THE BIG PICTURE
Packers coach Mike McCarthy was emphatic last week that he saw no connection between Green Bay’s Week 2 assignment helping Atlanta open its new stadium and last season’s Week 2 appearance in the debut of the Vikings’ new building. But the outcome was no different: a 34-23 loss that evened the Packers’ record at 1-1. It could be a significant setback in the Packers’ bid to secure home-field advantage in the postseason. It seems essential that, after three road losses to the Falcons over the past two seasons, the next potential matchup between these teams in January takes place outdoors at Lambeau Field rather than in the Falcons’ domed palace.
The Packers still were in the game late in the first half, trailing only 17-7 despite being thoroughly outplayed. Green Bay’s defense forced a three-and-out, giving the ball back to the Packers’ offense on their own 5-yard line with 1:05 remaining before intermission. Rather than play it safe, quarterback Aaron Rodgers went to work in the 2-minute offense. But after two penalties, Rodgers was intercepted by Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant at the Green Bay 33. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan hit receiver Mohamed Sanu for 28 yards and then connected with running back Tevin Coleman on a 4-yard TD toss to extend Atlanta’s lead to 24-7 at the break.
Randall Cobb reasserted his role in the Packers’ passing game against Seattle with team highs in targets (13), catches (nine) and receiving yards (85). Against Atlanta, Cobb was busy again (six catches for 60 yards), particularly after Jordy Nelson was sidelined by a first-quarter quad injury. But Davante Adams stood out the most, catching eight passes for 99 yards and a TD. Geronimo Allison also returned from a one-game suspension just in time to play in the city where he scored his first NFL touchdown last season. He had three receptions for 24 yards.
The Packers’ pass defense was shredded in last season’s NFC title game, with Ryan constantly finding wide-open receivers for a whopping 392 yards and four touchdowns. The Falcons’ aerial attack picked up right where it left off Sunday night on the game-opening TD drive, with Julio Jones picking on cornerback Damarious Randall for two big catches totaling 53 yards. Poor tackling in the secondary remained a problem as Falcons receivers frequently broke free for additional yardage: Ryan was 13-for-20 for 201 yards in the first half. He finished an efficient 19-for-28 for 252 yards and a TD, while Jones had five catches for 108 yards.
Lack of depth on the offensive line ranked as one of the Packers’ major concerns coming out of training camp, and it became a cold reality Sunday when starting tackles David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (ankle), and backup Jason Spriggs (hamstring) all were ruled out. It only got worse, with do-everything defensive lineman Mike Daniels (hamstring) and Nelson sidelined for the game in the first quarter, and safety Kentrell Brice (groin) in the second. Cobb left with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter. It’s no excuse — the Falcons also had some key injuries, including the loss of right tackle Ryan Schraeder (concussion). But losing both their starting tackles plus Daniels from the defensive line was too much to overcome.
Rodgers threw seven touchdown passes in two games against the Falcons last season, both in losing efforts. This was another case where his stat sheet looked better than the actual result. This just wasn’t his night. Two poor plays stood out: the uncharacteristic interception late in the half, and a play on the opening drive of the second half in which Rodgers lost the ball after being leveled by Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley. It was ruled a lateral and the wayward ball was returned 15 yards for a touchdown by Trufant. Rodgers kept battling and ended up 33-for-50 for 343 yards and two touchdowns (giving him 300 for his career), with a passer rating of 90.7.
The Packers needed Ty Montgomery to get off to a better start Sunday than he did against the Seahawks, when he was bottled up in the first half but played key roles both running and receiving during the second half. Montgomery again was a dual threat against the Falcons, gaining 35 yards on 10 carries and 75 yards on six receptions while scoring twice.
The Packers utilized Martellus Bennett in multiple ways against Seattle, rarely showing the same look with their 6-6, 270-pound tight end to keep the defense guessing. Bennett figured to play a pivotal role against the Falcons, with his skills as a blocker helping to offset the absence of Bakhtiari and Bulaga. But Bennett struggled early, dropping several passes and being flagged for a costly offensive pass interference penalty on a pick play. He finished with five catches for 47 yards.
BITS AND PIECES
» McCarthy was hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct call after arguing with officials following the Falcons' final TD of the first half.
» The inactives for the Packers were Bakhtiari, Bulaga, Spriggs, outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, running back Devante Mays, cornerback Lenzy Pipkins and defensive lineman Montravius Adams.
» For the second week in a row, Bennett raised his right fist as a gesture of protest during the national anthem.
» Attendance for the Falcons’ opening night was listed as 70,826 tickets distributed.