Quick takes: Falcons end Packers' season in rout
ATLANTA - When the Green Bay Packers began their preparation to meet the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game, there was no hotter team in the league. With an unstoppable offense and serviceable defense, the Packers carried an unmistakable air of confidence tinged, appropriate or not, with fate.
But fate does not win football games, and when it came to talent, the Packers were nowhere close Sunday. The eight-game winning streak was snapped in humbling, embarrassing and dominating fashion.
The Falcons scored a touchdown on their opening possession and basically never stopped. Their quarterback, Matt Ryan, dissected a Packers’ defense with spare parts at corner and replacements at linebacker. Their defense, considered a glaring weakness, held in check whom many consider the best quarterback in the league.
The party ignited at the two-minute warning, and head coach Dan Quinn was doused in Gatorade shortly thereafter. The final score reflected an unrelenting beatdown: Atlanta 44, Green Bay 21.
INSIDER: Thumbs down to pass defense
Player of the Game: Ryan. Media members across the country cast their votes for Most Valuable Player a few days after the conclusion of Week 17, which means playoff performances are not factored into the race. At the time, compelling cases could be made for Ryan, Tom Brady of the Patriots, Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and, perhaps, running back Le’Veon Bell of the Steelers. But what Ryan did Sunday in Atlanta was nothing short of a masterful detonation that solidified his frontrunner status. Ryan completed 27 of 38 passes for 392 yards and four passing touchdowns. He added a 14-yard rushing touchdown just for good measure.
Turning point: The Packers trailed by 17 in the closing seconds of the first half when cornerback LaDarius Gunter dropped a potential interception in the end zone on a pass intended for Mohamed Sanu. One play later, Ryan zipped a back-shoulder throw to Julio Jones, who turned away from Gunter and tapped both feet in bounds for a deflating score. The lead swelled to 24 as the Packers jogged toward their locker room in disbelief. Their first possession of the second half resulted in a three and out, and the Falcons responded with a 73-yard touchdown pass to Jones. The rout was on.
Big number:20 — Yards per catch for stud receiver Julio Jones, who entered the game with an injured toe and could have easily replaced Ryan as player of the game. Jones took advantage of the overmatched Gunter, who followed him for most of the game, and ran wild through a patchwork secondary for plenty of additional yards after catch.
What went right: One drive. That’s the only thing that went well for the Packers while the game was still within reach — sort of. On the second drive of the third quarter, the Packers mounted a scoring drive for their first points of the game. Rodgers completed three passes to Jared Cook (seven catches, 78 yards, one touchdown) covering 50 yards, and wide receiver Davante Adams hauled in a 2-yard score. The Packers trailed 31-7 with 9 minutes, 19 seconds remaining. Technically, they still had a chance.
GAME BLOG: Review Silverstein's live coverage
NAGLER: The buzz on Packers-Falcons
What went wrong: The defensive implosion started immediately. The Falcons took the ball on the opening possession and marched 80 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown, foreshadowing the beating to come. Behind Ryan, who was serenaded with MVP chants throughout, and Jones, who finished with nine catches for 180 yards and two scores despite a bad toe, the Falcons diced a wounded Packers’ secondary unmercifully. The Packers could not get off the field on third down, and a pair of dropped interceptions — one by Marwin Evans, one by Gunter — allowed the Falcons to add one final touchdown before half. It was 24-0 at the break. The winning streak derailed.
Check back later for complete coverage of the game from our team of reporters and columnists.