Through three quarters on Sunday afternoon, the Green Bay Packers looked like they would be in a comfortable position to start the season 2-0 with a victory over the Atlanta Falcons. In the fourth quarter, however, everything shifted as the Green Bay offense stalled out and the Falcons whittled away at a 12-point Packers lead.
Atlanta scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter as Desmond Ridder led a trio of scoring drives, helped out by the the Packers’ failure to pick up a first down for the entire period. They had three straight three-and-outs in the fourth quarter as Jordan Love failed to complete any of his six pass attempts and AJ Dillon tripped short of the line to gain on a third-and-one, helping Atlanta get back in the game.
Ultimately, the Falcons’ bruising running game wore down the Green Bay defense, and Bijan Robinson’s versatility came in especially helpful. Robinson gained 124 yards on the ground and another 48 through the air, creating matchup problems for the Packers all day long. He also converted a few critical third and fourth downs, including one late fourth-down attempt that allowed the Falcons to run the clock down farther and use up the Packers’ timeouts prior to taking the lead with a field goal by Younghoe Koo.
From there, Love threw incomplete on four straight attempts, as the Falcons defense held and clinched a victory to earn a 2-0 start.
Early on for the Packers, it was a pair of rookie receivers who starred. Jayden Reed scored a pair of touchdowns and Dontayvion Wicks scored one as both players recorded their first scores as NFL players, while Love was 14-for-19 for 151 yards and those three scores before the start of the fourth quarter. However, his inability to complete a pass helped to doom the Packers’ offense, which was playing without four starters: Christian Watson, Aaron Jones, and David Bakhtiari — all of whom were inactive — plus Elgton Jenkins, who was injured in the second quarter.
All told, the Packers will feel like they let a win slip away from them. They had plenty of chances to take the momentum away from the Falcons, they dropped a couple of potential interceptions, and they even had a would-be field goal attempt on the first drive of the game wiped away by an inexplicable delay of game penalty. The team will need to convert on those types of opportunities to win games this season, and they failed to do so on Sunday, falling to 1-1 on the young season.
Matt LaFleur dialed up a deep shot on the first play of the game and got a big gain out of it right off the bat. The Packers ran a flea-flicker, and Jordan Love’s deep throw to Dontayvion Wicks fell incomplete as cornerback A.J. Terrell dragged Wicks down in the middle of the field. The obvious pass interference penalty netted the Packers 44 yards and immediately put them on the edge of goal range. However, a false start penalty set up a 51-yard try, and the special teams got on late, taking a delay of game penalty to push the ball back another five yards. Instead of attempting a 56-yarder with Anders Carlson, the Packers punted away, with Daniel Whelan’s boot going into the end zone for a touchback.
The Packers’ defense gave the offense a pick-me-up on just the third play of the Falcons’ first drive. Kenny Clark got pressure on quarterback Desmond Ridder up the middle, hitting him as he released the football. The floater landed in Rasul Douglas’ hands for an interception and great field position for Love and the offense. The Packers went three-and-out, however, with linebacker Kaden Elliss sacking Love on third down to force a punt.
Atlanta got its offense rolling on their second series, with Ridder converting a couple of third downs. He hit Jonnu Smith over the middle for a gain of 18 on 3rd-and-7 and ran for five yards on 3rd-and-3. After Rudy Ford was hit with a pass interference penalty in the end zone, the defense managed to hold with three stops from the one-yard line, and a false start by the Falcons forced a field goal for Younghoe Koo to give Atlanta a 3-0 lead.
Green Bay’s first down not by penalty came on the first play of the next drive, as Love connected with Romeo Doubs on a crossing route over the middle for 15 yards. They picked up another first down on third and short, with Love hitting Luke Musgrave for 17 yards off play-action, then Love scrambled for a gain of 24 yards on 3rd-and-10 to reach the Falcons’ 20-yard line. The first replay review of the game came on a 3rd-and-1 run by Dillon, who slipped on his own and then lunged forward across the line to gain. Initially ruled down short, the play was reversed to give the Packers the first down at the 9-yard line. Green Bay scored on the next play, with Love giving Jayden Reed a pop pass before he took it around the right edge and kicked the pylon on his way out of bounds for a 7-3 Packers advantage.
A pair of explosive plays, starting on a third-and-long, got the Falcons moving on their next drive. After a big tackle for loss by Lukas Van Ness early, Ridder hit Drake London for 22 yards, then Bijan Robinson used a couple of jump cuts to gain 19 on the ground, pushing Atlanta across midfield. Green Bay managed to force a 4th-and-4 situation from the 41-yard line, and Jaire Alexander jumped Drake London’s route and dropped what might have been a pick-six. As it was, the incompletion turned the football back over to the Packers’ offense, who managed to extend their lead.
