Green Bay Packers cornerback Jarrett Bush, right, breaks up a pass intended for Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez during the fourth quarter Sunday at Lambeau Field. / Lukas Keapproth/Press-Gazette Media
The Packers climbed back to .500 (6-6-1) and picked up a game on the first-place Detroit Lions (7-6), who blew a two-touchdown lead against Philadelphia and lost. The only realistic way the Packers can earn a playoff berth is by capturing the NFC North crown. Besides the Lions and Packers, the three-team division dogfight includes the Chicago Bears (6-6), who host Dallas on Monday night. If the Packers win their remaining games at Dallas, at home against Pittsburgh and at Chicago, they could claim the division title if the Lions lose once, either at home against Baltimore or the New York Giants, or at Minnesota.
Jarrett Bush has been all but forgotten as a defensive back. The reason he makes the team every year is because of his superior special teams skills. But Bush has a knack for producing big plays on defense in crucial situations. Who can forget his interception in the Super Bowl three years ago that helped the Packers preserve their victory against Pittsburgh? Against Atlanta on Sunday, Bush came up big twice to help keep the Packers’ playoff dreams alive. The Falcons faced fourth-and-5 at the Packers’ 33 with 2 minutes remaining and were looking to move into field goal range for the victory. But Bush batted away a Matt Ryan pass intended for Tony Gonzalez. “I just did my due diligence studying him and knowing what he likes to do, route wise and scheme wise,” Bush said. “It paid huge dividends today. ... Matt Ryan definitely has a comfort level with him, and I knew on fourth down, why not go to the sure-hands guy.” The Falcons had one final gasp, but Bush intercepted a Ryan pass with 4 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
Packers starting safeties Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings endured a rough second quarter. On the Falcons’ 78-yard touchdown drive to tie the game, Burnett missed a tackle that led to a Steven Jackson 22-yard run, then got beat on a Ryan-to-Drew Davis 36-yard scoring pass. Jennings could have made up for Burnett’s mistake on the touchdown pass but whiffed on a clean shot at taking Davis down. “Once I got the ball, I just kind of looked around and I felt somebody on me (Burnett), saw that he missed a tackle, made a move on the safety (Jennings) and just walked into the end zone,” Davis said. Jennings was benched in favor of Sean Richardson after that play. Later in the quarter, Burnett bit hard on a play-action pass on which Ryan connected with a wide-open Gonzalez on a 2-yard touchdown pass. The Packers’ safeties have played erratically, especially in the past month when the defense has struggled. It’s another reminder that general manager Ted Thompson must put a high priority on addressing that position in next year’s draft.
42: Days between the Packers’ last victory at Minnesota on Oct. 27 and their triumph over Atlanta on Sunday. That was the longest in-season victory drought since 1988.
7: Rushing touchdowns this season by Packers running back Eddie Lacy, a rookie franchise record previously held by Samkon Gado. Lacy, with 227 rushes this season, also surpassed John Brockington’s rookie record (216) for carries in a season.
9: Game-time temperature, the coldest Packers game since December 2008, when it was 2 degrees at Chicago.
13: Consecutive victories by the Packers in regular-season home games in December or January, the longest current streak in the NFL.
Mason Crosby’s career scoring total, which surpasses Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt for most by a player in NFL history in his first seven seasons.
The Packers’ defense has been criticized for not forcing enough turnovers this season, so it’s time to give credit when it is due. Early in the fourth quarter, at the most opportune time, Mike Neal sacked Ryan and forced a fumble, and Johnny Jolly pounced on the loose ball. Given possession at the Falcons’ 21, it took the Packers’ offense four plays to score what turned out to be the winning touchdown on a 2-yard completion from Flynn to Andrew Quarless. That’s the kind of game-turning play the defense has been lacking.
Did you notice?
■ Falcons receiver Harry Douglas dropped what would have been a 20-yard reception inside the Packers’ 40-yard line with 11 seconds left in the game. Had he held on, the Falcons would have needed about 10 more yards for a potential game-winning field goal.
■ Despite cold and snowy conditions, Tim Masthay boomed a critical 62-yard punt, his longest of the season, in the final minute to pin the Falcons at their 9-yard line.
Jarrett Boykin was open on a slant pass late in the first half deep in Falcons territory, but Flynn didn’t see him soon enough and was sacked, which forced the Packers to settle for a field goal. Flynn also underthrew Jordy Nelson on a 46-yard third-quarter completion that would have gone for a touchdown, and the Packers kicked another field goal.