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Falcons vs. Packers Breakdown: A Furious Rally Falls Short

The Falcons' infuriating, nonsensical season continues, as they hold on to first place despite losing to the Packers in a tigher-than-expected 43-37 game.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Packers were heavily favored in this one. The reason for that seemed obvious by the end of the first half, but a thrilling second half changed everything.

Many of us had hoped that the Falcons could hang in, keep it close and pull off an improbable win late, but as fervently as I hoped for it I knew it was unlikely. The Falcons went down early and most of us were all but ready to throw in the towel, but to their eternal credit, Atlanta fought tooth and nail and got back into the game, coming quite close to pulling off a tremendous upset against the Packers. Unfortunately, that rally was too little, too late.

Whether it was Aaron Rodgers carving through the defense, Eddie Lacy gouging them for big runs and catches, Matt Ryan's ugly, inexplicable interception to the sideline, these Falcon were simply not good enough to hang in against the Packers, and they fell behind 31-7 by the end of the first half. That's nothing we didn't know, I suppose, but seeing it displayed so starkly on the field always manages to stir those old feelings of disappointment up.

Though the Falcons simply got smoked early, they didn't look sluggish and defeated coming out of the half, as we all feared. Instead, they managed to stiffen up on defense and carve up the Packers defense, led by a truly legendary game from the increasingly great Julio Jones. They came agonizingly close in this one, but in a game they were universally expected to lose, the fierce comeback and the strength of both the determination and the play were worth a great deal to me. it shows this team has ability, the cupboard is not totally bare (though the defense is still a massive sore spot most weeks) and this team has enough fight to endure against arguably the NFC's best team.

Beyond that, all I can offer you is that the Falcons are still in first place and don't have any games left on the schedule that size up to be as difficult as Green Bay. The Falcons have to lick their wounds and play the best football they've managed all year if they want to hold on to this tenuous, increasingly insane division lead. I don't claim to have the slightest clue how this season will finish, but it is guaranteed to be one hell of a ride.

As a side note, a tremendous thanks from our staff for reading, commenting and keeping it largely very civil during an emotional roller coaster of a game. We appreciate you.

To the individual breakdowns, and then to the Steelers game.

The Good

  • Matt Ryan got off to an ugly start, but he was willing to challenge the defense with deep throws and hang in to make some tough completions, albeit largely after the Falcons went down big. We dog this team in general and Ryan in particular for a lack of toughness at times, and Ryan had a big role in that furious rally that kept the Falcons in the game. There's a sour note here, which we'll cover in the ugly section, but after that early pick he threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, with four on the game.

    In short, it was the kind of effort people have been craving from Ryan, a week after he was a capable steward for the offense against a tough Cardinals defense. Things are looking up.
  • Julio Jones ran wild against a so-so Packers defense, breaking his own single game receiving yardage record again after just setting it last week against the Cardinals. He finished this one with an insane 11/259/1 line and, so long as his injury is healthy, he'll be a key cog against Pittsburgh next weekend.

    If this is Julio rounding into form, opposing defenses should be terrified. He gives this team a fighting change every week on offense, at the very least, and there's not enough hyperbole available for the strength of his performance these last two games. One of the great stretches in NFL history.
  • Roddy White returned from injury for a handful of clutch grabs, including a touchdown. Good to have him back in action, and expect him to see an increased role against Pittsburgh.
  • Pretty clear Levine Toilolo isn't headed for greatness or even necessarily mediocrity as a wide receiver, but his blocking keeps improving. He had a couple of nice pops against Green Bay.
  • I know giving credit to Kroy Biermann is tantamount to heresy, but he played a pretty good game. He got a sack on Aaron Rodgers, largely contained Rodgers' scrambling as the spy and was active and all over the field. It wasn't a stellar one, but on a day where not much was working on defense, Biermann put together quality effort. He also leads the team in sacks, improbably.
  • Ra'Shede Hageman blocked another extra point. I'm still optimistic about him being a beast for this Falcons team starting in 2015, but his special teams value (two blocked extra points, a blocked field goal) makes him worth carrying in his rookie year regardless.
  • Desmond Trufant's coverage remains stellar. The problem was that the Falcons couldn't clone him and put him on Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, or we might have had ourselves a real interesting game.
  • Obviously a rough game for the defense in general, but Dwight Lowery put in one of the finer efforts of the night. He had 13 combined tackles and a forced fumble, and at least managed not to get blown off the field by that potent Packers offense.
  • Matt Bryant is money, blocked field goal aside. Even that wasn't on him, thanks to a high snap that slowed things down.

The Ugly

  • Matt Ryan has made a few truly awful, inexplicable throws this season, and he made another against the Packers. In the second quarter, he either tried to throw it away or force one to Hester on the sideline, and either way it wound up being a horrendous interception that set the Packers up to take a three score lead they never fully relinquished. It was a backbreaking error, no question.

    Ryan's very good, but he's made some truly boneheaded decisions in 2014. Again, I don't think this diminishes his standing, but we'll hope he can cut it out of his game going forward.
  • The team's ground game scuffled after Steven Jackson ran well early, and that wound up being enormously costly in the fourth quarter. The Falcons attempted a two point conversion that would have put them within eight of the Packers, but they elected to run it up the middle with Jacquizz Rodgers, a move that failed miserably and left the Falcons down ten. The coaching staff can and should take heat for that, but the backs just couldn't repeat what they did against the Cardinals.
  • The run defense was leaky in the same way that a burst dam is leaky, and it started immediately. The Falcons allowed a 22 yard run to Eddie Lacy followed by a 12 yard run, and while he did slow down a bit later, Lacy terrorized the defense for much of the day. Worse, James Starks ran extremely well late, putting the Packers in a position to win in the very end.
  • Let's not let the pass defense off the hook, either, as good as Aaron Rodgers is. The Falcons got a limited pas rush as usual, with Kroy Biermann leading the way there, but Rodgers was simply surgical behind a strong offensiev line. Pass rush is the number one priority this offseason, regardless of who is coaching and running the team. Quarterbacks like Rodgers can simply shred the team every step of the way.
  • Tyson Jackson came right into the pile on an Aaron Rodgers run where he appeared to have fumbled the football, putting his forearm right into Rodgers and picking up a penalty that gave the Packers a first down and goal in the first quarter. That was...not smart.
  • This team was simply outclassed, when you come down to it. There's no point in denying that the Falcons, if they manage to make a real playoff run, will find it exceedingly difficult to beat the class squads of the NFC, whether they be the Packers, Seahawks or Eagles. That's something to file away until it becomes a concern, of course, but last night was an unfortunate reminder that this team has to dig deep and/or get lucky to beat the NFL's elite teams.

The Wrapup

Game MVP: Julio Jones. He was simply the best player on the field for the Falcons, and arguably for either team, and he put up a tremendous second half when Atlanta needed it most.

Theme Song: For that second half comeback.

One Takeaway: The Falcons are finally showing indisputable proof that they're capable of playing good football, albeit not necessarily in all three phases for all four quarters.

Next Week: The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming to town. Head to Behind the Steel Curtain for a lot more about Ben Roethlisberger's crew.

Final Word: Mixedemotions.