The Falcons first playoff win under Mike Smith continues to be elusive as their season comes to a very bitter end with a 48-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Even as the top seed, the Falcons prove to be but a minor obstacle to the red hot Packers who seemed unstoppable for almost the entire game.
Matt Ryan had a decent performance marred by two second quarter interceptions. He finished the game 20 of 29 for 186 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons running game got off to a pretty good start until the scoreboard eliminated it from the gameplan. Michael Turner finished 10 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown. Michael Jenkins and Roddy White tied for the team lead with 6 receptions each for 67 and 57 yards, respectively. Brian Finneran caught 4 passes for 47 yards. Tony Gonzalez was irrelevant for most of the game, ending up with only a single catch for 7 yards, the lone pass thrown his way. He would exit the game on that play with a leg injury. The Falcons struggled to protect Ryan, as he was sacked 5 times on the game, the most he’s ever been in his three year career.
The Falcons began the game able to move the ball somewhat, with a 9-play, 34-yard drive that ended in a punt. Three plays later the defense was able to force a turnover. Aaron Rodgers hit Greg Jennings over the middle for a 30-yard gain, but Stephen Nicholas was able to strip the ball from behind. It was recovered by Brent Grimes giving the Falcons the ball back at the Packers 48-yard line. They turned that into points with a 7-play drive capped off by a 12-yard run from Michael Turner. But the Packers answered back with a 13-play, 81-yard drive that chewed up 8 minutes of clock to tie the score. The Falcons looked poised at the start of the second quarter as Eric Weems took the ensuing kickoff 102 yards for a score to give the lead right back to Atlanta. But Green Bay managed another long drive, this time 10 plays for 92 yards. The Falcons got the ball back with little more than 6 minutes remaining in the second quarter, and were moving the ball down the field. They got the ball to the Packers 14 yard line before a false start on Harvey Dahl followed by a sack on Ryan by Charles Woodson halted their drive. Ryan underthrew a pass to Michael Jenkins in the endzone, which he slipped on and it was picked off by Tramon Williams. The Packers offense once again made the Falcons pay with a 7-play, 80-yard drive to put up more points and take their first lead with only 48 seconds left on the clock. A pooch kick by the Packers gave the Falcons fairly good field position to try and move the ball with under a minute to try and get some points before the first half came to a close. Facing a 2nd & 19 from the Packers 35-yard line with 10 seconds to go, the Falcons tried to work the sideline, but Williams intercepted his second pass by jumping the out and going 70 yards for another score as time expired. The Packers then put the game out of reach with a 12-play, 80-yard drive to start the second half. The Falcons had a three and out due to a Jenkins catch on the sideline that was reversed instead of getting them a first down. The Packers continued to move the ball at will on the Falcons defense with a 50-yard drive for another score. The Falcons finally started to show some live after that point with a scoring drive of their own as Ryan hit Roddy White for a 6-yard score to begin the fourth quarter. The Falcons attempted an onside, but Brian Finneran recovered the kick just one yard too early. The Falcons were able to get their first stop on defense of the night as a Packers missed a 50-yard field goal four plays later. But the offense was unable to capitalize with a botched snap to Ryan giving the Packers the ball right back five plays later. The Packers turned that turnover into 3 more points to take a 45-21 lead with just 6:34 left. Michael Jenkins would fumble on a 4th & 1 attempt by the Falcons, which would lead to 3 more points as the Packers were content to simply run out the clock at this point in the game to cap off the 27-point victory.
The defense played very poorly and it was reflected in Aaron Rodgers stat line, as he completed 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Falcons run defense was able to slow down James Starks, who only had 66 yards on 25 carries (2.6 avg), but with the Packers ability to move the ball easily through the air, it really didn’t matter. Their opening drive fumble and fourth quarter field goal were the only times in the game where the Packers had the ball and didn’t put points on the board. Curtis Lofton led defenders with 9 tackles. John Abraham (1 tackle, 1 sack), Jonathan Babineaux (3 tackles, 0.5 sacks), Kroy Biermann (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks), Thomas DeCoud (4 tackles), Brent Grimes (7 tackles, 1 fumble recovery), William Moore (6 tackles), Stephen Nicholas (5 tackles), Chris Owens (7 tackles), Corey Peters (5 tackles), Mike Peterson (6 tackles), and Dunta Robinson (6 tackles) had notable games, although none really stood out.
Weems shined on his special teams return, but the Packers avoided kicking to him the rest of the night, making his impact minimal for the final three quarters. MIchael Koenen had 3 punts for an average of 37 yards, with 1 placed inside the 20. Special teams was about the only facet of the team that one could say the Falcons clearly had the advantage in the game.
The Falcons end their season with a 13-4 overall record, and will be forced to watch as the Packers will take on the winner of tomorrow’s Chicago Bears-Seattle Seahawks matchup in the NFC Championship. They’ll regroup, but despite the disappointing finish, they will be able to point out several bright spots for the season due to their regular season success. And their likely focus for 2011 will being able to finish stronger and becoming more explosive on both sides of the ball.