Packers quarterback Matt Flynn reacts to the crowd while running off Lambeau Field after Sunday's 22-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
The Green Bay Packers were left for dead Sunday afternoon, even by some of their loyal fans.
Winless since October and trailing the lowly Atlanta Falcons by 11 points at halftime at Lambeau Field, the Packers got booed off the field as they headed to the locker room.
“Definitely not used to that from our fans, so it was different,” said Packers guard Josh Sitton.
It was perhaps the low point in a horrendous six-game stretch in which the Packers couldn’t buy a victory after quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone.
Maybe the chorus of boos that singed the Packers’ ears will end up being the turning point of the season.
“I mean it did hurt,” said Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly. “It just made us stick together more and push harder.”
Instead of feeling discouraged in the locker room at halftime, the players said they rallied around each other. The boo-birds brought home the point, loud and clear, that there was no one left who believed in this team.
If the Packers wanted to prove the naysayers wrong, the time had come, because their season hung in the balance.
“We knew our back was kind of up against the wall going out in that second half,” said linebacker A.J. Hawk. “It was up to us. You hear people say that all the time. A lot of times teams come together in moments like that.”
The galvanized Packers looked like a different team in the second half.
The much-maligned Packers defense pitched a second-half shutout against the Falcons, who came into the game with the No. 5-ranked offense in the NFL. Atlanta’s six second-half possessions went like this: three-and-out punt, three-and-out punt, fumble, missed field goal, turnover on downs, interception.
The Packers held the Falcons to 131 total yards in the second half, including just 19 yards rushing, and forced two turnovers. Quarterback Matt Ryan was rendered virtually ineffective.
The Matt Flynn-led Packers offense, meanwhile, produced points on three of its first four possessions, which was just enough to eke out the 22-21 win. There wasn’t a boo to be heard after the game.
“We hear the fans all the time,” said fullback John Kuhn of the restless crowd at halftime. “We’re not putting a good product out on the field, I guess we get what we deserve. But I know one thing, they were cheering at the end, so that’s what matters.”
Normally a one-point victory at home against the team with the worst record in the NFC is no reason to celebrate, but considering the Packers’ severe struggles lately, they might just as well have won a playoff game.
“We needed it,” said a relieved James Jones. “We needed it, man. Get our confidence back, knowing we can do this.”
Nothing has gone right for the Packers since Rodgers went down, and a fluke Falcons interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter, which ricocheted off linebacker Paul Worrilow’s shoe, made it look like they were cursed.
Their ability to withstand that kind of bum luck made the victory even sweeter.
“We haven’t really been great at overcoming adversity the last four or five weeks, so for us to respond like that was big,” Sitton said. “It showed a lot of character. ... That was a tough situation to be in at that point in the game.”
Incredibly, the Packers are just a half-game out of first place in the NFC North, despite their 1-4-1 record since November.
If Rodgers returns this week, their playoff prospects will become more than just a pipe dream.
“We’re never going to give up,” said defensive lineman B.J. Raji. “That’s just not in our makeup. That’s not what Coach teaches us. That’s not in (our) DNA.
“This time in December, you love to have a chance. That’s all you can ask for.”
The team with seemingly no pulse and no support is still alive and kicking.