Reeling Falcons present opportunity for Packers
The next challenge for the winless Atlanta Falcons is imposing enough that it might not afford them an opportunity for another fourth-quarter collapse.
After blowing two-touchdown leads in the final period each of the last two weeks, the Falcons could have trouble getting ahead Monday night when they visit the unbeaten Green Bay Packers.
“I know the first three weeks haven’t been what we would have wanted,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “That’s for sure. But I still have a lot of faith and a lot of belief in this football team, that we’re capable of winning, and winning regardless of who we’re going against.”
Green Bay (3-0) is the first team in NFL history to have at least 35 points and no turnovers in each of its first three games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Packers average 6.9 yards per play to lead the NFL.
“I feel like it’s not realistic to think we’ll have 40 every game, but it’s not unrealistic to think we can do it, either,” receiver Davante Adams said.
The Packers have trailed in each of their games this season, which could offer Atlanta (0-3) reason for hope.
Then again, getting ahead hasn’t been a problem for the Falcons. Staying in front has proved much more difficult.
Atlanta led the Dallas Cowboys 20-0 in the first quarter and 39-24 with 5 minutes remaining before falling 40-39 on a field goal as time expired, thanks in part to the Falcons’ inexplicable failure to recover a slow-rolling onside kick.
The Falcons followed that up by falling 30-26 to Chicago as the Bears scored 20 unanswered points in the final 6 1/2 minutes. The collapses brought back reminders of the Falcons blowing a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl after the 2016 season.
“There’s anger, obviously,” embattled Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “There’s frustration that goes along when you don’t play well. For us losing two games that, in the regular season, is as tough as it gets. You get tested, but you also find out a lot and learn a lot from those ‘L’s.’ And that’s what I saw from our team.”
LaFleur expects the Falcons’ recent misfortune will only add to their incentive.
“We’re going to have a very hungry Atlanta Falcon team coming in here that, no doubt about it, should be 2-1 right now,” said LaFleur, a former quarterbacks coach on Quinn’s Atlanta staff. “And they’re not, but that’s life in this league. Every game comes down to just a couple of plays here and there that can really change the outcome.”
All eyes in Atlanta are on Quinn.
The sixth-year coach came into 2020 knowing he would likely need to guide the Falcons to the playoffs to keep his job after two straight 7-9 seasons.
Players have been vocal in their support of Quinn, but their opinions won’t matter if the losses keep piling up.
“Look at what he’s done here,” defensive back Blidi Wreh-Wilson said. “He’s always got our backs. He’s a really great coach. This is a tough spot for the team. A lot of things are being said. We just need to stay together.”
UNCERTAINTY FOR RECEIVERS
Each team has a star receiver who didn’t play last week due to injury. An ankle injury sidelined Green Bay’s Adams while Atlanta’s Julio Jones had a hamstring problem.
Both returned to practice this week. But each team now has another injury in its receiving corps. Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley (ankle) and Green Bay’s Allen Lazard (core) didn’t practice Wednesday.
PROTECTING THEIR PASSERS
Green Bay has started a different combination on the offensive line for each of its first three games due to injuries, yet the Packers have allowed only two sacks all year. The Packers have given up sacks on 1.9% of their dropbacks to rank second in the NFL behind Kansas City.
The Falcons have been sacked on 3.7% of their dropbacks, which is sixth-best in the league.
INJURY ISSUES ON DEFENSE
Atlanta safety Ricardo Allen (elbow) and cornerback A.J. Terrell (COVID-19) missed the Bears game. And now the Falcons have lost their most experienced cornerback, placing Darqueze Dennard (hamstring) on injured reserve.
Quinn is hoping cornerback Kendall Sheffield plays Monday after he missed the team’s first three games with an ailing foot.
Green Bay could be missing linebacker Christian Kirksey, who left the Packers’ win over the Saints with a pectoral injury.
ATLANTA (0-3) at GREEN BAY (3-0)
Monday, 7:15 p.m. CDT, ESPN
OPENING LINE – Packers by 7
RECORD VS. SPREAD – Falcons 1-2; Packers 3-0
SERIES RECORD – Packers lead 18-16
LAST MEETING – Packers won 34-20 at Green Bay on Dec. 9, 2018
LAST WEEK – Falcons lost 30-26 at home to Chicago; Packers won 37-30 at New Orleans
AP PRO32 RANKING – Falcons No. 29; Packers No. 3
FALCONS OFFENSE – OVERALL (7), RUSH (18), PASS (3)
FALCONS DEFENSE – OVERALL (31), RUSH (13), PASS (31)
PACKERS OFFENSE – OVERALL (2), RUSH (2), PASS (6)
PACKERS DEFENSE – OVERALL (14), RUSH (14), PASS (18)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES: Both teams have protected their quarterbacks well. Green Bay has allowed only two sacks all year and has given up a sack on only 1.9% of its dropbacks, a percentage that ranks behind only Kansas City (1.6%). Atlanta has allowed a sack on 3.7% of its dropbacks to rank sixth. … The Falcons are the first team to lose twice in a season after leading by at least 15 points in the fourth quarter, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. They’ve done it in each of their last two games, as they’ve fallen 30-29 to Dallas and 30-26 to Chicago. … Atlanta has lost five games it led by at least 16 points since 2016, including playoff contests and a Super Bowl. No other NFL team has more than two of those types of losses over that stretch. … The Falcons are trying to avoid their first 0-4 start since 1999. … Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley has at least 100 yards receiving in each of the first three games. … The Packers are the first team in NFL history to have at least 35 points and no turnovers in each of their first three games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. This is the first time in franchise history the Packers haven’t committed any turnovers in their first three games. … The Packers have joined the 2013 Denver Broncos as the only teams to total at least 120 points and 1,375 yards over their first three games. … Packers coach Matt LaFleur was Atlanta’s quarterbacks coach from 2015-16 as he worked on a staff headed by current Falcons coach Dan Quinn. … Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has thrown nine touchdown passes without an interception. … Green Bay’ RB Aaron Jones has four touchdown runs, putting him in a six-way tie for the NFL lead. Jones has 303 yards rushing to rank second to Tennessee’s Derrick Henry (319). … Fantasy tip: If you’re desperate for a tight end, you may want to see if Green Bay’s Robert Tonyan is available in your league’s waiver wire. Tonyan has caught a touchdown pass in each of his last two games and had five receptions for 50 yards at New Orleans. Now he faces Atlanta’s poor pass defense.