Falcons Comeback Falls Short in 43-37 Loss to Packers

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Jones set several new Falcons receiving records on the night

The Atlanta Falcons mustered a late comeback, but it didn’t prove enough in a 43-37 loss to the Green Bay Packers in snowy conditions at Lambeau Field. The Falcons found themselves in a massive hole at halftime, down 31-7, but managed to outscore the Packers 30-12 in the second-half thanks in large part to the record performance by wide receiver Julio Jones. The Falcons still retain a lead in the NFC South divisional race with a 5-8 record, guaranteeing that the eventual winner of the division will not have a winning record in 2014.

Ryan led the way, completing 24 of 39 passes for 375 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. On the ground, Steven Jackson added 50 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown. In the air, Jones dominated with 11 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown. His yardage total shattered Roddy White’s previous Falcons record of 210 yards in a single game, set back in 2009. It also put Jones at 1,428 receiving yards for the season, breaking White’s single-season record of 1,389 yards set in 2010. After entering this week sixth on the league’s leaderboard in receiving yards, Jones’ performance also allowed him to leap-frog into first place. White added three grabs for 42 yards with a score. Harry Douglas caught another of Ryan’s touchdowns, finishing the night with two catches for 11 yards. Eric Weems caught a touchdown on his lone reception for five yards. Matt Bryant hit on one of his two field-goal tries, making a 50-harder but having a 53-yard kick blocked. Matt Bosher punted twice for 97 yards with one placed inside the one-yard line. Hester had six kickoff returns for an average of 26.3 yards, while Weems added a pair of returns for an average of 17 yards. Offensively, the Falcons produced 465 total yards, with 304 of those yards coming in the second half. The Falcons were able to convert touchdowns on all five trips inside the red zone, and also converted five of 11 third-down attempts on the night.

The Falcons struggled early defensively but managed to pick up their play in the second half. They gave up 502 total yards with 296 of those coming in the first half of the game. The Packers pounded the ball early on the ground, gaining 110 rushing yards in the first half and finishing with 179 total. The Packers converted seven of 12 third-down tries, including going five of six in the first half. They also were able to score touchdowns on all four red-zone trips in the first half, but were held out of the end zone on a pair of second-half drives. The Packers had 22 first downs in the first half alone against a Falcons defense that was averaging allowing 22.4 first downs per game for the entirety of every game this season. Dwight Lowery led Falcons defenders with 13 tackles and also added a forced fumble. Jonathan Babineaux (five tackles); Kroy Biermann (four tackles, one sack); Kemal Ishmael (seven tackles, one pass breakup); Robert McClain (six tackles); Prince Shembo (five tackles); Desmond Trufant (five tackles, one pass breakup); and Paul Worrilow (five tackles, one pass breakup) each had noteworthy games.

The Falcons run defense was gashed early with the Packers running it twice to Eddie Lacy for a combined 34 yards to start their opening drive. Then Aaron Rodgers dialed up wide receiver Jordy Nelson for a pair of completions, the latter of which coming on a rollout for 22 yards that put the ball at the three-yard line. On the next play, running back James Starks broke a few tackles to finish off the quick Packers drive with a three-yard score. The Packers went up 7-0, going 81 yards on seven plays in less than four minutes.

The Falcons handed it off to Steven Jackson on a run up the middle, who gained 10 yards. Jackson touched the ball two more times for a combined six yards to set up a 3rd-and-4. Ryan hit White on a crossing pattern over the middle for a 12-yard gain to convert their first third down of the night and get the ball into Packers territory. That was followed up by a 19-yard gain on a deep comeback to Jones on the ensuing play. Pressure by Packers defensive end Julius Peppers forced Ryan to throw the ball away on the next play. A delay of game penalty backed up the Falcons on the ensuing play, but Jones made an eight-yard gain to set up 3rd-and-7. On third down, Jones made a grab over the middle, breaking a tackle to get 18 yards and get the ball down to the four-yard line. Jackson finished off the drive with a four-yard run up the middle to tie the game 7-7 with seven minutes left in the first quarter.

The Falcons defense looked to show up on the next Packers series, with Biermann recording a sack of Rodgers on the opening play of the possession. Two plays later after a false start penalty on Packers tight end Andrew Quarless, Rodgers found him over the middle for a 30-yard gain on 3rd-and-17. Lacy followed that up with a pair of runs for a combined 14 yards to move the ball deeper in Falcons territory. Quarless made two more grabs for a combined 22 yards to get the ball into the red zone. Trufant then made a stop on Nelson on a quick screen, getting a stop for a one-yard loss to set up a 3rd-and-2 at the Falcons’ 11-yard line. Trufant couldn’t close in time on the dig route to wide receiver Randall Cobb on the ensuing play, as the Packers receiver converted on a four-yard gain. Ishmael broke up Rodgers’ next pass to Quarless. On the final play of the first quarter, Rodgers escaped the pocket on a scramble, but was stripped by Lowery after a five-yard gain. However, Rodgers quickly recovered the fumble, but Tyson Jackson dove late onto the pile and drew an unnecessary roughness penalty. That penalty gave the Packers the ball at the one-yard line, and Lacy was able to run untouched on the opening play of the second quarter to push Green Bay’s lead to 14-7.