Although left guard Elgton Jenkins left the field with an apparent injury, the running game got moving with Dillon and rookie Emanuel Wilson picking up chunks of yardage, while Love found Wicks and Josiah Deguara for first downs. Love eventually tried a shot to Wicks in the end zone on third down, but Terrell had good coverage and knocked the ball away, yielding a Carlson field goal from 33 yards out to bring the Packers’ lead up to seven points.
That lead all but vanished just before halftime, however. The Falcons and Bijan Robinson ran all over the Packers in their three-minute offense before Ridder found Drake London for a short three-yard touchdown with second left in the quarter. Koo missed the extra point wide left, however, preserving the lead for the Packers at 10-9.
Coming out of the half, the Packers were able to avoid a double-up by the Falcons, as they forced a quick three-and-out. Quay Walker nearly had his second interception in as many weeks on third-and-long, but the ball went right through his hands and fell to the ground incomplete.
Love proceeded to move the Packers down the field comfortably. He moved the chains with passes to Samori Toure and then a perfect throw to Doubs on the run up the sideline, then found rookie Dontayvion Wicks over the middle. Wicks shook a would-be tackler and had nothing but turf in front of him as he scampered into the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown — the first of his career — to give the Packers a 17-9 lead.
Atlanta responded immediately with the run game, using a heavy dose of both Tyler Allgeier and Robinson to gash through the Packers’ defense and drive down into the red zone. Mack Hollins had a touchdown catch overturned on review because his left heel touched down out of bounds, which seemed to give Green Bay a needed breather, as they got a big run stop and then a third-down sack from Rashan Gary and Kenny Clark to hold the Falcons to a field goal that cut the lead to 17-12.
On the first play of the Packers’ next drive, Love and Doubs drew another long pass interference penalty, this time a 43-yarder on Tre Flowers. A couple of throws to Jayden Reed and a solid run from Dillon set up Green Bay inside the red zone again, and Reed paid it off with his second touchdown of the day, this one from ten yards out.
Atlanta finally hit on an explosive play in the passing game, using some trickery to get a big gain. After a couple of handoffs and laterals, Ridder had the ball back in his hands and fired downfield to Hollins for a gain of 45 yards inside the Packers’ 20. Green Bay forced Atlanta into a 4th-and-4 at the six-yard line, but Ridder took a zone read off the left end and made it over the goal line for a score.
Up just 24-19 at that point, the Packers’ offense picked the wrong time for a three-and-out. Love missed Wicks on first down, Dillon gained one yard on second down, and Love was nearly picked off on a pass to Malik Heath on third down, yielding a punt. Jonathan Owens appeared to make a great tackle on the return at the 20, but he was flagged for a facemask, giving Atlanta the ball at their own 35.
The Falcons threatened to take the lead after a big 29-yard pass from Ridder to Robinson out of the backfield, but the Packers again forced a field goal, maintaining a slim lead at 24-22. Three straight runs by Dillon gained 9-and-a-half yards, as he stumbled on his own just short of the line to gain on 3rd-and-1, yielding a second straight three-and-out for the Packers.
With six minutes remaining, Ridder started the Falcons’ drive with a 23-yard completion to Drake London to midfield. They picked up another first down to Robinson split wide, then on a 3rd-and-3 from the Packers’ 25, Ridder nearly picked up the first down but was initially ruled just short. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith challenged the spot just before the two-minute warning, but the call on the field remained; still, the Falcons kept their offense on the field instead of bringing on Koo for a go-ahead field goal. Robinson ran off the right side and picked up the first down. The Falcons faced yet another 4th-and-short with a minute left, but finally did bring Koo on the field for a short field goal. He hit from 25 yards, giving the Falcons their first lead since the score was 3-0 early.
That left 57 seconds for Jordan Love to try to lead the first fourth-quarter comeback of his young career without any timeouts. Love threw incomplete on first down and was hit as he threw on second down, then missed Doubs high on third down to set up a 4th-and-10. Love appeared to hit Samori Toure with a remarkable pass to convert, but the Packers were called for an illegal shift as they were late getting set up. However, the booth reviewed Toure’s catch and found it to be incomplete, allowing the Falcons to decline the penalty and take over on downs, kneeling out the clock on a 25-24 victory.
The Packers had a couple of notable injuries in this game. The first came in the second quarter, when left guard Elgton Jenkins was taken to the locker room for evaluation. During halftime, Jenkins was ruled out for the remainder of the game with a knee injury, and Royce Newman came on in relief of the Pro Bowler for the rest of the contest.
Rookie edge rusher Lukas Van Ness also got banged up, with his injury coming in the third quarter. He appeared to take hard contact while trying to wrap up running back Tyler Allgeier, and he did not return after the training staff examined his right elbow on the sideline.