Packers end 5-game slide, beat Falcons 22-21

A smattering of boos cascaded down on the Green Bay Packers at

the half, trailing by double digits on a bone-chilling afternoon at

Lambeau Field.

This wasn’t a good sign for a team that hasn’t played well late

in games, especially without injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Coach Mike McCarthy went into the locker room wondering how much

energy his players had with the team’s playoff prospects in

jeopardy.

Green Bay responded with its most complete performance in weeks.

Matt Flynn threw for 258 yards and a maligned defense forced a key

fourth-quarter turnover in a 22-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons

on Sunday that ended a five-game winless stretch.

”Good to win, it’s been a while. Forgot what it felt like,”

McCarthy said.

”But I’ll say this – I really like the football team,

particularly at halftime, coming in, getting booed at home, and

just the energy in the locker room. They never blinked, they stayed

the course,” said the even-keeled coach.

It came down to defense in the final few minutes of a

nail-biting fourth quarter.

Mike Neal’s sack forced Matt Ryan to fumble, and defensive

lineman Johnny Jolly scooped up the loose ball and celebrated with

a little belly dance. Four plays later, Flynn found Andrew Quarless

for a 2-yard touchdown pass for the 22-21 lead for the Packers

(6-6-1) with about 12 minutes left.

”We needed to have fun. That’s what we did today,” Jolly said.

”We went out there and left everything that we had and made plays

and had fun.”

Quarless’ TD completed a comeback from an 11-point halftime

deficit and whipped the bundled-up fans into a frigid frenzy.

It was 9 degrees when the game started, with a wind chill of

minus-1. The stadium looked as if it was encased in a snow globe at

times with much of the game played while light, powdery snowflakes

gently fell to the worn turf.

Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant missed a 52-yard field goal attempt

into the wind with 6:42 left. The Falcons (3-10) got to the 33 with

2 minutes left, but Tony Gonzalez dropped a short pass from Ryan

under tight coverage by Jarrett Bush.

The Falcons, who play home games at the Georgia Dome, didn’t

think weather was as much of a factor as the missed

opportunities.

”We can’t talk about one specific play that was the

difference,” coach Mike Smith said. ”We had our chances to make

some plays in all three phases and we didn’t.”

Flynn finished 24 for 32 with an interception in his second

start for Rodgers, who has been out since fracturing his left

collarbone during a 27-20 loss to the Bears on Nov. 4.

It’s been a struggle ever since for Green Bay, which fell from

first place in the NFC North to fighting to stay in the playoff

chase.

”We played our best football in the second half, and as a coach

that’s what you look for in your football team,” McCarthy

said.

It didn’t look so good for Green Bay after linebacker Sean

Weatherspoon’s 71-yard interception return with 23 seconds

remaining in the second quarter gave the Falcons a 21-10 lead and

prompted some fans to voice their displeasure.

A pass from Flynn appeared to carom off linebacker Paul

Worrilow’s shoe and chest and into the hands of Weatherspoon. He

slowly trudged his way back up the field past Packers who thought

the ball touched the ground.

Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang whiffed on a tackled around

the 22. From there, the 6-foot-2, 244-pound Weatherspoon got a

slow-motion escort into the end zone.

”It was a great play and something that sparked us, but we came

out a little bit lackadaisical on defense if you ask me in the

second half,” Weatherspoon said.

Ryan finished 20 of 35 for 206 yards with two touchdowns and an

interception, while Steven Jackson had 71 yards rushing on 15

carries.

Otherwise, a Green Bay defense that had allowed more than 200

yards rushing in each of its previous two games bounced back.

NOTES: Mason Crosby kicked three field goals, including a

25-yarder late in the third quarter to get Green Bay within 21-16.

… Packers RB Eddie Lacy had 65 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run

on 20 carries. He returned in the second half after twisting his

right ankle. … Falcons S Thomas DeCoud left with a head injury on

Lacy’s score at the end of the first quarter.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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