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ATLANTA – If you’re looking for a positive, well, this one at least goes a long way toward erasing the memory of the 2014 NFC Championship Game in Seattle.

That was a fourth-quarter collapse, shocking but relatively swift.

This was a never-show-up, an hour in the dentist’s chair without Novocain, a nightmare that wouldn’t end. It was four quarters of ineptitude – the worst, most complete, most hideous defeat of the Mike McCarthy era in Green Bay and certainly among the low points in recent Packers history.

Even Ray “Scooter” McLean, the architect of a 1-10-1 season in 1958, is rolling over in his grave. The Atlanta Falcons dismantled the Packers, 44-21, in the NFC Championship Game in the Georgia Dome on Sunday in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would seem to indicate.

It was over at halftime, with the Falcons leading, 24-0, and running roughshod over a Packers defense that not only had no answers, it didn’t even know what the questions were.

“None of us executed today,” Julius Peppers said.

Truer words were never spoken.

McGINNSeason ends with a dud

DOUGHERTYMagic quickly disappears

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BOX SCOREFalcons 44, Packers 21 | Scores

So desperate was defensive coordinator Dom Capers to stem the bleeding that on one play late in the first quarter he dropped nine into coverage and rushed two – and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan still completed a 16-yard pass to Mohamed Sanu.

When your nine can’t cover their five, it’s going to be a long day.

Complicit in the overwhelming defeat, though, was the Packers’ offense, which stumbled out of the gate. Last week’s hero, Mason Crosby, missed a 41-yard field goal on the first possession and fullback Aaron Ripkowski fumbled in the red zone on the second. A few minutes later it was 17-0 and the rout was on.

“The first quarter, I think, took all the juice out of us,” said guard T.J. Lang as he stared a hole in the locker room floor. “It snowballed pretty quick on us. We put our defense in a bad situation, obviously.”

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That defense, held together with band-aids and duct tape even during the Packers’ eight-game winning streak that got them here, finally broke down every which way, including loose.

“It’s difficult,” said Clay Matthews. “They go down and score, we don’t follow it up, they go down and score again … we couldn’t find a way to break their rhythm.”

Atlanta had the highest-scoring offense in the NFL this season and the defense was better than advertised, especially when the score got out of hand and it could tee off on Aaron Rodgers. If the Falcons had flown a bit under the radar, the secret now is out: this is one talented team.

“They brought it,” Lang said. “They outplayed us. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They handed it to us today.”

Packers fans hoping for a second-half comeback instead saw tight end Jared Cook drop two passes on a three-and-out to open the third quarter. Two plays after the punt, receiver Julio Jones had a ZIP code to himself in the middle of the field, caught Ryan’s pass in stride, veered toward the sideline and broke weak tackle attempts by LaDarious Gunter and Damarious Randall, stiff-arming both to the turf.

Seventy-three yards later, he was in the end zone and it was 31-0.

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INSIDERThumbs down to pass defense

GAME SUMMARYHow they scored

They could have turned out the lights then and there in the Georgia Dome, which will be replaced next season by the monstrous Mercedez-Benz Stadium going up next door. There is no mercy rule in the NFL, however, so the Falcons kept pouring it on.

Someone asked coach Dan Quinn if he felt empathy for the overmatched Packers defense, which is a little like asking the heavyweight champion if he felt sorry for knocking out the tomato can.

Quinn needed just one word to answer: "No."

Ryan, the likely NFL MVP this season, finally shook the tag of "can't win the big one" by throwing for 392 yards and four touchdowns (139.4 rating) and running 14 yards untouched for another score. Jones caught nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. The Falcons had 450 yards of total offense midway through the third quarter and finished with 493, but it could have been 600 had they not called off the dogs.

“We ran into a buzz saw,” McCarthy said. “Those guys performed great and we didn’t have enough to keep up with them. With that, here we are.”

But where is “here?” It’s fair to ask whether Capers will be back next season. No matter who’s in charge of the defense, though, general manager Ted Thompson must address the unit’s numerous deficiencies. All seven rounds of the draft might not be enough.

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To add injury to insult, throughout the game the Packers lost the services of Micah Hyde, Lane Taylor, Ty Montgomery, Jake Ryan, Lang, Davante Adams and Bryan Bulaga. The sideline looked like a MASH unit. It got so bad that defensive tackle Letroy Guion had to play right guard over the final couple minutes.

“It is never easy to watch players get injured, especially those of a serious nature,” said McCarthy, now 10-8 in the postseason but 1-3 in NFC title games. “Frankly, I’m a little numb to it.”

Numb. That’s a pretty good word to describe Packer Nation right about now.

But look at the bright side …

Well, actually, there is none.

You can reach Gary D’Amato at gdamato@journalsentinel.com or on Twitter @garydamatogolf

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