Sunday, January 16, 2011

Packers vs. Falcons: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Dominate on Road

ATLANTA -- The Green Bay brand, that glowing yellow and green, never looked as polished as it did here Saturday night. The Packers, the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs, hardly look like a team that squeezed into the postseason. They have won two postseason games on the road and will play for the NFC championship next week.
Green Bay (12-6) dismantled the NFC's No. 1 seed, the Atlanta Falcons, 48-21, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers throwing one dart after another into the helpless Atlanta secondary and marauders on defense hounding the Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan.
Rodgers is going to come between the Packers' fans and their cherished memories of Brett Favre after this one. He completed 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns.
The Falcons could not get Rodgers on the ground. There were six plays through three quarters where there was pressure on the Green Bay quarterback and he dodged a sack and made plays.
Atlanta (13-4) came into the game as a wobbly 2-point favorite. The Falcons were the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but they were being shunned nationally because of a series of close wins, which included a 20-17 win over Green Bay on Nov. 28.
The Atlanta fans, who watched their team win the NFC South in the third season under coach Mike Smith, started streaming for the exits with 2:41 to play in third quarter after the Packers took a 42-14 lead.

Green Bay fans had the house and started chanting, "Go Pack Go."

Here are some thoughts on the game:

• There was a stretch in the first half where Rodgers completed 11 consecutive passes. Over and over, he was allowed to plant his back foot and push and fire. When the coverage was good, Rodgers still made a play. He completed passes to six different receivers with wideouts Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson collecting eight passes each.

• On defense, linebacker Clay Matthews had two sacks and recovered a fumble as the Packers were building a 42-21 lead. He ruined the Falcons' protections with twists into the middle and a rush up the gut while pressure came from the outside.

• The Packers did not have to sweat the Atlanta running back Michael Turner (39 yards) because the Falcons fell helplessly behind.

• The Falcons committed four turnovers. They had 17 turnovers in the regular season.

• On top of that, Ryan did not play well. He completed 20 of 29 passes, but he threw one interception in the end zone while the Falcons were going in for a score and he had another interception returned for a touchdown by Tramon Williams.

• The loss of nickel back Brian Williams was no small matter for the Falcons. Backup Christopher Owens had some tough plays. He was run over on one play and then the Packers started throwing on him ... and throwing on him. Williams injured a knee in the season finale against the Panthers and could not play. Owens, a second-year player, had to line up and played hard, but was just a step or two behind, which is all Rodgers needed to make plays.

• Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White kept throwing that we-get-no-respect card into the middle of the table this week. He complained that the Falcons were not getting enough credit for their 13-3 regular season. What is he going to say now?

• The Falcons were not going to be upset if Green Bay invested in the run game with rookie James Starks. The Falcons were No. 6 in the NFL against the run most of the season before sliding toward the end of the regular season with some injuries. To a man, they would prefer to see Rodgers hand the ball to Starks rather than throw it.

• On the last play of the first half, the Falcons went to their half rollout with White going into the flat. Williams, the right cornerback, never back pedaled. He saw this pass all the way. Ryan should have put it in his pocket. He threw it, Williams picked it, and he was gone for a touchdown. It was 28-14 and the Packers had the ball to start the second half. A big ouch.

• Green Bay came out and scored to lead, 35-14. At that point, the Packers had run 45 plays to Atlanta's 27. The Packers had scored on four consecutive offensive possessions and on an interception return.

• The Packers had given up just 33 first quarter points this season. It is not often they gave up anything coming out of the gate. The Falcons scored with five minutes left in the first period. It was not an omen, just something that happened. The Packers immediately gathered themselves.

• Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez did not catch a pass until 2:03 remaining in the third period. When he did make that catch, the Falcons trailed 42-14, and Gonzalez was injured on the play. He limped off the field with a sprained ankle. The playoffs have not been kind to Gonzalez. He was part of a 13-3 Kansas City Chiefs playoff team in 2003 that was bounced unceremoniously by the Colts, just as this 13-3 team was bounced here Saturday night.

• When Morton Anderson kicked a field goal to beat the Minnesota Vikings in the the NFC Championship game of the 1998 season, he got a $250,000 bonus. His agent, Greg Campbell, negotiated a nice little bonus for that one. Ryan has a bonus clause in his contract that will pay Ryan $300,000 if he were to win a divisional playoff game. The Falcons can keep that money tucked away for another season.

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