The Falcons continued to dial up Jackson to start the next drive, with a pair of runs to force a 3rd-and-1. Ryan tried to hit White on a fade off a pick route, but the Packers didn’t bite and the pass was nearly picked off by cornerback Tramon Williams. The Falcons punted for the first time on the night.

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An early Matt Ryan interception to Morgan Burnett proved costly

Starks made a nice cutback on a run up the middle, gaining 21 yards to kick off the Packers’ third series. Two plays later, Rodgers had a scramble up the middle for 12 yards to get the ball into Falcons territory. The Packers converted on the ensuing 3rd-and-1 with a four-yard run by fullback John Kuhn. Two plays later, Rodgers’ check down to Lacy went for 13 yards after he broke several tackles attempted by Falcons defenders. That put the ball down at the Falcons’ 21-yard line, but the Packers’ drive stalled there. The Falcons defense stepped up and clogged up a screen pass which was followed by Rodgers throwing the ball away out of the back of the end zone on third down. That sent kicker Mason Crosby out on the field to attempt a 38-yard field goal which he made to push Green Bay’s lead to 17-7 with seven minutes left in the second quarter.

Ryan dialed up Jones for a 25-yard pass on a throw over the middle to start the Falcons’ next possession. However, on the next play, Ryan scrambled out of the pocket and looked to throw to Hester along the sideline. But Hester wasn’t looking for the pass, and Packers safety Morgan Burnett made an easy interception, and was able to return it 32 yards to start the ensuing Packers series at the Falcons’ 15-yard line.

The Packers quickly took advantage of the favorable field position, with a nine-yard scramble by Rodgers to convert a 3rd-and-5 to get the ball down to the one-yard line. Rodgers then hit Lacy on a shovel pass up the middle for a one-yard score, pushing Green Bay’s lead to 24-7 with 4:20 left on the first-half clock.

The Falcons went back to the well with Jackson on their next possession, as he moved the chains with a pair of runs for a combined 10 yards to start things. Ryan’s next pass was picked off off a tipped pass, with defensive tackle Letroy Guion making the diving catch. But after officials reviewed the play, it was seen that the ball hit the ground and the Falcons maintained possession. Rodgers dropped a screen pass on the next play, which was followed by an overthrown pass to Jones, which led to another Falcons punt.

The Packers took over near midfield with 2:35 left on the clock. Starks gained 14 yards on a pass from Rodgers, making Worrilow whiff on a tackle. That was followed by an 18-yard gain by wide receiver Randall Cobb, who made Josh Wilson miss after the catch on a crossing pattern. After the two-minute warning hit, a quick underneath throw to Nelson for six yards put the ball at the Falcons’ 10-yard line. A few plays later on third down, Rodgers was able to avoid the sack by Biermann and find a wide open Nelson in the back of the end zone for a 10-yard score. The Packers now had a 31-7 lead with 24 seconds left in the first half.

Ryan found Jones over the middle for a 30-yard gain, as the Falcons looked to try and get into field-goal position. After a 15-yard scramble from Ryan, the Falcons used their second timeout with three seconds left on the clock. Bryant’s 53-yard field goal was blocked by Packers linebacker Brad Jones after a high snap from Falcons long snapper Josh Harris. The Packers maintained their 31-7 halftime lead.

The Falcons received the opening possession of the second half, and once again looked for Jones to start things off. Jones got behind Packers defensive backs and then made a cutback after the catch for a 79-yard gain to get the ball down to the Packers’ three-yard line. Then an end-around to Hester went nowhere, which was followed by a two-yard loss on a run by Jackson up the middle. On a rollout by Ryan, Packers cornerback Micah Hyde was able to break up the pass to Jones in the end zone, prompting the Falcons to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the five-yard line. But Ryan was able to find Weems on a slant over the middle, cutting into Green Bay’s lead with a score of 31-14 with 12:35 left in the third quarter.

The Packers backed themselves up initially on the ensuing series with a holding call on guard T.J. Lang pushing them back to 1st-and-20. After a spirited run by Lacy after the catch in which he ran over Ishmael for a 13-yard gain, the Packers were set for a 3rd-and-7. Rodgers’ deep pass to wide receiver Davante Adams was under thrown and the Packers punted for the first time of the night with roughly 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The Falcons started the drive near midfield and a face-mask penalty after a nine-yard catch by Douglas put the ball in Packers territory. Ryan then took a deep shot to Jones in the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t get both feet in bounds after making the nice grab over his shoulder. Two plays later on 3rd-and-10, Ryan was unable to find an open receiver and was bottled up when trying to scramble for a sack by Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. That led to the Falcons attempting another long field, with Bryant hitting from 50 yards to cut the Packers lead to 31-17 with eight minutes left in the third quarter.

