Well, whaddya know? The Green Bay Packers can win a football game with a quarterback not named Aaron Rodgers. A defense under siege for a month can not only come up with stops but huge takeaways. It took a second half rally but the Packers still have a playoff pulse after beating the Atlanta Falcons 22-21 on a snowy, chilly day at Lambeau Field before 77,550 shivering fans. And in even more snow in Philadelphia, the Detroit Lions lost to the Eagles 34-20 which pulls Green Bay (6-6-1) only a half game behind the Lions (7-6) for the NFC North lead with three weeks to play.
Starting his second straight game, Matt Flynn looked nothing like the quarterback on Thanksgiving, directing the offense on an 18 play, 90 yard drive that consumed the final 9:07 of the first quarter. Eddie Lacy broke the rookie rushing touchdown record with his 7th of the season, a one yard smash for a 7-0 lead. The second quarter however, looked more like November football for the Pack. The Falcons got even on a 78 yard march as Matt Ryan found Drew Davis down the middle past Morgan Burnett for a 36 yard strike. On the next Green Bay snap, Flynn was sacked, he fumbled and Malliciah Goodman recovered at the 13. 4 players later, Burnett bit horribly on play action allowing Tony Gonzalez to drift into the right flat for an easy two yard score and a 14-7 Falcons lead. Flynn drove the Packers to the Atlanta 13 but a sack stalled the drive and Mason Crosby knocked through a 40 yard field goal. The offense got it back and was moving again when the most improbable play occured. A short pass over the middle to Andrew Quarless was tipped and just before it hit the ground, linebacker Paul Worrilow kicked it up into the air. Sean Weatherspoon snared it and took off while nearly everyone on the field stopped, thinking the pass hit the ground. The 71 yard runback with :23 seconds left in the half brought out the boo birds and left the Packers in dire straights down 21-10 at intermission.
This time, they would rally. Jordy Nelson got behind the defense for a 46 yard catch that led to Crosby's 33 yard field goal. The defense came up with back to back three and outs and Crosby would hit from 25 after a disappointing red zone failure. On the third snap of the 4th quarter, Mike Neal sacked Ryan forcing a fumble that Johny Jolly recovered at the Falcon 21. From the 2, Flynn threw a nice, back shoulder pass to Quarless in the end zone and Green Bay moved in front. A two point try for a three point lead failed on an overthrow to James Jones in the corner. There was still 12 minutes to play and the Falcons would have three shots at the lead.
Their first drive stalled at the 34 and Matt Bryant came up short on a 52 yard field goal try into a stiff breeze. When the Packers failed to pick up a first down, Atlanta took over at their 17 and marched to the Packers' 33, facing 4th and 5. Ryan tried to thread the needle to Gonzalez but Jarrett Bush knocked the ball away. Inside the two minute warning, again, the Packers failed to pick up a first down. A 62 yard punt by Tim Masthay had the Falcons at their 9 but two completions pushed the ball to midfield. On third and 10, Ryan forced a ball toward Harry Douglas in coverage and it was Bush who made his second huge play with a game sealing interception.
After going 0-4-1 since Aaron Rodgers went down on November 4, Mike McCarthy finally could speak of a victory for the first time since October 27, a very long time coming:
Statistically speaking, the Packers were the better team, outgaining Atlanta 334-285. Flynn started slowly but wound up with a better passer rating than Ryan (95.6 to 81.4). Flynn completed 24 of 32 for 258 yards, 10 of 12 in the second half. He was sacked five times with a pick and a touchdown. Ryan fnished 20 of 35 for 206 yards, two scores and an interception. On the ground, Eddie Lacy pounded out 65, hard earned yards on 20 carries. He injured an ankle late in the first half but returned. James Starks added 19 yards and Flynn scrambled for 28 more. Stephen Jackson wound up with 71 yards on 15 attempts. The passing game featured the tight ends. Quarless had his most productive day as a pro, six catches for 66 yards and the score. Brandon Bostick and Ryan Taylor each caught two balls. Nelson had 4 receptions for 85, putting him over 1000 yards on the season. The Packers controlled the clock for 33.32, were penalized only twice and for a change, got solid kickoff returns from Micah Hyde, 30 and 31 yard runbacks, the two longest of the season.
Weather at kickoff was a steady, light snow, 9 degrees with a windchill of -1. The Packers braved the elements, endured an ugly second quarter, and found a way to win. Here's what the guys had to say about it aftewards.
On the medical front, Lacy and Brad Jones suffered ankle injuries, Jamari Lattimore injured a knee. It did force defensive coordinator Dom Capers to finish the game in the dime defense but it worked out thanks to the big plays by Bush. Sean Richardson saw his most extensive action yet, replacing M.D. Jennings on defense in the second half. The inactives were Rodgers, Chris Harper, Khalil Bell, Nate Palmer, Marshall Newhouse, C.J. Wilson and Jerel Worthy. The Packers now lead the all-time series with the Falcons 16-13. A.J. Hawk had 4 tackles, making him the 4th Packer in franchise history to record more than 1000 career tackles joining John Anderson, Nick Barnett and Johnnie Gray. Dave Robinson was honored at halftime, presented with his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring. The glory years linebacker was inducted into the Hall in Canton, Ohio over the summer and the organization unveiled his name on the ring of honor at Lambeau Field.