Packers/Falcons reaction

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) watches as Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) leaves mid-field after the Packers defeated the Falcons 48-21 in their NFC divisional at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia January 15, 2011. UPI/Mark Wallheiser.

Matthew J. Darnell, Shutdown Corner: Before the 2008 season, [GM Ted] Thompson made the decision that the Packers were better off without beloved longtime quarterback Brett Favre. The decision made him an evil, cut-throat jackass in the eyes of many, but Thompson never once wavered. When Favre made his first retirement announcement, Thompson moved on to Aaron Rodgers as the Packers quarterback, and that was it. Any vindication he needed on that decision, he probably felt the very next morning. He believed that letting Favre walk and putting the franchise in Rodgers’ hands was the right call for the future of the Green Bay Packers. He was right, of course, and he was right before Brett Favre had a miserable 2010 season, and he was right before Aaron Rodgers laid waste to the Falcons secondary yesterday. He was right because he made the decision he felt was right at the time, and he stuck to it.

Kevin Seifert, ESPN: It doesn’t matter to me whether or not Rodgers now stands on a mythical stage with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and maybe Ben Roethlisberger. What’s important is that Rodgers is providing the Packers both the opportunity and the bravado necessary to win the Super Bowl… We’ll find out Sunday whether the Packers will play the Chicago Bears or the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game. Regardless of the opponent, the Packers know they have the single-most important ingredient to a championship team: An elite-level quarterback who has elevated his game at the time when it matters most.

Gary D’Amato, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Bart Starr in the 1960s and Brett Favre in the ’90s had impressive playoff games, but if Rodgers’ performance wasn’t the greatest ever by a Packers quarterback in the postseason, it certainly has to be part of the conversation. Rodgers wouldn’t acknowledge it was his best-ever game but admitted it was among his top few. Considering the Packers were playing a top-seeded team with a 13-3 record that was coming off a bye and playing at home, he couldn’t have played much better. Rodgers had total command of the game plan and his improvisational skills were as sharp as could be. Whether he was spinning out of tackles and extending plays with his feet, throwing passes with pinpoint accuracy or changing plays and orchestrating personnel before the snap, he was nothing short of brilliant.

Matthew J. Darnell, Shutdown Corner: Playoff games are what people remember, and it’s true, Ryan’s finest moments have not come in his biggest games. But that can’t overshadow the fact that Ryan, for a third-year pro, is pretty damn good. He posted a quarterback rating this season that landed him between Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. He’s going to the Pro Bowl. He’s also 25 years old and has seen just two playoff games. If the issue is his postseason poise — and it might not be; it could just be that he’s played two pretty good defenses and he’s happened to have two off days at the wrong time — that comes with experience. I see no reasons to be concerned about Matt Ryan’s poise in the long-term. He’ll have plenty more opportunities in the playoffs. And he’ll have better days than he did today.

Mark Bradley, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: A defense that didn’t yield more than 32 points in any game this regular season was overrun for 42 points — in the first three quarters. The D had made a big early play, Stephen Nicholas forcing a Greg Jennings fumble that Brent Grimes gathered. That enabled the Falcons to take a 7-0 lead. That would also be the last time over the next five Green Bay drives that the Packers didn’t score a touchdown. Five possessions, five scores. The first four came on drives of 81, 92, 80 and 80 yards. (The final series spanned a mere 50.) The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers didn’t complete every pass, but he came close. Through three quarters he had passed 31 times, completing 27. He’d thrown for 330 yards in 45 minutes. Rodgers had treated the Falcons’ secondary as if the signing of Dunta Robinson had never been consummated, as if Brent Grimes hadn’t developed into a big-play cornerback, as if nothing that occurred this regular season had been anything more than a sweet dream. Alas, this was reality, stark and sobering. In a playoff game against a top-class quarterback, the Falcons’ newly tailored defense was made to seem shabby. The pass rush couldn’t get there, and nobody downfield could cover or tackle or do much of anything.

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Packers dominate overmatched Falcons, advance to NFC Championship Game

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (R) shakes hands with wide receiver Greg Jennings (L) after defeating the Atlanta Falcons following their NFC Divisional NFL playoff football game in Atlanta, January 15, 2011. REUTERS/Rich Addicks (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Here are six thoughts on the Packers’ 48-21 rout of the horrendous Falcons in the NFL Divisional Round.