A pair of Lacy runs set up a 3rd-and-3, which the Packers were able to convert on a 23-yard pass to Cobb over the middle. That put the ball in Falcons territory, and Rodgers hit Nelson down the seam for a 28-yard gain on the next play to put the ball in the red zone. However, the Falcons defense stepped up thanks to Worrilow breaking up a pass to Lacy in the end zone. That forced the Packers to settle for a 33-yard field goal from Crosby to push their lead to 34-17 with less than four minutes left in the quarter.

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Jordy Nelson beat Kemal Ishmael deep on a 60-yard score

Ryan completed his first four passes on the ensuing drive, each to running backs to move the ball into Packers territory as the third quarter came to a close. Jackson was able to convert a 3rd-and-1 on a two-yard run up the middle on the final play of the quarter. The Falcons tried a toss to Devonta Freeman to start the fourth quarter, but it went nowhere for a two-yard loss. Two plays later, Jones converted on third down with a 12-yard grab on a crossing pattern to get the ball into the red zone. Two plays later, Ryan found Jones again on a lob for a 22-yard score. That cut the Packers’ lead to 34-24 with 12:33 left in the game.

The Falcons defense looked stingy to start the next drive, stuffing Starks on a one-yard gain on first down. That was followed up by Trufant breaking up a pass to Nelson on second down. However, Cobb converted on 3rd-and-9 with a 13-yard play which was followed up by a 60-yard touchdown to Nelson. The Packers receiver got behind Ishmael on a deep post, and Rodgers hit him in stride with a perfect strike for the easy score. However, the extra point attempt by Crosby was blocked by Ra’Shede Hageman, keeping the score at 40-24 with less than 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Once again, Ryan dialed up Jones to start the next drive, completing an 18-yard pass near the sideline. Ryan’s next pass to Jones was a go-route which was broken up by cornerback Davon House. Ryan’s next pass went incomplete as it slipped from his grasp on 3rd-and-4, prompting the Falcons to go for it on fourth down with 9:32 left in the game. Jones once again came up big with a 19-yard gain on a pass over the middle to get the ball down to the Packers’ 28-yard line. Four plays later, Ryan went to Jones again on a fade in the end zone, but it was under thrown and nearly picked off by House. Jones made a critical play to break up the interception. After a Packers timeout, Jones lined up in the slot and made a critical nine-yard catch on 3rd-and-6 to get the ball down to the Packers’ three-yard line. After a two-yard run by Jackson, Ryan found an open White on a shallow crossing pattern for a one-yard score to cut the lead to 40-30 with 6:15 left in the game. The Falcons attempted a two-point conversion, but Jacquizz Rodgers was stopped well shy of the goal line on the run up the middle.

The Falcons attempted an onside kick, but it was recovered by Packers wide receiver Jarrett Boykin at the Falcons’ 41-yard line. The Packers failed to convert on the ensuing third down thanks to a miscommunication between Rodgers and Adams, prompting Crosby to attempt a 53-yard field goal. He made the kick, pushing Green Bay’s lead to 43-30 with 4:33 left in the game.

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James Starks’ 41-yard run sealed the win for the Packers

Hester got his first big break of the game in the return game with a 38-yard kickoff return to start the Falcons at their 34-yard line. With Jones out of the lineup with a hip injury suffered on the last series, the Falcons were forced to turn to other playmakers. White stepped up with a 29-yard grab on a deep pass on the second play of the Falcons series. On the next play, Ryan hit Jackson on a simple check down, but an official blocked linebacker Brad Jones, allowing Jackson to scramble 17 yards to get the ball down to the Packers’ 20-yard line. Pressure forced Ryan to check down to Levine Toilolo on the next play for a loss of one yard. A draw to Rodgers went up the middle for 14 yards to get the ball down to the seven-yard line. Ryan then missed connection on a pass to Douglas in the end zone, but was able to find the receiver three plays later on a contested seven-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 43-37.

The Falcons tried another onside kick, but Nelson recovered at the Packers’ 39-yard line. The Packers proceeded to try and run out the clock with Rodgers scrambling for a 12-yard gain after the two-minute warning, forcing the Falcons to use their first timeout of the half. However, a 41-yard run by Starks off the left side essentially sealed the Packers win, getting the ball down to the Falcons’ six-yard line. The Falcons eventually burned their final two timeouts on the ensuing plays and the Packers were able to just run the ball three more times as time expired to get the win.

The Falcons return home to the Georgia Dome next week to face the 8-5 Pittsburgh Steelers. The Falcons only win against the Steelers in the Georgia Dome came in 2006, their most recent matchup on their home field. That game was a 41-38 win by the Falcons. The two teams last faced each other in the season-opener in 2010, where the Steelers won 15-9 in overtime. All-time, the Falcons are 2-12-1 against the Steelers.

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Aaron Freeman
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