Sunday saw a lot of firsts for the Atlanta Falcons – none of which they hoped to see. Matt Bryant missed his first field goal of the season. In doing so, if there is any consolation, he and the team as a whole are the last to miss a field goal this season. Losing to the Green Bay Packers has given coach Dan Quinn has a dubious first. With the loss this will be his first losing season coaching the Falcons by losing their fifth in a row. As it stands now the best they can do is finish 7-9. Another first was with Julio Jones’ 105-yard receiving performance he has over 1,400 receiving yards this season, which is his fifth in a row – an NFL record.
Jones’ NFL record is like putting lipstick on a pig. After a quick start for Atlanta that saw them score on their opening drive, Jones caught three passes for 69 yards hauling in an 18-yard scoring strike from Matt Ryan sneaking over the corner of the goal line. He had two touchdown receptions on the day. However, between those two touchdown receptions the Packers scored 34 points.
Some may say the Packers soundly defeated the Falcons and in turn took revenge (although this wasn’t post season) for the sound trouncing they took in the NFC championship two years ago. That loss kept Green Bay out of the Super Bowl while this loss officially knocked Atlanta out of any remote playoff aspirations. The truth be told, the Falcons defeated themselves, not the Packers. Fundamentals have fallen off the table and dare I say undisciplined play. What exactly does the “brotherhood” mean the team promotes via all media and at home games? Losing together? Missing tackles together? Dropping passes together? I’m not sure. Discipline is not one of them, but to their credit it the wheels fall off, they fall off together.
The Falcons once again played undisciplined losing their fifth in a row – not their worst streak under Dan Quinn: there was that six game losing streak back in 2015, but I digress. The Falcons penalized themselves out of this game with 101 yards in penalties and that doesn’t count. On many of the plays multiple flags were thrown on Atlanta there were often two penalties against them. Many of the penalties came at inopportune times on defense that would have forced the Packers to punt – or not score as many points. Not all penalties were encroachment but included personal fouls –something they’ve been accumulating all season. Enthusiasm and aggression is one thing, but downright sloppy play is inexcusable.
This game was a similar template for the Falcons all season. They stayed close for the better part of a half even though this game the wheels started to fall off in the second quarter.
The Falcons started fast taking the lead on the opening driving as Ryan hit Jones from 16 yards out barely three minutes into the game. It was all downhill from there. Aaron Rodgers returned the favor on the following kickoff. The Green Bay QB had been held in check the three previous meetings had a better performance Sunday but very modest numbers considering how other quarterbacks have been lighting up the Falcons. The perennial Pro Bowler threw for under 200 yards and did see some pressure as he was sacked four times. He found himself scrambling for his life but used his running ability to gain 44 yards. Once again a quarterback was an opponents leading or secondary leading rusher. In fact, the Packers ended their 34-0 run with Rodgers running for a 29-yard touchdown.
The key turning point in this game was after the Packers first took the lead. Ryan threw a pick-6 to Bashaud Breeland who rambled 22 yards to expand the lead to 10. From that point forward the Falcons spun their wheels and that was in spite of a decent showing on the ground as Ito Smith led Atlanta with 60 yards on 11 carries and Tevin Coleman adding 45 on ten. Falling behind big, (20-7 at half at 34-7 in the third the Falcons abandoned the running game again and despite moving the ball relatively well too many drives stalled. That and penalties kept Packers drives alive. Green Bay had 23 first downs Sunday. Six of those came courtesy of penalties.
Falcons made it semi-respectable with two late touchdowns but they never had any chance of coming back. There were few times you could say that this season on a lot of their losses but the Falcons seemed stuck in neutral most of the game.
Well, it looks like Atlanta stays home to watch the Super Bowl being played this February in their stadium. They return home to Atlanta to play their home finale as they face the Arizona Cardinals. Kickoff is scheduled for 1pm and will be aired on Fox.
– Dave Weinthal