1. Aaron Rodgers is a superstar.
That was like watching someone take candy from a baby. When I checked the stat sheet following the game and saw that Rodgers completed 31-of-36 pass attempts, I literally said out loud, “He had five incompletions?” I swear I only saw two of his passes hit the ground. He was surgical with his throws, averaging 10.2 yards per pass with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Even when the Falcons accidentally pressured him, he evaded pass-rushers and often bought himself more time with his feet. There were at least three times when Atlanta defenders had him dead to rights and every time he shook free to find a wide-open receiver. If he plays that well next week, the Packers will be going to the Super Bowl.

2. Really? That was your defensive game plan, VanGorder?
Rodgers is great but Atlanta’s defense made him look like the freak-o love child of Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Roger Staubach, John Elway, Johnny Unitas, Steve Young and Fran Tarkenton. That was one of the worst defensive efforts I’ve ever seen from a team that qualified for the postseason and I can’t say that it was all the players’ fault. During the first meeting between these two teams in November (a game Atlanta somehow won), Rodgers tore the Falcons’ defense to shreds when they only rushed three linemen. So what does defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder do on Saturday night? He only rushes three down linemen for most of the first half, of course. Rodgers is going to make plays – I get that. But you’re telling me that’s the best game plan that VanGorder could come up with? Rush three and sit back in zone? How pathetic. How unbelievably, undeniably pathetic. Where was the VanGorder defense that blitzed Drew Brees for four quarters and held him in check four weeks ago? Where was the defensive-minded Mike Smith when it was clear that Van Gorder was completely overmatched by Mike McCarthy? Guys like John Abraham and Stephen Nicolas failed to bring down Rodgers when they had clear shots at him. That’s not VanGorder’s fault. But my high school ran a better defense and all we did played was a 4-3 with a Cover 4. I won’t ever come to understand how VanGorder thought that game plan was best for slowing down Aaron bleeping Rodgers. Horrible, absolutely horrible.

3. Williams changed this game in a blink of an eye.
I don’t think the Packers were going to lose this game. Rodgers was too good and the Falcons were too overmatched for Green Bay to walk out of Atlanta without a victory. That said, Tramon Williams was the reason that this game wasn’t close. He was clearly beaten by Michael Jenkins on an end zone pass in the second quarter, but because Matt Ryan threw the pass like an 86-year-old grandma with arthritis, Williams was able to recover and make a great interception. Then he sealed the win for Green Bay right before half by baiting Ryan on a sideline route and taking his second pick of the quarter to the house for six. After that, the Falcons were done. You could see it in their eyes – they wanted to tap out. That interception was deflating and the Falcons weren’t willing to get off the mat. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If only one Green Bay cornerback is heading to the Pro Bowl this year, it should be Tramon Williams. No offense to Charles Woodson because he’s great, but Williams was the Packers’ best defensive back this season.

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Barstool Debate: Who is going to win — the Packers or the Falcons?

Atlanta Falcons Matt Ryan dumps a short pass off to running back Jason Snelling in the second quarter against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday December 19, 2010 at Qwest Field in Seattle. Ryan completed 20 of 35 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns and one pass intercepted. The Falcons are going back to the playoffs after beating the Seahawks 34-18. (UPI /Jim Bryant)

Saturday marks a special day in my relationship with my co-worker Anthony Stalter. No, it’s not our anniversary or anything – my favorite team is the Green Bay Packers and he’s an Atlanta Falcons fan, so the fact that the two teams are squaring off in the playoffs is a pretty big deal in our world. In fact, since he lives in St. Louis and I live in Southern California, we’ve both agreed to purchase a 12-pack of Bud Select 55 (not a plug, but it could be!) and pretend that we’re splitting a case while watching the game together.

As I just tweeted, everything that happens today is just a preamble to Saturday’s game, so let’s talk a little trash as we try to run the clock out on the work week.

