Falcons vs. Packers Performance Grades: Defense Pitches Second-Half Shutout

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

We take a second look at the Packers' 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau on Sunday, and hand out performance grades at each position

They're not quite dead yet.

The Packers finally showed some intestinal fortitude and passion on the defensive side of the ball, and the offense was able to make just enough plays to seal the 22-21 win over the equally snake-bitten Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Yes, this is a 3-10 Atlanta team, but there were signs of improvement on both sides of the ball. The Packers may be able to make things interesting in the NFC North in these last three weeks of the season, and sometimes all it takes is one win to get the ball rolling.

Now, let's go to a victory edition of the grades!

Quarterback: B

Matt Flynn was 24 for 32 for a game-high 258 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The interception can't be pinned on Flynn, as the pass bounced off Paul Worrilow's foot before Sean Weatherspoon returned it 71 yards for a score.

Flynn's biggest issue seems to be holding on to the ball too long, and it resulted in his lost fumble that turned into seven points for the Falcons in the second quarter. We really need to stop holding Flynn to such a high standard. He's a back-up quarterback who has been cut by two other teams this season. Flynn did take positive steps after being crushed on Thanksgiving by the Lions defensive line, and even managed to take the team down the field in the fourth quarter for a game-winning score.

Running Backs: B+

Eddie Lacy once again had to make the most out of limited running lanes, and use his powerful frame to move piles forward after he was hit behind or at the line of scrimmage. Lacy rushed for 65 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries, while James Starks added 19 yards on seven carries.

Lacy isn't likely to see many open lanes until Aaron Rodgers returns (if he returns), because this offensive line isn't doing him any favors. Lacy will continue to turn negative running plays into four or five yard gains, but we may not see any explosive running plays until next season when the line is healthy.

Wide Receivers: B+

Jordy Nelson continues to be the ultimate team player by playing out of position as the slot receiver. He caught four passes for 85 yards, and was solid in run blocking as well.

Jarrett Boykin caught two passes for 23 yards, James Jones caught four for 19 yards, and Myles White caught one for five yards. I give this unit a lot of credit for continuing to play hard and produce despite dealing with their fourth different quarterback on the season. If you were to add a healthy Randall Cobb to this mix, it could possibly be the best wide receiver group in the league.

Tight Ends: A-

Andrew Quarless was clearly not on the Falcons' radar heading into Sunday's game, and Quarless made them pay with the best performance of his career. He caught six passes for 66 yards, including the game-winning two-yard touchdown with 12:01 left to play. Quarless still wasn't a difference maker as a run blocker, but he was noticeably more effective than he was against the Lions.

Brandon Bostick caught two passes for 28 yards, while Ryan Taylor added two for seven yards. Bostick might be the biggest beneficiary when Rodgers returns, because he is an athletic wide out/tight end combo, and if he can get a step on a linebacker in the seam, Rodgers will find him. Flynn tends to lock in on one receiver and use tight ends as a safety valve, so Bostick's athleticism is usually not rewarded in the current offense.

Offensive Line: C+

Josh Sitton continues to be the most consistent player on the offensive line. He created a constant push on the man in front of him, and was even able to execute reach blocks at the second level at times. Besides the one sack he allowed to Jonathan Massaquoi, in which he displayed poor hand movement, Don Barclay had a solid game, and David Bakhtiari also didn't have any glaring errors.

The biggest letdown of the unit was Evan Dietrich-Smith and T.J. Lang. The duo allowed two sacks, and five hurries, and didn't seem to be on the same page as far as communication was concerned. Maybe it has something to do with EDS not being 100% healthy, and Lang trying to get comfortable at the guard spot again, but those two needed to have a better performance against one of the worst defensive lines the Packers have played all season.

Defensive Line: B+

Johnny Jolly might have had the best performance of his career on Sunday. Jolly was consistently blowing up plays, and finished with a season-high five tackles and a fumble recovery. Ryan Pickett added two tackles, while B.J. Raji added one tackle and was able to create a consistent pass rush for the first time in over a month.

