Insider: Thumbs down to pass defense
THE BIG PICTURE
The Packers used another dominant first half at Lambeau Field – and as it turned out, they needed it -- as a launching pad to their fifth straight victory and a 10-3 record.
They kept pace with their biggest competitors for the NFC North Division title (Detroit) and homefield advantage in the playoffs (Arizona, Seattle). Their next two are on the road against beatable opponents, which likely sets up a Week 17 showdown against the visiting Lions.
This game should have been over when the Packers went up 31-7 on Jordy Nelson's 10-yard touchdown catch with 24 seconds left in the first half. But, thanks to Atlanta's Julio Jones, it wasn't. So, it was up to Nelson again to put away the game.
This time it came on a deep post route that resulted in a 60-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to make it 40-24 with 10 ½ minutes left in the game.
In his previous five games, running back James Starks was handed the ball 17 times and gained only 24 yards. It appeared he was phasing himself out of the offense. But the fifth-year running back put himself back on the map with a strong first half, running and catching the ball.
Starks, splitting time with Eddie Lacy, had 31 yards on four rushes (7.8 yards per carry) and caught two passes for 26 yards in the first half. His 3-yard first-quarter touchdown run capped a 7-play, 81-yard drive to give Green Bay its first points.
Then, his 41-yard run in the final 2 minutes essentially ended Atlanta's comeback threat.
The Packers defense couldn't hang with Julio Jones.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound All-Pro entered the game with big numbers – 82 receptions for 1,169 yards and five touchdown catches – but he made Green Bay's secondary look like the junior varsity with 11 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown.
He accounted for 69 percent of Atlanta's passing offense.
DID YOU NOTICE?
- The Packers' 13-play scoring drive – capped by Eddie Lacy's 1-yard run to open the second quarter – was their fifth 13-play scoring drive of the season. On their next possession, they had a 12-play scoring drive.
- Jordy Nelson's 60-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter gave him seven touchdown receptions of 40 or more yards this season, tying him for second most in a season in franchise history with Billy Howton (1952).
- Nelson has a touchdown catch in all seven home games this season.
- Clay Matthews' third-quarter sack of Matt Ryan gave him 55.5 in his career, putting him in third place in franchise history.
- Seven Packers caught a pass, making them 8-0 when seven or more players catch a pass in a game.
RANTS AND RAVES
RAVE: Aaron Rodgers continues to dominate defenses, especially at Lambeau Field. He completed 24 of 36 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns. His eighth three-touchdown/zero-interception game tied him with New England's Tom Brady (2007) for the most in a single season in NFL history.
RANT: Whether it was complacency or poor defense, the Packers didn't have the killer instinct Monday night and let a 24-point halftime lead evaporate. They needed to convert on a critical possession in the final 2 minutes of the game to preserve a six-point lead. It shouldn't have come to that.
RAVE: Green Bay's offensive numbers were other-worldly: 502 total yards, 179 rushing yards and a 6.0 yards-per-carry average, 33:01 time of possession, 7-of-12 in third-down conversions, zero turnovers, one punt. It was unstoppable.
RANT: The Packers were out of sync when they lined up to punt after their first possession of the second half. First Sean Richardson ran onto the field late, then John Kuhn was looking toward the sideline when the ball was snapped.
He barely recovered in time to get a shoulder on a Falcons player who appeared to partially block Tim Masthay's punt, which went only 31 yards. The Falcons took over at their own 46-yard line and six plays later were in the end zone.