THE BIG PICTURE
What you saw at the Georgia Dome is what you’re going to get with the Green Bay Packers. They’re a spread-offense team until they get James Starks back and figure out how to create some semblance of a run game. They’re a four-man rush team on defense because they can’t afford to leave their depleted secondary on its own. They’re a young special teams unit with potential but no consistency. If ever there were conclusions to draw from the Packers’ 33-32 gut-wrenching loss to the Atlanta Falcons it was all of that. There were signs that quarterback Aaron Rodgers was willing to throw on rhythm more and that young receivers Trevor Davis, Jeff Janis and Geronimo Allison could be viable options in the passing game. Young corners LaDarius Gunter and Demetri Goodson played respectably and gained valuable experience. Davis had the longest return this team has had in almost two years. Still, it was a game that could have been won and wasn’t. That just might be who the Packers are this season.
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DOUGHERTY: Packers flinch in crunch time
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BOX SCORE: Falcons 33, Packers 32
The Packers received the second-half kickoff and weren’t able to score, but they were able to back the Falcons to their own 20, leading, 24-19. Over the next 15 snaps, they had several chances to force a punt, get the ball back and have a chance to extend their lead. But they kept blowing it. On third and 5 at the Atlanta 25, Kyler Fackrell and Datone Jones shot across the line too early and Fackrell was called for offsides. First down Atlanta. Then, on second and 6 at the 48, linebacker Blake Martinez had running back Terron Ward stopped for a 5-yard loss, but Ward squirmed out of the tackle and busted free for a 26-yard gain. Finally, on third and 6 at the 12, it appeared either Goodson or safety Kentrell Brice blew a coverage and left Ward wide open in the flat for an 11-yard gain to the 1. The Falcons scored two plays later to take a 26-24 lead. Holding the Falcons to even a field goal would have been a huge lift, but instead it was the points that got Atlanta back in the game.
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Give Rodgers his due. He didn’t pull off the last-second miracle that would have kept the Packers in competition with the top teams in the NFC, but he played a masterful game, completing 28 of 38 passes for 246 yards and four touchdowns. He chipped in another 60 yards on six carries and a 2-point conversion run. Rodgers looked much more confident in the spread offense than he had against Dallas or even Chicago and he trusted his offensive line more, standing in the pocket and zipping the ball down the field. He was working with limited resources, but he trusted Davis, Janis and Allison and used his scrambling ability the way he had when he was most successful. Rodgers still needs a tight end and a running game, but if he can manage the spread the way he did Sunday, the Packers may be able to keep from falling apart until they get Starks, Ty Montgomery (kidney), Randall Cobb (hamstring) and Jared Cook (ankle) back from injury.
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Just because Clay Matthews (hamstring) isn’t around doesn’t mean the Packers should go 37 Matt Ryan passing attempts with only two sacks and two knockdowns. Nick Perry played solidly against the run but was shut out mostly playing against left tackle Jake Matthews. Mike Daniels and Julius Peppers had back-to-back sacks during a critical fourth-quarter drive, but there was no consistency. Coordinator Dom Capers had to stick with four-man rushes and was counting on outside rushers like Peppers, Perry, Fackrell, Jones, and Jayrone Elliott to pick up the slack. Ryan was taking a lot of short drops and releasing the ball early, but only one ball was deflected. On a day when Capers was counting on his depth at outside linebacker and defensive tackle to carry the day, he was let down.
RANTS & RAVES
RANT: What was safety Morgan Burnett doing on the deep ball that receiver Taylor Gabriel caught for a 47-yard touchdown? Cornerback Demetri Goodson had very good coverage on the outside and was pressing Gabriel to his help. But Burnett bit up on a tight end route that the inside linebackers had covered. Instead of being there to break up the pass, he was helping triple-cover a tight end.
RAVE: Forget Don Jackson and Knile Davis. Aaron Ripkowski should be the team’s running back until Starks gets back. It’s apparent he learned a lot from John Kuhn last year. Playing more snaps than any other back, Ripkowski carried six times for 34 yards. He’s a powerful man with strong legs and showed again he could stay on his feet and drag defenders with him. Jackson and Davis carried seven times for 14 yards and caught two passes for 4 yards. Ripkowski can block, too. He’s the best back the Packers have right now.
RANT: Trevor Davis showed he’s dangerous when he has the ball on his hands. In a game where the Packers needed as much offense as possible, they should have been letting him return some of those deep kickoffs. Who cares if he gets stopped at the 15? Rodgers was moving the ball well and another 10 yards wouldn’t have mattered. The upside is that if Davis gets a lane like he did on his 55-yard punt return then he’s off to the races. Nobody on the team accelerates like Davis and he should have the ball in his hands more.
RAVE: Receiver Davante Adams has 25 catches in his last two games. There may not have been a ton of production — just 74 yards on 12 catches Sunday — but the guy lined up just about every place a skill player can line up. He was outside, he was in the slot, he was flexed, he was in the backfield. He’s not the multi-purpose athlete Montgomery is, but he filled in nicely on a day when the Packers were without their two most versatile receivers.
RAVE: The game definitely isn’t too big for rookie receivers Davis and Allison. Both caught touchdown passes from Rodgers. They might not have been big factors otherwise — 5 catches for 45 yards combined — but they did their job in the red zone and helped keep the Packers in the game.
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DID YOU NOTICE?
» Jackson started the game at running back and Davis took the second series.
» Guard T.J. Lang went down with what appeared to be an aggravation of the hip injury that has plagued him this season in the fourth quarter, but toughed it out and returned a few plays later.
» Fackrell played as many or more snaps than Jones at outside linebacker. He might have played more than Peppers did.
» Television viewers did not hear referee Walt Anderson change his call on Mike McCarthy’s challenge in the fourth quarter. At first, he said it was a challenge of the spot, but after TV went to commercial he announced to the crowd that McCarthy was challenging 12 men on the field.