JP: First of all, let’s see who’s the bigger fan. I was born outside of Milwaukee and grew up loving the Packers, even when players like Lynn Dickey, Eddie Lee Ivory and Paul Ott Carruth were the big names (and an 8-8 record was a successful season). Then came Brett Favre (ironically via a trade with the Falcons) who was my favorite player for 16 freaking years before he retired his way to our arch-rival. Blood had been spilled. My autographed photo of Favre is sitting, face-down, in the garage, waiting for his inevitable “mea culpa” visit to Lambeau in a couple of years. What’s my point? I’m a fan of the Packers, not of any one player. Now, tell us how you became a fan of the Falcons…

AS: I grew up in Chicago so many people assume that I’m a Bears fan (why they would think that, I have no idea). But my folks are from New York so they had no loyalty to the home team. To my family’s disappointment, I didn’t become a Jets fan. When I was real young, I liked certain players instead of teams. But when I was 9, the first playoff game I remember watching from start to finish was the 1991 Wildcard matchup between the Saints and Falcons. When you’re a kid, you usually don’t focus on defensive players, but I was enamored with Deion Sanders. He was the most athletic player I had ever watched. Chris Miller also hit Michael Haynes on a 61-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter, so that particular game was thrilling. I’ve been hooked on the Falcons ever since, even though it hasn’t been easy being a fan of theirs over the years. Up until last year, they never had back-to-back winning seasons so I’ve endured a lot of losing. From Jeff George to Jamal Anderson to Michael Vick (ugh, talk about highs and lows), they’ve put me through a lot. But just like you when it comes to the Packers JP, the Falcons will forever be my team. Since I have never lived in Atlanta, DirecTV’s “Sunday Ticket” is the world’s greatest invention. I never miss a snap of the Falcons’ games, even when I have to watch them again later so I can fulfill my responsibilities to TSR.

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Missed opportunities kill Packers as Falcons win in final seconds

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 28: Kroy Biermann  of the Atlanta Falcons chases down Aaron Rodgers  of the Green Bay Packers at Georgia Dome on November 28, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

There was Aaron Rodgers’ fumble at the goal line.

There was a missed opportunity by coach Mike McCarthy to review Tony Gonzalez’s non-catch catch.

Then there was Matt Wihelm’s face mask.

The Packers’ 20-17 loss to the Falcons on Sunday was marred by missed opportunities by Green Bay. Rodgers’ fumble at the goal line late in the second quarter with the game tied 3-3 not only cost the Packers’ points, but the Falcons turned the gift into a touchdown on the ensuing possession. And on that touchdown drive, had McCarthy thrown the challenge flag on Gonzalez’s fourth-down reception, the Packers would have gotten the ball back on a turnover-on-downs because it appeared as though Gonzo didn’t secure the grab before the ball hit the ground. (In defense of McCarthy, had a quality replay been shown before the Falcons snapped the ball for the next play, he may have been more prone to challenge. That said, throw the damn flag anyway – it was a huge moment at that point in the game.)

Wihelm’s infraction came at the worst possible time. Rodgers had just led the Packers on an impressive 90-yard drive that consumed 6 minutes, 5 seconds off the clock and ended with a Jordy Nelson 10-yard touchdown reception with just 56 seconds remaining. But Wihelm grabbed returner Eric Weems’ face mask on the ensuing kickoff and it gave the Falcons the ball near mid-field. Then they drove the ball 21 yards to get into position for Matt Bryant’s 47-yard game-winning field goal.

But while the Packers missed opportunities, the Falcons took advantage of theirs. When Rodgers fumbled, they drove down the field and scored to build a 10-3 lead. When they got great field position from Wihelm’s face mask, Matt Ryan drove into field goal position for the win.

They ran the ball well (Michael Turner had 110 yards on 23 carries). Ryan (24 of 28 for 198 yards, 1 TD) was highly accurate. They held the Packers’ explosive offense to only 17 points. They didn’t turn the ball over. These are the things that good teams do when they’re facing a playoff contender like Green Bay. The Falcons certainly weren’t perfect, nor were they dominating. But they won a huge home game late in the year against a quality opponent, which is something Super Bowl contenders do. Did the Packers give them opportunities? Yes, but they took advantage of them and won.

That said, their pass rush was awful for most of the day. On Nelson’s touchdown reception, Rodgers had 62 minutes to find an open receiver because the Falcons only rushed three. When they sent more than four rushers, they had some success and at least forced Rodgers to make quick decisions. When they sent four or less, Rodgers picked them apart with ease.

The Packers aren’t a team the Falcons want to face again in the playoffs if they can’t figure out a way to drum up pressure by only rushing four. Either that, or defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder needs to get more creative because Rodgers had his way with a secondary that’s young and talented, but also prone to giving up yardage through the air.

