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.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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