Notebook: Dropped interceptions haunt secondary
ATLANTA - When the initial blitzkrieg wore off, the Green Bay Packers stared at a 17-0 deficit in the closing minutes of the first half of Sunday's NFC championship game.
The Atlanta Falcons had the ball at their own 32-yard line. If the Packers could survive the final 1 minute and 50 seconds, their potential comeback seemed somewhat reasonable.
On second-and-10 from his own 49, quarterback Matt Ryan escaped a sack and heaved a pass downfield. The ball came up a yard or two short of the end zone, and there to meet it was Marwin Evans, an undrafted rookie for the Packers.
Evans, a Milwaukee native, was thrust into duty after fellow rookie Kentrell Brice suffered a shoulder injury on the opening kickoff. His playing time from scrimmage was minimal as he stepped on the field for the biggest game of the year.
"It was just like every other week," Evans said. "I’m waiting on my number to be called."
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His number was called as Ryan's pass arced back toward Earth. He jumped to make the interception but could not complete the catch. He got one hand on the football as Falcons receiver Aldrick Robinson pawed at the other.
The ball fell incomplete.
"They seemed like they were about to take a shot, a shot to the end zone right before the half," Evans said. "I just tried to get deep and I missed a chance to get that play. I can make it."
The drive continued as Ryan moved his offense to the Green Bay 5-yard line. On second-and-1 he rifled a pass into the end zone toward receiver Mohamed Sanu, but cornerback LaDarius Gunter was in perfect coverage.
As with Evans moments prior, Gunter had an opportunity for an interception. He leaped and got both hands on the football. Still, it bounced away and fell incomplete.
Gunter, who did not record an interception all season, was stunned at his mistake. The Falcons scored one play later: Ryan to wide receiver Julio Jones — back shoulder — with Gunter once again in coverage.
"We had good matchups, and (offensive coordinator) Kyle (Shanahan) did a great job of dialing up plays all day, he stayed aggressive," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "But at the end of the day, it comes down to Julio making some plays. I thought he played awesome, was huge for us in critical situations and showed how great of a player he is. That was fun to be part of that."
Pro Bowl for Bakhtiari: Packers left offensive tackle David Bakhtiari was named to his first Pro Bowl on Monday. He will replace Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jason Peters, who pulled out.
Also pulling out Monday was Packers right guard T.J. Lang, who re-injured his broken left foot during Sunday’s loss to the Falcons. Lang will be replaced by former Packers left guard Josh Sitton, who now plays for the Bears.
‘Backyard’ opportunity: After the stinging loss the Packers suffered Sunday coupled with the wintery forecasts Green Bay usually gets, most players pack up their stuff and are off to somewhere warm as quickly as possible.
Not second-year free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
After the disappointment of losing to Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game, he sat at his locker Monday morning and contemplated his season — and whether it could include one more week.
After five weeks of work in the preseason, 17 weeks in the regular season and three in the postseason, he will meet with his coaches Tuesday and go through his exit interviews.
“It’s been a long season, man. It’s been a long, long season,” he said. “I’m just glad that I’m healthy, I’m still standing.”
And because of that, he would like to play in his first Pro Bowl, which is Sunday in Orlando, Fla. He is from Eatonville, Fla.
“I definitely want to play in it,” Clinton-Dix said. “Even though the season didn’t turn out how I wanted it to turn out, I accomplished a lot this year, and I have something to hang my hat on.”
Some players have to back out due to injury. Or just exhaustion. Clinton-Dix believes he has until Friday to ultimately decide, but the 24-year-old third-year pro is eager to head back to his home state and play in the all-star game.
“I don’t have to go anywhere. I don’t have to worry about family members constantly beating me up about tickets or what’s going on,” Clinton-Dix said. “It’s right in my backyard, it’s a perfect place to be at, and that was another thing that motivated me to actually go out there and make it happen this year.”
Return trip:Morgan Burnett will head home this week, which means another trip back to Atlanta.
The Packers’ veteran safety grew up there and went to Georgia Tech. When he goes home, he will go back to his “daddy routine, carpooling every day, picking my kid up, spending time with my wife and family,” he said.
It’s not a bad way to take his mind off the loss in the NFC title game. But he knows he will be inundated with Falcons news for the next two weeks as they head to the Super Bowl.
“I can deal with it. I’ve got tough skin, so they can throw all the shots they want at me,” Burnett said. “I’m very proud of this (Packers) team and very proud of the season we had. No reason to be walking around with our head down.”
He won’t exactly root for the representative of the NFC to win the Super Bowl, but he can certainly appreciate the Falcons’ talents and efforts.
“I remember the last year they went — it was ’98. I was in the fourth grade that year that they lost to the Broncos,” Burnett said.
“This is well deserving for the city of Atlanta. Atlanta is a great city and a lot of good things come out of Atlanta. And that’s a really good football team, you give those guys credit. They deserve to be where they are today.”