Throughout much of the week, I discussed how I felt that the Green Bay Packers could apply pressure to Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and establish the run, and that those factors would help lead them to a victory on Sunday.
Boy, was I wrong.
The Packers called just 13 running plays all game, and Aaron Rodgers was their leading rusher. Those results were eerily similar to how things went in the week 8 loss in the same building. Meanwhile, the Packers did not record a single sack on the day, with the pass rush largely neutralized by a great Falcons game plan.
Now here we are, left on the brink of a Super Bowl berth but facing as many questions about the makeup of this football team as ever. How could a team that so miraculously salvaged its season look so flat and fundamentally un-sound? How can the defense turn around from a unit that gave up the second-most passing yards in the NFL? And what will become of the glut of players set to hit free agency in about six weeks?
We won't get answers to most of those questions for a while, but we can at least begin to process Sunday's loss and how it happened in order to identify the areas for improvement. That's what we'll do in today's Cheese Curds.
Aaron Rodgers' emotions conveyed the pride Packers felt | Packers.com
Rodgers wants to reload for next season, and he emphasized that the Packers must play at home in an NFC Championship Game. Their last three trips to that round of the playoffs have all been on the road, which resulted in just one victory.
Early, out-of-character mistakes doom Packers - ESPN
If not for a couple of uncharacteristic plays, the Packers could have been tied 10-10 early on in Sunday's game. Instead, a missed field goal by Mason Crosby and a fumble by Aaron Ripkowski began a comedy of errors that led to the Packers failing to score a single time in the first half.
Mike McCarthy on Falcons: 'We ran into a buzz saw' - NFL.com
That said, the Falcons pounced on every opportunity the Packers gave them, which is what great teams do. Atlanta kept their foot on the gas throughout the game, too, scoring touchdowns on four straight drives from the second through the fourth quarters.
Packers at Falcons Grades | NFC Championship | PFF
Here's the biggest problem with Sunday's game - the Packers pressured Matt Ryan on just 11 of his 40 dropbacks, while the Falcons pressured Rodgers on 20 of 49. That's simply not good enough, for either the offensive line or the front seven.
McGinn: Packers' season ends in a dud | Packersnews.com
As Datone Jones noted, Ryan's quick release was a major factor in the Packers' failing to apply pressure: "The ball was out too fast. They took the rush completely out of the game. Ball was thrown over our heads in 1.5, 2 seconds." Furthermore, the Packers were victimized repeatedly by blitzing corners, either from out wide or in the slot.
Packers' Sam Shields hopes to return despite lingering concussion headaches - ESPN
The problem for Shields is that it isn't really up to him. He still isn't cleared after being concussed in week one, and his contract would make it easy for the Packers to release him - he has just one year left, so the team could save $9 million in cap room if they let him go.
NFL Draft 2017 order: Packers own 29th pick, Steelers get 30th pick - SBNation.com
As usual, the Packers will be picking near the bottom of the draft this season. Anybody think that Ted Thompson will be willing to draft an offensive player at 29 after that performance?