Quick takes: Packers, Philbin find a rhythm in 34-20 victory over Falcons
GREEN BAY – On Thursday, Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said he hoped he wouldn’t see any different effort level from the Packers against Atlanta now that Mike McCarthy had been fired – the insinuation being the team was holding back under the former head coach.
But that wouldn’t mean the Falcons, losers of four straight coming in, would come out and play hard. Unlike Arizona last week, the Falcons showed little interest in performing in the cold at Lambeau Field and the Packers ran all over coach Dan Quinn’s group for a 34-20 victory that wasn't that close.
Green Bay snapped a three-game losing streak to improve to 5-7-1, while Atlanta fell to 4-9.
Pettine’s defense was aided by a pick-6 and multiple drops by Matt Ryan’s offensive group. Interim head coach Joe Philbin’s offense was aided by an Atlanta defense that was more interested in hitting, holding and lining up illegally (eight accepted penalties) than actually stopping Aaron Rodgers. The result was the most lopsided and relatively easy Packers victory since a 22-0 win at home over Buffalo way back on Sept. 30.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
Philbin finds a rhythm
Having not called plays in the NFL, and not since 1996 while as a college coach, many were curious how Philbin would do with the call sheet in his hands. And the opening script was masterful as the Packers marched 75 yards in nine plays and Rodgers hit Davante Adams for a seven-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead. One three-and-out later, the Packers put together drives that encompassed 12 and 10 plays that ended in field goals, and then the Packers opened the second half with a smooth six-play, 72-yard touchdown drive. They added another eight-play touchdown drive to bury the Falcons at 34-7 in the third quarter. The Packers didn’t go with a tempo offense at all, but there didn’t seem to be any breakdowns in communication between Rodgers and Philbin, and the offense operated efficiently.
Rodgers was still Rodgers
Many wondered if Rodgers would look or play differently now that McCarthy was no longer running the meeting rooms or calling plays, but the Packers’ quarterback was just as alternately brilliant and frustrating as he had been the previous 12 games. He threw a dart over the head of Atlanta linebacker Sharrod Neasman for a touchdown to Randall Cobb; he overlooked open receivers running across him for throwaways or scrambles. He was nimble in the pocket and broke out for long runs to extend drives; he held the ball and took unnecessary hits. As with most of the season, Rodgers ended with an impressive stat line (103.1 rating, 196 yards, two touchdowns) but for the full 60 minutes, it looked like much of the same. He did break New England quarterback Tom Brady's NFL record for consecutive passes without an interception, with No. 359 coming on a 24-yard touchdown pass to Cobb that put Green Bay up 27-7. He now has 23 TD passes with one interception this season.
Makeshift offensive line makes do
The Packers likely had an idea all week that starting guards Lane Taylor and Byron Bell might not be able to go Sunday, but it was jarring nonetheless to see them join starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga on the sidelines. Jason Spriggs, Justin McCray and Lucas Patrick all had starting experience but no doubt Philbin had hoped to have some continuity in his first game. Then early in the third quarter rookie Alex Light saw his first snaps to briefly relieve McCray. Rodgers was sacked four times and was under duress, but the run game averaged5.8 yards per carry (before kneel-downs) and Rodgers had more than enough time in moments to get throws off and push the ball for the Packers' highest-scoring game since scoring 31 at home against Miami on Nov. 11.
Defense gets its six
The Packers haven’t turned opponents off much in 2018 and headed into Sunday with just 12 takeaways, a woeful 23rd in the league. But the Falcons came into Lambeau Field having given it up 10 times in the last five weeks. Well, Matt Ryan gave and Bashaud Breeland took with an easy pick-6 in the second quarter to give the Packers a 17-7 lead. Ryan telegraphed the throw to Austin Hooper and Breeland made it look easy. It was the first interception by the Packers since Week 4 against Buffalo and the first interception returned for a score since Oct. 8, 2017, when Damarious Randall took one to the house against Dallas. It was also the first defensive touchdown the Packers scored on the year.
Officials whiff badly
There are few things in the league that should not be missed when it comes to penalties, considering how many bodies there are flying around on every play, but the main one is hits to the head and especially hits to the head of a quarterback. The referee missed it last week when Arizona’s Chandler Jones hit Rodgers in the head on a pass attempt, and Sunday's crew appeared to miss a call when Atlanta's Brian Poole hit a sliding (and therefore protected) Rodgers high in the right shoulder and head area. No flag, and Packers guard Lucas Patrick nearly incited a brawl by racing downfield to protect his quarterback.
The refs eventually called Desmond Trufant for leading with the head on a tackle, but real damage was almost done at that point. They can’t miss those calls, and not on quarterbacks.