Rookie Josh Boyd added two tackles on 13 snaps, while Datone Jones only saw nine snaps and was generally ineffective against a less-than-spectacular Falcons offensive line. Mike Daniels added one tackle for loss, but only played 24 snaps. This unit is showing signs of being able to stuff the run again, and other than Steven Jackson's 22-yard run the unit closed most of the running lanes. The lack of snaps for Daniels is a little concerning, and Jones will need to be more effective, but after over a month of getting gashed in the run game; it was nice to see this unit respond a little bit.

Linebackers: B

Clay Matthews only recorded three tackles on Sunday, but his presence forced the Falcons to double-team him and leave Nick Perry and Mike Neal open to make plays. The duo was able to create consistent pressure off the edge, and Neal's strip-sack in the fourth quarter was a game-changing play. Perry finished with three tackles and six hurries, while Neal added one sack.

Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk didn't miss any tackles on Sunday, but their performance was average at best. Jones continually over-pursued on run plays, and was washed out of a lot of plays. He was even stonewalled by tiny Jacquizz Rodgers on a blitz that allowed Matt Ryan enough time to find Drew Davis for a 36-yard touchdown pass. Jones finished with six tackles, while Hawk added four. Andy Mulumba and Jamari Lattimore each added one tackle in limited action.

Cornerbacks: B+

What the hell has gotten into Jarrett Bush? Bush made two of the biggest defensive plays of the season when he knocked the ball away from future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez on forth down, and followed that play up with the game-clinching interception. Bush did a great job pulling off his man, though if he hadn't picked that ball off, Sam Shields would likely have come up with it.

Tramon Williams was solid in run support once again, recording six tackles, while Micah Hyde added five tackles from his nickel position. Shields added three tackles, but struggled against Roddy White, allowing 53 of White's 74 yards on the day. It's never easy to cover an explosive wideout like White, especially in slick field conditions, but Shields would probably admit he could have played better. Davon House recorded one tackle in his only snap of the game, but the coaching staff gave Hyde the lion's share of reps on the outside after House has struggled in recent weeks.

Safeties: D

M.D. Jennings and Morgan Burnett continued to struggle on Sunday. So much so, that the coaching staff benched Jennings in favor of Sean Richardson and moved Burnett to free safety. Burnett finished with a team-high eight tackles but was beat in pass coverage on both of the Falcons' offensive touchdowns in the first half.

Jennings finished with three tackles, Richardson had two, and Chris Banjo added one. This unit continues to be the weakest link of the defense, and it may be time for the organization to go out and find a free agent starter this off-season. There is also some talented safety prospects in the draft, and while I don't believe in a complete dismantling of the roster at that position; no one is showing that they are worth keeping around. With the release of Jerron McMillian, this unit has been put on notice, and they didn't seem to heed that warning on Sunday.

Kicker: A+

Mason Crosby was 3 for 3 on field goals, added an extra point, and was solid on his kickoffs as well. It cannot be easy to kick a ball in cold weather, but Crosby continues to show confidence in his leg. He is now 29 of 33 on the season.

Punter: A+

Masthay recorded his best punt of the year when his team needed it most, rocketing a 62-yard punt to pin the Falcons deep in the fourth quarter. Masthay finished with three punts for an average of 47.3 yards, pinning two inside the 20.

Due to the Lions' loss at Philadelphia, the Packers NFC North title hopes remain alive, albeit faint. The Packers will find out Wednesday whether Aaron Rodgers will be able to go on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, who were throttled 45-28 by the Chicago Bears on Monday night.

With the Packers still not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, and games against the Cowboys and Steelers on the horizon; it's not crazy to think that the Packers-Bears season finale in Chicago could be for the NFC North title. The Lions don't seem to want it, the Bears are still winning with their back-up quarterback, and the Packers may return their franchise quarterback just in time to make things interesting.

It's been a nightmarish month or so for Packers fans, but the team may be getting just healthy enough at the very end of the year to make a run at a playoff spot. We can all agree that the defense needs a lot of work, but #12 is the ultimate equalizer.

Let the madness ensue.

Josh VanDyke covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He is also currently a sports writer for MLive.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JVanDyke24

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