Look out, Falcons: Aaron's coming back to town
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP)
Talk about being on the spot.
The Atlanta Falcons secondary already looks a bit shaky after giving up 319 yards and three touchdowns to Seattle's Tarvaris Jackson, who's not one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks.
Now it's time to face the hottest QB in the league.
Hunker down, Falcons. Aaron Rodgers is coming back to town.
The Green Bay signal-caller already carved up Atlanta's defense in last season's playoffs, a clinic of a performance on the way to the Packers winning the Super Bowl and Rodgers taking the MVP award.
A quarter of the way through this season, Rodgers has taken his game to a whole new level, coming into Sunday night's contest at the Georgia Dome as far and away the highest-rate passer in the NFL.
''We know they're flying high right now,'' Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said. ''They're going to be a confident team. They're a team that's played very well the past four weeks. We've got to defend our Dome and match their intensity.''
No one has played better than Rodgers, who's coming off a career-best performance against Denver. He threw for 408 yards and four touchdowns. He ran for two more scores.
For the season, Rodgers is completing a staggering 73 percent of his throws, with 12 touchdowns and a mere two interceptions. He's spreading the ball all over the field, hooking up with six players for scoring plays and 10 different receivers in all.
''You can't take one of two people out of the game,'' Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes said. ''They have so many weapons. You've just got to make sure you do your job.''
None of this bodes well for the Falcons, who were shredded by Rodgers just nine months ago in an NFC divisional playoff game. That night, he completed all but five of his 36 passes for 366 yards, accounting for three touchdowns through the air and another on the ground in a 48-21 rout - the highest-scoring postseason game in Green Bay's storied history.
As if Atlanta needed anything else to worry about, Rodgers didn't like some of the comments he heard from the Falcons after it was over. He felt like they were calling his performance some sort of fluke.
''I don't really care to expand a whole lot on that,'' Rodgers said this week. ''I will just say that you need to respect your opponent. We definitely respect the Falcons. We were fortunate to go down there and play a clean game. But I felt like maybe the respect level, as far as their comments were concerned, wasn't there that night.''
Atlanta had plenty of chances to slam Rodgers to the turf, but he kept slipping away with a deke here, a duck of the shoulder there, leaving the Falcons grasping at air for the most part, as if they were trying to tackle a ghost.
They can't let that happen again.
''I was able to get away from a couple of sacks,'' Rodgers said. ''If they made those sacks, the game probably would've been different.''
If Rodgers gets comfortable, or keeps buying extra time with his running ability, the Atlanta secondary will have little chance. Already, the Falcons look vulnerable trying to defend the pass, ranking 24th in the league with an average of 275.5 yards per game.
But this isn't exactly the same defense Rodgers faced in January.
Defensive end Ray Edwards was signed as a free agent to beef up the pass rush (though he has yet to pick up his first sack with the Falcons). Safety James Sanders and cornerback Kelvin Hayden were brought in to bolster the secondary.
''That's going to help us,'' DeCoud said. ''Those guys have shown they can produce for us this season and in this league during their careers.''
The Falcons offense must do its part, too. Quarterback Matt Ryan can't turn the ball over three times, as he did in that playoff game. The running game, led by Michael Turner, has the potential to burn lots of time off the clock. Rodgers can't score if he's standing on the sideline.
''When you go against a good football team like this, you need to play at high level,'' Ryan said. ''I certainly think we're capable of doing that.''
Edwards is used to facing the Packers, seeing them twice a year when he was with the Minnesota Vikings. This would be a good week for that first Atlanta sack.
Hayden, too, could be a key at nickel back. In the playoffs, Rodgers was merciless going against Christopher Owens, always seeming to find the receiver he was defending no matter where they were on the field.
''We did make some plays on him,'' Rodgers said. ''I felt like he covered pretty well. There were just a couple of plays where we put the ball in certain spots. Atlanta is not an exclusive man-to-man coverage team. To say we targeted one player or another is not entirely accurate. We just wanted to stretch the field at times and take what we could when they were playing soft.''
The Falcons know they can't play soft this time.
But no one is quivering at the prospect of facing Rodgers again.
''I'm not having nightmares,'' Grimes said. ''We're going against an NFL team, just like anyone else. Everyone knows they have a great offense. But we're just going to go out there and compete.''
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