N.F.C. Championship: Falcons Keep Pedal Down Against Packers
Aaron Rodgers Still Throwing Touchdowns
Not content to go quietly into the night, Aaron Rodgers started the drive by uncorking a 28-yard run that ended with him taking a big hit, converted a 4th-and-2 to keep the drive alive by running another 7 yards, and ended up marching his team 75 yards on 9 plays, finding Jordy Nelson in the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown pass. Aaron Ripkowski’s 2-point conversion after the touchdown closed the gap to 37-15.
Rodgers ended up with 3 carries for 42 yards on the drive and now has more rushing yards than the rest of his team combined.
Unfortunately for the Packers, they lost T.J. Lang, a starting guard, to what looked like a significant foot injury. Having already lost Lane Taylor earlier in the game, the Packers now do not have any backup options left on the offensive line, which could leave the team in serious trouble with another injury. The defense has not had much more luck, with Kentrell Brice and Micah Hyde both out with injuries as well.
The Packers tried an onside kick but Mohamed Sanu easily picked the ball up and looked like he might be off to the races before being tripped up at the last second.
Falcons Respond With Steady Scoring Drive
After Green Bay found its way onto the scoreboard, Atlanta apparently decided it was time to starting chewing up some clock with the running game. Devonta Freeman proved more than capable, carrying the ball 4 times for 28 yards on a 75-yard drive that ended with Freeman fighting his way through Morgan Burnett on a 3-yard touchdown reception. Thanks to the runs, the drive took more than five minutes off of the clock and Falcons now lead 37-7.
The Falcons got a brief scare when Julio Jones left the game following a remarkable 23-yard catch in which he held onto the ball despite landing on his head. He returned to the field for the final few plays of the drive with no reported injury.
With more than a quarter left to play, Matt Ryan is already up to 371 passing yards and 4 touchdowns.
Packers Finally Get on the Scoreboard
It took a while, but the Green Bay offense showed up for the game. At the end of a 12-play, 75-yard drive, Aaron Rodgers found Davante Adams in the front of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown. He asked his coaches about going for a 2-point conversion, but they let Mason Crosby kick an extra-point instead, narrowing the Falcons’ lead to 31-7.
The drive still managed to carry some bad news, however, as Ty Montgomery, the Packers’ starting running back, was forced out of the game following a big hit at the end of a 10-yard run and is questionable to return with a rib injury. Christine Michael, who is nursing a back injury, replaced Montgomery in the game. The Packers have already lost offensive guard Lane Taylor and defensive backs Micah Hyde and Kentrell Brice to injury in this game.
Falcons Open 2nd Half With Quick Score
The Packers’ chances of pulling off one of the most unlikely comebacks in playoff history got harder when they opened the second half by going three-and-out, and then a lot harder when Matt Ryan found Julio Jones for an incredible 73-yard catch-and-run touchdown that stretched the Falcons’ lead to 31-0.
Ryan’s pass found Jones just inside Atlanta’s 40-yard line and the big receiver slipped out of a tackle by LaDarius Gunter, stiff-armed Damarious Randall into the turf, and then sailed into the end zone without stepping out of bounds.
Falcons Head Into Halftime with 24-0 Lead
It was a first half that was mostly defined by how easily the Atlanta Falcons were able to move the ball against an undermanned and overmatched Green Bay Packers defense. In five offensive possessions, the Falcons piled up 325 yards and scored four times, while Atlanta’s defense unexpectedly smothered the high-powered Packers attack. The score may be 24-0, but the disparity between the teams seemed far greater on a day in which nearly everything has gone wrong for Green Bay.
Matt Ryan completed 22 of 32 passes for 271 yards and 2 touchdown against a short-handed Green Bay secondary that had succeeded to this point through mostly smoke and mirrors, but were exposed trying to stop Julio Jones (6 catches for 71 yards) and Mohamed Sanu (5 for 52).
It has been so easy to find open receivers that Atlanta has almost entirely bailed on the team’s celebrated running game. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were a big part of getting Atlanta to this game, but they combined for 10 carries for 24 rushing yards in the first half.
That Atlanta’s offense moved the ball so easily was compounded by Green Bay’s struggles to do the same with any consistency. The four offensive possessions by the Packers ended in a missed field goal, a fumble, a punt, and an interception, with Aaron Rodgers looking visibly frustrated on the field.
Few would doubt Rodgers’ ability to put together an impressive comeback attempt, but it would have to be an historic one. For inspiration, they may want to find some tape of the Buffalo Bills’ 32-point comeback win over the Houston Oilers in the wild-card round following the 1992 season.
Green Bay will receive the ball to start the second half.
Matt Ryan Carving Up Packers’ Defense
The Falcons have too many options on offense for Green Bay’s defense to be able to keep up. A brief injury to Atlanta’s center, Alex Mack, was the only thing that slowed the team down on an 80-yard drive that ended when Matt Ryan, fresh out of receiving options, tucked the ball under his shoulder and ran in a 14-yard touchdown to give Atlanta a 17-0 lead.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have yet to do anything in the running game, but with Ryan having completed passes to six different receivers for a whopping 187 yards, the field appears to be wide open, and if the lead continues to build, Atlanta is sure to start running the ball to chew up some time.
Julio Jones appears to be enjoying his matchup against LaDarius Gunter, as the Falcons’ receiver is up to 5 catches for 66 yards.
Ripkowski Fumbles Away a Scoring Chance
The Packers had another drive end in frustration when Aaron Ripkowski fumbled at the end of a 12-yard run that short-circuited a drive that went 64 yards on 7 plays. The Falcons recovered the fumble in the end zone, ending Green Bay’s scoring opportunity.
Green Bay’s offense had looked strong on the drive, with Randall Cobb catching two passes for 39 yards, but Atlanta’s defense swarmed Ripkowski at the 11-yard line, ripping the ball out of the fullback’s hands.
Falcons Continue to Move the Ball
Matt Ryan again led the team in a relentless drive, this time going 59 yards in 12 plays, but after failing to convert a third down they had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Matt Bryant to push the score to 10-0.
Ryan is up to 125 passing yards, with Mohamed Sanu proving to be his favorite target thus far with 4 catches for 46 yards. Sanu was also the team’s top receiver in Atlanta’s win over Green Bay in Week 8, catching 9 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown.
The Falcons’ success has come despite the fact that Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have just 17 rushing yards thus far and Julio Jones has just 2 catches for 10 yards.
The second scoring drive for Atlanta that came on the heels of an opening offensive possession for Green Bay in which the team proved that Jordy Nelson was quite capable of playing through broken ribs, as he had two receptions for 42 yards, but that effort was wasted when the drive stalled out on Atlanta’s side of the field and then Mason Crosby missed wide-right on a 41-yard field goal attempt.
Falcons Score on First Drive
The versatility of the Falcons’ offense was on full display for the opening drive of the game, as Matt Ryan & Co. endured a few mistakes but still marched down the field with relative ease, going 80 yards on 13 plays. Ryan flipped the ball underhanded to Mohamed Sanu in the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown pass which along with the extra-point gave them a 7-0 lead.
Green Bay’s defense has played short-handed throughout the playoffs, and Ryan was able to exploit the secondary for 64 passing yards despite Taylor Gabriel and Julio Jones each coming up short on a catchable ball (though Jones had a lot of help from Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, who delivered a crushing blow as Jones tried to reel in the overthrown pass).
This is now the eighth consecutive game that Atlanta has scored a touchdown on their opening drive, and in potentially troubling news, the Packers may be down one more defensive back as Kentrell Brice was hurt while defending on the opening kickoff.
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