Speaking of weaknesses, the Packers have to find a way to run the ball. I don’t care if they run the ball out of passing formations – they have to figure out a way to be balanced offensively. Rodgers is an elite quarterback but he can’t be their best running option, especially when they face better defensive backfields. It’s unfortunate that Ryan Grant got hurt, but they have to figure out a way to replace him. They’re just too one-dimensional.

But the Packers are a talented team, as are the Falcons. There’s no question. These are two even teams and this felt like a playoff game where every play matters. There’s a lot of garbage football being played in the NFL today, but the Packers and Falcons aren’t a part of that. These are two good teams.

2010 NFL Week 12 Picks

ATLANTA - OCTOBER 03: Michael Turner  of the Atlanta Falcons rushes upfield against the San Francisco 49ers at Georgia Dome on October 3, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Last week I wrote that there was a possibility that my college football picks would infect my NFL picks and naturally, that’s exactly what happened.

After going 9-3 the three weeks prior, I went 1-3 last Sunday as the Vikings, Panthers (thanks to two defensive touchdowns by the Ravens in the final minutes of the game) and Lions all laid eggs. My one saving grace was the Jaguars, who needed Maurice Jones-Drew to break off a 75-yard screen pass just to get them into scoring position in the final minutes. Awful – just awful.

Nothing but false confidence this week though, baby – let’s do this!

Packers (7-3) @ Falcons (8-2), 1:00PM ET
I really don’t like the side here because this game could go in one of several ways: Aaron Rodgers could consistently pick apart the Falcons’ leaky secondary for four quarters and the Packers could roll; the Falcons could take this game over on the ground and make Rodgers a non-factor; or it could be a back-and-forth nail-bitter that isn’t decided until the closing seconds (or overtime). For the record, I’ll go with Option C. But while everyone expects this game to be a shootout, I actually think both defenses will step up. There may not be a defense in the league that is playing better than Green Bay’s is right now and Atlanta (while prone to giving up a lot of yardage) is seventh in the league in points allowed (19.2). After weeks of putting games on Matt Ryan’s shoulders, I think the Falcons will turn to Michael Turner and the ground game in order to help neutralize Rodgers and the Green Bay passing attack. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons are 18-5 when they win the time of possession battle, so keeping it in Turner’s hands makes sense. With Atlanta trying to chew up the clock on the ground, I think this one falls under the posted total.

Jaguars (6-4) @ Giants (6-4), 1:00PM ET
The Giants are in the midst of one of their Tom Coughlin-led funks but I think they shake out of it today. The Jaguars have won three in a row but nobody outside Jacksonville fans believes that this team is a serious playoff contender. Opponents have been able to go into East Rutherford this year and beat the G-Men, but today will be a different story. The Jaguars’ pass defense is a major weakness that Eli Manning should exploit. But the key with the G-Men is turnovers. They’re 26th in turnovers this season at -0.8 and they haven’t been shy about turning the ball over multiple times a game. The Jaguars, however, rank 31st in turnover margin at -1.1 so New York’s biggest issue may be a non-factor. I like the Giants to roll.

Chiefs (6-4) @ Seahawks (5-5), 4:05PM ET
I must be missing something here because it’s surprising to me that the Seahawks would be underdogs at home against a Kansas City team that has dropped two of its last three games. They crushed the Cardinals last week at home but a) they were playing the Cardinals and b) it was at home, where they’re 5-0 this year. On the road, the Chiefs have struggled (1-4) and Seattle is a tough road test for any opponent, no matter how poorly the Seahawks may be playing. The Hawks have dropped three of their last four games but they’re 3-1 at home this year and 3-0 when Charlie Whitehurst (who is atrocious) doesn’t start. Maybe I’m falling into a trap here, but I see the Seahawks taking care of business and I’ll gladly take the points in this one.

Chargers (5-5) @ Colts (6-4), 8:20PM ET
It appears as though the public is drunk on San Diego Kool-Aid because the line in this game has gone from 3 to 1 throughout the week. Indy looks highly vulnerable for the first time in years, but they’ve been lights out at home this season. They’re 4-0 at the RCA Dome and have outscored opponents 110-57. Philip Rivers is playing at a MVP-like level but the Colts’ defense has been outstanding at the dome. Peyton Manning won’t lose two in a row with the Jaguars breathing down everyone’s necks and if the line stays under a field goal, I love this play.

Season Record: 20-19-1

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