Staying Alive: Packers 22 Falcons 21

Bush

The Green Bay Packers entered December with a simple mission. Win out, or spend the winter golfing. December got off to a good start for them as they overcame a halftime deficit, and defeated the Atlanta Falcons 22-21.

The game began with the defense on the field, as the Packers won the toss and chose to defer to the second half as they usually do. This time the defense came up with an early stop, something they were unable to do throughout the previous game against the Detroit Lions, and gave the offense the ball. The offense, which struggled mightily against the Lions marched right down the field, and delivered an early statement in the form of an 18-play 86 yard drive that ended with an Eddie Lacy touchdown as the first quarter expired. The Packers had an early 7-0 lead.

The second quarter did not go nearly as well for the Packers as the first quarter did. Atlanta struck back when Matt Ryan found Drew Davis over the middle of the field for 36 yards and a touchdown. The trouble did not end there as Matt Flynn fumbled as he was sacked by William Moore. the Falcons quickly converted the turnover into a touchdown, making it 14-7.

The Packers would add a Mason Crosby field goal on the ensuing possession, and make a stop on defense, giving McCarthy the chance to “double dip” as he likes to call it by getting the ball at the end of the first half, and beginning of the second half.  The Packers were moving the ball as Matt Flynn scampered for a first down at the Atlanta 35 yardline. Then things got a little weird. Flynn threw a checkdown to John Kuhn that appeared to fall harmlessly to the ground. The PA announcer even announced the pass as incomplete, yet play continued. Sean Weatherspoon caught the ball out of mid air and returned it 71 yards for a touchdown.

A replay would show that the ball hit a Falcon defender’s foot, without hitting the ground and was caught by Weatherspoon, so the play stood as called and the Packers trailed 21-10 going into halftime.

While running into the tunnel they were greeted by a chorus of boos. The winless streak, that had reached five games going into this contest, looked as if it was going to extend.

The Packers defense, much maligned for the last few weeks and rightfully so rose to the occasion in the second half.  The Falcons first two possessions of the second half resulted in three and outs, while the offense was able to tack on two Mason Crosby field goals making it 21-16.

The defense needed to make another big play. They got it when Mike Neal beat his man and stripped Matt Ryan of the ball. The fumble was recovered by Johnny Jolly, who received big cheers after having his name announced, and the Packers were in business. A short completion and two runs by Eddie Lacy put the Packers two yards away from the lead.

They found it when Matt Flynn hit Andrew Quarless on a nice back shoulder throw, that gave them a 22-21 lead after a failed two point conversion.

The offense had done its job, but the defense needed to make a final statement. AJ Hawk told the Green Bay media, “The difference between today and last week is we finally decided to step up and make some plays when we had to on defense.”

The Falcons took the ball, and Matt Ryan was doing what he normally does. Lead fourth quarter come back drives. He methodically moved them 35 yards down the field, before a big run stop by Johnny Jolly stalled the drive out. Matt Bryant came on to attempt a 51-yard field goal into the depths of the frozen tundra. The kick was short, giving the Packers a chance to put their foot on the Falcons throat.

They did not, as they went three and out, putting pressure on the defense once again.  Once again they bent as Ryan moved the Falcons offense down the field, and faced a big fourth down at the Green Bay 33 yardline. Instead of kicking a long field goal the Falcons decided to go for it. Their drive ended when Jarrett Bush broke up a Ryan pass to Tony Gonzalez, giving the Packers offense another chance to put the game away. WTMJ’s Wayne Larivee even threw his trademark dagger after the incompletion.

Unfortunately, the stress did not end there for the Packers faithful.  The offense once again was unable to pick up a first down and ice the game, after a punt was downed inside the 10 yardline the defense had to make one final stop. One stop, to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Two quick completions by Ryan put the Falcons in dangerous territory. They were at their own 43 with time for three more plays to get in position for a game winning field goal. Ryan looked like he had another big play when he found Harry Douglas on the sideline, but Douglas was unable to haul in the pass that would have put the Falcons in borderline territory for a field goal. Ryan’s next pass was intercepted by Jarrett Bush with four seconds on the clock, to preserve a Packers victory.

The win, coupled with a Detroit loss in Philadelphia puts the Packers only a half game out of first place in the NFC North. What seemed like a lost cause just 10 days ago, now feels as if there is a glimmer of hope to make a run.

Offense:

Game Ball: Andrew Quarless: The Packers came into this game getting next to zero production from their tight end position since Jermichael Finley went down in late October. Today, the man who has “God’s Gift” tattooed on his triceps was certainly a gift to the Packers offense. Quarless was the Packers leading receiver with six catches for 66 yards, and the touchdown that put the Packers ahead for good. His only flaw in the game was after scoring a touchdown he forgot to do the Lambeau Leap. If he keeps making plays like he did throughout the course of this game, the fans will forgive him very quickly.

Need to improve: Red zone offense: It has been a story all season. The Packers kick far too many field goals when they get into the red zone. Their game against the Falcons was no exception. They finished 2-5 in the red zone with touchdowns by Lacy, and Quarless combined with three Mason Crosby field goals. Some of the struggles have to do with the absence of Aaron Rodgers, but even before he left the lineup the red zone offense was something the Packers struggled with. The Packers have three games left, and all of which are against good teams. In order to win them, even if Rodgers are back they will have to score touchdowns instead of kicking field goals.

 

Defense:

Game Ball: Jarrett Bush: A surprise if there ever was one. Never did I think that Jarrett Bush would be a hero for the Packers in a big game. Then he made a big play in Super Bowl XLV. There was no way that Bush could ever play that big of a role in a game twice. He found a way though with two huge plays down the stretch. First came the pass breakup against Tony Gonzalez, and then the interception that sealed the win. Bush has always been known for his special teams prowess, but it was his defense that kept the Packers in the playoff hunt.

 

Need to improve: Pass rush: The Falcons have one of the worst pass blocking offensive lines in the NFL. Against the Packers, you would have thought they were one of the best. It was rare the Packers got pressure on Ryan, as they only sacked him once, and on several occasions Ryan had time to scan the entire field before making a decision. The defense made big plays down the stretch of the game, but with quarterbacks like Romo, Roethlisberger, and Cutler on the remainder of the schedule the pass rush must be amped up. Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Mike Neal, and a deep group of defensive linemen must dial it up down the stretch to keep the Packers in the form they were today.

 

The Packers next game is Sunday Dec. 15 at the site of their last Super Bowl championship. Dallas, Texas where they will take on the Cowboys at 3:25 central time. They will be in must win mode once again, but could be getting a boost with the return of their leader, quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Stay tuned…

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Jacob Westendorf is a writer at PackersTalk.com. You can follow Jacob on twitter at

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