Two plays later, Peters chased down Lacy in the flat to get a stop on 3-yard catch. Flynn’s next pass on third down was incomplete out of the back of the end zone, and once again the Falcons defense had another red-zone stop. Crosby hit from 25 yards out on the field goal to close out the third quarter, as Atlanta still held a 21-16 lead.

But the Falcons offense still couldn’t take advantage to start the fourth quarter, as Ryan was sacked by Mike Neal, resulting a fumble that was recovered by Johnny Jolly. That gave the Packers the ball at the Falcons’ 21-yard line. The Packers offense quickly took advantage as Quarless beat Zeke Motta in the end zone on a back-shoulder throw for a 2-yard score on a four-play scoring drive. That gave the Packers their first lead since the first quarter, 22-21 with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The next Falcons series saw them convert a pair of 3rd-and-shorts with the legs of Steven Jackson. After the second conversion, Ryan went deep to White but the pass was overthrown. The next play, JAson Snelling was bottled up for a 2-yard loss, setting up a 3rd-and-12 at the Packers’ 34-yard line. On third down, the screen pass to Douglas tipped off his outstretched hands and fell incomplete. That forced the Falcons to try for a field goal, but Matt Bryant’s 52-yard kick fell short in the wintry conditions. That gave Green Bay the ball back at their 42-yard line with 6:42 left in the game.

But the Falcons defense held on the next series, holding the Packers to a three-and-out and taking over with 4:38 left on the clock at the Falcons’ 17-yard line. A pair of passes to Jacquizz Rodgers and Gonzalez netted them 16 yards to get the ball to midfield. Four plays later with 2:23 left on the clock, pressure forced Ryan’s throw to Douglas in the dirt. Ryan then checked down to Rodgers on the next play, a 3rd-and-9 at the Packers’ 37-yard line, for a four-yard gain. That set up a 4th-and-5 after the two-minute warning. The Falcons elected to go for it, and Ryan’s pass to Gonzalez was juggled and dropped. That gave Green Bay the ball back with 1:55 left in the game.

But the Packers were unsuccessful with gaining a first down as the Falcons used up the remainder of their timeouts. But Green Bay did successfully bleed over a minute off the clock before Tim Masthay punted the ball back to Atlanta. The ball took a fortuitous Packer bounce, stopping dead at the 1-yard line, but Robert McClain scooped it up before a Packer could down it and got it back to the 9-yard line to try and give the offense a better chance.

Ryan and the offense took over with 44 seconds left on the clock, and he immediately hit Rodgers for a 13-yard pass and catch. That was followed up by a 21-yard catch by White on a corner route with 21 seconds left to get the ball near midfield. Two plays later with 17 seconds left, Ryan tried to hit Douglas on a similar pattern, but the ball bounced off his hands and incomplete. Ryan tried to dial up Douglas for the redemptive play on 3rd-and-10 on the next play, but the defense was ready for it, and Jarrett Bush picked off the pass with four seconds left in the game. Flynn knelt on the ball and the game was over.

The Falcons will return to the Georgia Dome next week to take on the Washington Redskins (3-10). The Redskins have lost four straight road games, and are 1-5 on the road this season. The Falcons beat the Redskins last year 24-17 on the road, representing Mike Smith’s first head-to-head win against a Mike Shanahan-coached team. Shanahan is one of five coaches to hand the Smith’s Falcons a loss in the Georgia Dome prior to this year, and in fact was the first way back in 2008 when the Falcons lost to the Denver Broncos 24-20.

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Aaron Freeman
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