It would have been easy for the Green Bay Packers to simply lay down and accept the fact that the Atlanta Falcons were going to blow them out. They were facing the league’s top offense without their top three cornerbacks. News broke shortly before the game that their best pass rusher, Clay Matthews, also would be sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Then the hits kept on coming. Ty Montgomery was inactive with an illness. Randall Cobb was also sidelined with a hamstring injury that has lingered since early October.
Essentially, the Packers were facing the Falcons with a JV version of their defense, and a watered-down offense. On paper, their matchup with the Falcons should have been a blowout.
As typically is the case with the combination of Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy, they did their best work in the face of intense adversity.
Whenever that discussion comes up, it’s easy to point to 2010. The Packers had 15 players on injured reserve by the time the regular season ended. They seemed to lose a key contributor once every week.
Running back Ryan Grant was lost in the first week of that season. Jermichael Finley, who the Packers designed their offense around that season, was lost for the season in early October. That would have crippled a lesser team.
Instead, the Packers got hot at the end of the season behind the right arm of Aaron Rodgers and steady hand of Mike McCarthy. That hot streak led to the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl title.
Today was much like that season. The Packers’ inactive list looked more like a potential Pro Bowl team than it did a list of players missing a game. The Packers’ offense has undoubtedly struggled through most of the season. Rodgers has not looked like the former two-time MVP. Instead he has looked pedestrian in the majority of his games.
That has caused some to wonder whether Mike McCarthy could be on the hot seat if the struggles were to continue. Yes, the Packers’ offense got back on track last Thursday in the second half, but it was against the Bears’ defense. This version is not going to remind anyone of the days of Lovie Smith, let alone 1985.
Because of that, skepticism remained as to whether the offense could be consistent enough to get them back to an elite level.
Today’s game against the Falcons was the ultimate test for the Packers without two of their top weapons. Green Bay started on fire. Aaron Rodgers hit two big plays to Jordy Nelson in the team’s first series. A 58-yard catch was the longest play from scrimmage this season for the team. A few plays later, he found Nelson in the front of the end zone to give them a 7-3 lead.
Eventually, Nelson would be slowed down by the Falcons’ defense. That required Rodgers to rely on his secondary weapons. Davante Adams has been good all season. He had another big day with 12 catches for 74 yards. While he did not have any big plays like he did last week, he was a steady target for most of the day.
Apart from Adams, the Packers had a lot of inexperience at wide receiver. Trevor Davis, Jeff Janis, and Geronimo Allison rounded out the Packers’ receiving corps. Davis is a raw rookie. Janis has never been consistent enough to find time on the field. Allison was just signed from the practice squad earlier in the week.
All three caught a touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers. The last went to Janis, whom Rodgers found in the back of the end zone to give the team a 32-26 lead with a little more than four minutes to play.
Ultimately, the finish was not what the Packers would hope for. Mohammed Sanu caught a touchdown in the back of the end zone with 31 seconds to play. That would stand up to give the Falcons a hard-fought 33-32 win.
While there are no moral victories in the NFL, there are more positives than negatives to take away from the Packers’ performance today. If they can get healthy, the offense is beginning to show signs of life.
They fought all the way to the end against an opponent that should have blown them off the field. They have their steady head coach and MVP quarterback to thank the most for that.