The Green Bay Packers maintained their lead in the NFC North on Monday night with a hard-fought victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Green Bay got three touchdown passes from Aaron Rodgers, including two to Jordy Nelson, and they overcame an abysmal performance by their secondary against Julio Jones and improved to 10-3 on the season.
Jones ended up with 11 catches for 259 yards, but left before the final Falcons drive with a hip injury and did not return. He burned every member of the Packers' secondary, but it wasn't enough to overcome a huge first half by the Green Bay offense and just enough down the stretch from Rodgers and company to pull out a narrow win.
Aaron Rodgers threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns, while Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for almost 150 yards on the ground and three scores between the two of them. Jordy Nelson was the star in the passing game for the Packers, with 8 receptions for 146 yards.
Here's how it happened.
The Packers won the toss and elected to receive. Eddie Lacy got the Packers off to a great early start, with gains of 22 and 12 on his first two carries and a reception for six. A few completions to Jordy Nelson, one to the left and one over the middle, got the Packers to the three-yard line, and James Starks finished it off on first down and stiff-armed his way into the end zone for a 7-0 Packers lead.
The Falcons responded on the next drive, though. Julio Jones made a few key receptions to lead the Falcons on a nine-play drive that was capped off by a short Steven Jackson touchdown to tie the score at seven.
The Packers got themselves into a third and seventeen early on the next drive, but Aaron Rodgers found Andrew Quarless over the middle for 30 yards to keep the drive alive. Quarless made another first down catch later on the drive after another Eddie Lacy first-down run and had a third reception in the red zone. Aaron Rodgers took a few nasty hits in the red zone though, including a late hit on a scramble when Tyson Jackson hit him extremely late in the back, setting up the Packers with first and goal from the one-yard line.
On the first play of stanza number two, Eddie Lacy ran easily between David Bakhtiari and Josh Sitton and converted for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
The Packers got the first stop of the game on the Falcons' second possession, forcing an incomplete pass on third-and-one. Tramon Williams nearly intercepted the pass, but it fell to the turf and the Falcons punted.
The next drive was heavily James Starks-influenced, as the big back rumbled for a gain of 21 on the first play and picked up a few more first downs as well. John Kuhn even got a first-down carry on third and one. Eddie Lacy got into the act on a dump-off pass that he took for 13 yards, but the drive stalled out just shy of the red zone and Mason Crosby hit a 38-yard field goal to extend the Packers' lead to 17-7.
The ball-hawking Packers secondary got their hands on another Ryan pass on the next drive, as after a big pass to Julio Jones, Matt Ryan threw the ball right to Morgan Burnett, who returned the ball inside the red zone. Rodgers picked up a first down with his legs (taking a big hit), but found Eddie Lacy on a checkdown on the next play and Lacy fell into the end zone for his second touchdown of the day and Rodgers' first touchdown pass. That score made the lead 24-7.
The Packers almost got another turnover on the next drive. Letroy Guion got his hands on a Ryan pass at the line of scrimmage and nearly made a diving interception on the tipped ball. The play was ruled an interception on the field, but was overturned because the ball hit the ground. Still, the Packers got a punt on the drive and forced a punt with just under three minutes left in the half.
Rodgers and company would not be denied another first-half score, and after some nice passes to John Kuhn and Randall Cobb, Rodgers found himself in a third-and-ten. He scrambled out of the pocket and found a wide-open Jordy Nelson in the back of the end zone for another touchdown and a 31-7 lead. The Falcons moved quickly into field goal range on the ensuing drive, but Brad Jones was able to get a hand on Matt Bryant's attempt and it fell well short, preserving the 24-point lead.
The first play of the second half was brutal for the Packers' defense, as Julio Jones burned Tramon Williams on a double-move and then turned Morgan Burnett around in pursuit. He was finally tracked down inside the five, where the Packers' defense stiffened and forced a fourth down attempt. The Falcons were able to score on a pass from Ryan to Eric Weems and cut the lead to 31-14.
The Packers could not add to their lead, though, and were forced to punt for the first time in the game following a holding penalty by T.J. Lang.
The Falcons kept moving the ball well on the ensuing series and were helped out by a facemask penalty on Micah Hyde. A sack by Clay Matthews stalled the drive, though, and Matt Bryant hit a 50-yard field goal to make it a 14-point game at 31-17.
The Packers got off to a nice start on the next series, with some tough running by Lacy and a nice completion to Cobb that ended in an injured Falcon over the middle. Rodgers hooked up with Nelson on the next play off play action, but the throw was a little short and Jordy had to dive to make the play instead of taking it in stride. Rodgers couldn't quite hit Lacy on a fade in the end zone though, and Mason Crosby hit from 33 yards to make the score 34-17.
The Falcons continued to move the ball on the Packers' defense, this time with the short underneath passing game and the run. Shortly before the end of the third quarter, they moved into the Packers' side of the field.
A few plays into the fourth, Sam Shields got burned by Julio Jones yet again, and Matt Ryan connected with his favorite target on a 22-yard touchdown to pull the Falcons within 10 at 34-24.
The Packers' offense had trouble getting into a rhythm on the next drive in an effort to extend the lead, but Rodgers escaped the pocket and found Randall Cobb to move the chains. On the next play, Rodgers took his shot downfield and connected. Jordy Nelson got behind the defense and Rodgers found him with a 60-yard heave as Jordy got into the end zone for the second time. Though Mason Crosby's PAT was blocked, the lead was extended to 40-24. It looked a little like this:
The Falcons struck back again, though, as Julio Jones continued to carve up the Packers' secondary. He was helped by the running game on the drive, and eventually Ryan connected with Roddy White on a short touchdown to pull the Falcons to within 10. The Packers held on a two-point conversion attempt, though, and maintained a 10-point lead at 40-30.
The Packers recovered an onside kick and started with good field position, but could not pick up a first down. Eddie Lacy picked up a few yards on first down, but a missed connection between Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams led to a big 53-yard field goal for Mason Crosby that made the score 43-30.
Jones did not return to the field on the next drive, after suffering a hip injury late on the previous series, but Roddy White made up for it on a big play over the middle of the field to get the Falcons over midfield. Big runs up the middle put the Falcons inside the ten, and on fourth and goal, Ryan found Harry Douglas in the corner of the end zone to pull within one score at 43-37.
The Packers recovered the ensuing onside kick again, needing a first down to run out the clock after the two minute warning. Rodgers rolled out on a semi-designed bootleg and scrambled for a first down on the first play out of the timeout. James Starks broke through the left side of the line and took the ball down to the six-yard line with a minute and a half left.