Robert Tonyan needs a new nickname. Big Bob doesn’t quite capture it. Large Robert has some gusto, but not enough flair. Whatever we call him, just call him a playmaker. In a game where the Green Bay Packers looked to be short-handed, their former undrafted free agent tight end came up with any synonym for “large” or “big” you can find with three scores in a 30-16 win against the Atlanta Falcons Monday night.
In a game where the Green Bay Packers entered Monday night beset by injuries, the players not on the field threatened to become a bigger story than those on it. The injuries led to questions about the Packers’ offense—where the receiver everyone knew they needed? Then the maligned Green Bay defense forced a three-and-out, and Aaron Rodgers marched down the field to score an opening-drive touchdown, the franchise record-tying 13th straight quarter with a touchdown. Two quarters later, Green Bay boasted a 20-3 lead as Rodgers rang up 228 yards through the air, with four touchdowns and a passer rating approaching 150 removing any doubt of the current status of his backness.
To paraphrase John Wick, yeah, I’m thinking he’s back, finishing 27/33 for 327 yards and 4 touchdowns. When targeting backs and tight ends, Rodgers posted a preposterous 20/20 for 241 yards and all four of those scoring tosses.
Through four weeks, the Packers offense might as well be John Wick, with Matt LaFleur and Rodgers sharing the Keanu Reeves role as semi-indestructible killing machine. Even without Davante Adams and Allen Lazard, LaFleur dialed up pretty play design one after another, finding guys who were hardly NFL players a season ago. Darrius Shepherd had a career high in catches by the second drive and Malik Taylor’s first career catch came on a 4th-and-2 for 20 yards.
Robert Tonyan’s breakout season officially started Monday night with a pair of first-half touchdowns, including one on Deion Jones to close out the first half and make it 20-3. His third score of the night featured a tumble, summersault and score to give the Packers a 27-9 lead and put the game on ice.
Rodgers added to his MVP campaign, putting together one of his efficient performances in recent vintage with a cast of receivers that wouldn’t pass muster in the XFL. It wasn’t quite his otherworldly playoff performance in Atlanta for the Packers Super Bowl run, but Rodgers never looked phased, never felt the rush, and made throws with the kind of pinpoint accuracy he’s displayed all season.
Adams reportedly pushed to play last week against the Saints and expressed his frustration with not being cleared to play against the Falcons in a subsequently deleted tweet. With Allen Lazard on IR recovering from core muscle surgery, the Packers signed Reggie Begelton from the practice squad, creating a “starting” lineup of receivers featuring Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Shepherd, and Taylor along with Begelton.
The banged up Falcons would never have been able to match a healthy Green Bay offense, but with Davante Adams and Allen Lazard out, maybe this high-flying Atlanta team could score with the Packers.
Instead, the Falcons managed a measly 108 total yards in the first half, including a 20-play 94-yard drive that ended in a field goal. Outside of that drive, Atlanta’s first half was 12 plays and 14 yards. Without Kenny Clark (hamstring) and Rashan Gary (high ankle sprain), the Packers front returned to form a bit with Za’Darius Smith affecting the game in the run and passing games, putting up 5 QB hits with 3 TFLs and 3 sacks. His ability to control games at the point played a huge role in the defensive improvement last season, and stood out as a place of obvious improvement for this team moving forward.
Quietly the run defense played sound gap football inside, still losing outside contain a little too often, but corralled Todd Gurley and the Falcons running game under 100 yards and a YPC average of just 3.1.
And while the Falcons were down Julio Jones for the second half, Calvin Ridley barely made a dent on the box score, taking the collar on 5 targets. Atlanta can’t make excuses being down its top targets when the Packers made playing short-handed look easy.
Early bye weeks notoriously annoy teams and their players who slog through Weeks 5-17 without any reprieve. Particularly with COVID-19 lurking as a potential agent of chaos, a team like the Packers, hoping to contend for a title, would have preferred more wiggle room later in the season. The trope of the bye week coming at the perfect time fits in this scenario however, with stars like Kenny Clark, Davante Adams, and even Jaire Alexander, who played on Monday, banged up and in need of some time to heal up.
Matchups against the red hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers and always dangerous San Francisco 49ers loom on the horizon after the bye week. The Falcons likely won’t be jockeying with the Packers for playoff positioning come December, but those teams must be reckoned with for Green Bay to maximize its postseason seeding. Banking wins now against the lesser competition pays interest in the long run, but so does giving players the rest they need to be 100% for the meat of the schedule which is yet to come.
Even against a banged up, mostly bad defense, the Packers proved their offense can work no matter who is on the field, so long as No. 12 is also out there and LaFleur calls the shots. To this point, it’s hard to argue anyone but Rodgers deserves the MVP and LaFleur COTY. If they keep this up and the team can healthy for the stretch run, those won’t be the only trophies this team can take home.