Packers report card: Everything just good enough to get by Falcons

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Handing out grades following the Green

Bay Packers’ 22-21 home win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14:

Passing Offense: B

Matt Flynn was far from perfect, but he did enough things

well that the Packers were able to score 22 points and get the win. Also, no

one would ever confuse Flynn with Aaron Rodgers, but for a quarterback who’s

been released twice this season and is technically Green Bay’s fourth-stringer,

expectations should be adjusted accordingly.

On the positive side for Flynn, he completed 75 percent of

his passes (24 for 32), threw a game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter

and finished with a passer rating of 95.6. He only threw one pass beyond 20

yards, but that one was a 46-yard completion to Jordy Nelson. With the lack of

deep balls and his pass to Nelson being a bit underthrown, Flynn’s arm strength

will continue to be questioned, but some of his quick out routes were thrown

with plenty of zip on them. Coach Mike McCarthy properly adjusted the offense

to allow Flynn to be more of a game manager and take the underneath routes that

were often left open. Flynn took advantage of those, hence his high completion

rate.

On the negative side for Flynn, he held onto the ball for

far too long on many occasions. He was sacked five times, several of which were

a result of him not getting rid of it fast enough. Flynn’s recognition improved

in the second half. However, one thing the Packers can’t afford from Flynn is

game-changing turnovers, and he had two of them. One was hardly his fault when

a batted pass bounced off the foot of linebacker Paul Warrilow and into the

arms of Sean Weatherspoon, who returned it 71 yards for a touchdown while most

players stood around wondering why incomplete hadn’t been called. The other

Flynn turnover came on one of the sacks in which he fumbled on Green Bay’s own

13-yard line, with the Falcons recovering with great field position. Atlanta

scored a touchdown four plays later to take a 14-7 lead.

Nelson went over 1,000 receiving yards this season with the

85 yards that he added to his total in this game. But the biggest — and most

surprising — impact on the receiving end came from tight end Andrew Quarless,

who finished with six catches for 66 yards and one touchdown. Quarless was

basically Flynn’s safety valve, and the two established a nice connection.

Tight ends Brandon Bostick and Ryan Taylor also each had two receptions.

Rushing Offense: B

Eddie Lacy isn’t going to see much daylight until Rodgers

returns. Until then, Lacy will have a lot of games that in the box score seem

relatively unimpressive but where the actual production was very strong.

Lacy had 20 carries for 65 yards with one rushing touchdown.

Watching Lacy’s efforts on the Packers’ opening drive showed just how much of a

difference he makes for Green Bay’s offense. On that 18-play series, Lacy

touched the ball nine times and eventually carried it into the end zone for a

touchdown from one yard out. This is a Packers team that hasn’t had a

legitimate threat in the backfield in years, but Lacy continues to become one

with that type of production.

There was also a Lacy run midway through the second quarter

that symbolized what he can do. Though it resulted in no gain, Lacy broke a

couple tackles and refused to go down. It’s difficult to have notable zero-yard

runs, but Lacy did just that on that play.

The ankle injury Lacy suffered on the final play of the

first half slowed him down in the final two quarters, but even those runs —

with extra tape on his ankle — were solid.

James Starks had seven carries for 19 yards, while Flynn

scrambled six times for 28 yards. In total, Green Bay rushed for 112 yards on

33 carries (3.4 average).

Passing Defense: B

Like Green Bay’s passing offense, its passing defense was a

mixed bag. But ultimately, the pros outweighed the cons.

Starting with the negatives, Morgan Burnett had a rough day.

What’s been an overall disappointing year for the safety after receiving a

large contract extension this past offseason didn’t get any better here.

Burnett was beat in one-on-one coverage by Drew Davis, a wide receiver with only

eight catches this season. Davis got away from Burnett and scored a 36-yard

touchdown. Adding to the negatives on that same play was safety M.D. Jennings,

whose poor tackle attempt allowed Davis the extra yards for the touchdown.

Jennings was then benched in favor of Sean Richardson. Throughout the game,

there was very little pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, who was sacked

just once.

The positives were strong, though. Green Bay’s one and only

sack came from Mike Neal, who stripped Ryan to force a fumble that the Packers

recovered. That set up Green Bay’s offense from 21 yards away and resulted in a

touchdown four plays later. The Packers’ defense was great after halftime, not

allowing any points in the second half. The two series before the forced fumble

were both three-and-out drives. Everything clicked in the final two quarters,

with seldom-used Jarrett Bush emerging as a hero. First, Bush was in coverage

on a missed fourth-down pass to Tony Gonzalez, and the game ended with him

intercepting a Ryan pass.

Rushing Defense: B

The Falcons entered this game as the NFL’s 29th-ranked

rushing offense. So even with a well-known name like Steven Jackson and a

change-of-pace back like Jacquizz Rodgers, this is not a good Atlanta group in

this area. ProFootballFocus also has the Falcons rated in the bottom half of

the league in run blocking.

Jackson had a 22-yard run on the first play of the second

quarter, but aside from that, he was held to 14 carries for 49 yards. The

22-yard run helped Jackson finish with a 4.7 average, but none of them were

game-altering touches. Rodgers had only 14 yards on seven attempts.

The Packers had been a horrible run defense over the past

month, so this was a step in the right direction for them. Granted, it was

against a poor rushing offense, but they still had to take care of business,

and, for the most part, Green Bay did that.

Johnny Jolly had a nice tackle for loss on a second-down run

by Jason Snelling in the fourth quarter. A.J. Hawk also had a tackle for loss

(on a run by Jackson) and Mike Daniels and Clay Matthews teamed up for one on

Rodgers.

Special Teams: B-plus

The winter weather conditions were not favorable to kickers.

Yet, Mason Crosby made all three of his field-goal attempts, connecting from 40

yards, 33 yards and 25 yards out.

Micah Hyde had his longest kick return of the season for 31

yards and had a 12-yard punt return. Hyde made one mistake and he knew it right

away, calling for a fair catch when he had plenty of room open in front of him.

Tim Masthay boomed a 62-yard punt that had stopped at the

1-yard line, but, for some reason, Bush and Davon House chased the ball down

quickly and nearly pushed it into the end zone for a touchback. Atlanta’s

Robert McClain picked it up and ran eight yards, helping the Falcons not have

to start their drive next to the goal line.

Green Bay’s coverage units held Rodgers to a long kick

return of only 26 yards on six attempts.

Overall: B

The Packers’ playoff hopes were on the line and, for the

first time without Aaron Rodgers, the rest of the team stepped up and earned a

victory. Now at 3-10, Atlanta has been a really bad team this season. However,

at this point, any win was huge for Green Bay.

Now, the wait time on Rodgers’ potential return ticks. With

three games remaining in the regular season, what will the scan of Rodgers’

left collarbone show this week? He’s already cleared to practice, so the next

step is the medical staff allowing him to play in a game without risk of

further injury to that area.

There was a renewed confidence and energy about the Packers

in the locker room after the game. Considering they hadn’t won a game since

Oct. 27, this was a feel-good day for the players. If they can carry that over

to next week’s game in Dallas and then onto the final two games this season

(home vs. Pittsburgh, at Chicago) and finish on a four-game winning streak,

this might be a 2010 situation all over again with Green Bay sneaking into the

playoffs. And, who knows, despite all the team’s November turmoil, maybe this

season ends like 2010’s did.

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