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.

4. “Matty Ice” has the same problem Joe Flacco does.
I love the guy and I think he has enormous potential but I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Matt Ryan was absolutely horrendous. He completed 20-of-29 pass attempts tonight but most of his completions didn’t travel more than seven yards. As noted in point No. 3, his two interceptions did the Falcons in. Had he not short-armed the throw to Jenkins midway through the third quarter, the Falcons would have had a 21-14 lead. And had Williams not played him like a fiddle right before halftime, maybe the Falcons would have only been down seven or four points before halftime. Ryan played like a rookie tonight and he’s now 0-2 in the postseason. Just like Joe Flacco, Ryan didn’t elevate his game in the playoffs. And just like Flacco, he was schooled by a better, more experienced quarterback who has put his team in position to possibly play in this year’s Super Bowl. Ryan did some great things this year and he has quite a future in the NFL, but he was at his worst when his team needed him to play the game of his life.

5. Packers are the team to beat in NFC.
I know the Bears and Seahawks haven’t even played a down yet, but how could you not like the Packers’ chances of advancing to the Super Bowl? The Bears are solid but the Packers have all the elements to what makes a championship team. They have a great quarterback, an opportunistic defense with a great secondary and their wide receiver staff is outstanding as well. James Starks (25 carries, 66 yards) was a bit of a disappointment after his 123-yard effort against the Eagles last week, but stopping the run is about the only thing the Falcons’ defense does remotely well so it wasn’t a shock that he struggled. Plus, when you can throw the ball as well as the Packers did on Saturday night, there was really no need for Starks to be a factor. (That said, he was still effective, even though he only rushed for 2.6 YPC.) Before injuries took their toll, the Packers were arguably the best team at the start of the year. When it’s all said and done, they might get a chance to prove that they’re still the best team in the league.

6. Where do the Falcons go from here?
Earlier on Saturday, the Steelers were down 14 points at halftime and rallied to beat the Ravens. The Falcons were down by the same margin at the half and they didn’t bother to come out of the locker room. That’s the difference between a Super Bowl-caliber franchise and one that just finally achieved back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in team history just last year. The Falcons are in great hands with GM Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith, but this team needs a lot more than just a few minor tweaks. Nobody bought into Atlanta being a true No. 1 seed, but you can’t get blown out 48-21 on your home field. They just didn’t show up. Going forward, they need way more speed on offense and coordinator Mike Mularkey needs to expand his offense. This is a passing league now and his receivers are constantly running seven-yard stop routes. It’s not his fault his players turned the ball over four times but his system looks completely outdated. Dimitroff also needs to continue to build the defense. Part of the Falcons’ problem on that side of the ball is that they just need more experience. Sean Weatherspoon and William Moore are going to be good players, but they need more seasoning. Dimitroff also needs to find another pass-rusher or two, or the coaching staff needs to speed up Lawrence Sidbury’s development because he certainly looks the part. This team is not 27 points worse than the Packers. They’re much, much better than what they showed on Saturday. But it’s not a stretch to say that the Packers proved just how far the Falcons have to go in order to join the elite.

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