(UPDATE: 12:21 a.m.)
We know now what we knew before. The other team is better. It has the better quarterback, the better defense, the better coaching staff.
Green Bay is good enough to look at a 14-0 deficit and not blink. The Falcons are flawed enough to take a 14-0 lead and begin a slow and steady fizzle.
The Falcons lost to the Packers again Sunday night at the Georgia Dome. If there was any consolation, it’s that this score (25-14) wasn’t nearly the dismembering of the playoffs last January, when Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers won 48-21 and sent the Falcons into the offseason with a massive hangover. It forced the front office and coaching staff to re-evaluate just how good this team was on both sides of the ball. It prompted the drafting of Julio Jones and the signing of Ray Edwards.
But this is what we know about the Falcons so far in 2011. They’re 2-3 and less the team they were a year ago. If it’s not talent, it’s execution. If it’s not execution, it’s coaching. More than likely, it’s partly all three.
They’re making too many mistakes. They’re committing too many dumb penalties. They’re unraveling, not coming together, in key moments of games.
They moved the ball 140 yards and scored touchdowns on their first two possessions. They went scoreless and netted only 111 yards on the next seven (five punts, two interceptions). Matt Ryan went 8-for-10 for 80 yards and a touchdown in the first drives, but 10-for-22 for 87 yards with two interceptions the rest of the game.
“We fell apart,” tight end Tony Gonzalez said.
“We’ve just got to get better,” coach Mike Smith said.
Anybody have a plan how to get that accomplished?
There is no shame in losing to the Packers, especially given the Falcons were minus their best pass rusher (John Abraham), their center (Todd McClure) and at various points Sunday also lost their starting strong safety (William Moore), their dazzling rookie receiver (Jones), their starting right guard (Garrett Reynolds) and their nickle back (Christopher Owens).
But regardless of the circumstances, taking an early 14-0 lead and then watching the other team score 25 straight points on your home field is not what great teams do.
This was one of two highly anticipated home games on the Falcons’ schedule this season, and both had a certain fear factor. The first was Michael Vick’s return three weeks ago, and the Falcons exorcized some demons, winning 35-31.
But while many gave the Falcons a good shot to win that game, this one was different. Green Bay body-slammed the Falcons in the playoffs last season 48-21, went on to win the Super Bowl and through four weeks once again looked like the best team with the best quarterback.
Further, whatever the Falcons were supposed to look like this season, they hadn’t. Other than the win over the Eagles, they had been beat up in two losses at Chicago and Tampa Bay and seemed to blow their transmission late in a win at Seattle last week.
But at the outset Sunday, it was an inspired effort. By early in the third quarter, the defense already had three sacks (three more than in the previous three games combined). The first five Green Bay drives: fumble, field goal, field goal, punt, field goal.
If a genie had granted defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder one wish and the request had been to hold the Packers to nine points in their first five possessions, the genie would’ve responded, “Seriously? How about something easier, like a lifetime of riches and eternal happiness”?
“We were holding them to field goals,” cornerback Brent Grimes said. “That’s what we wanted. But if you give a team like that too many chances, eventually they’re going to score.”
The Falcons could not have scripted a better start to this game. They scored touchdowns on their first two possessions. Their first drive chewed up 13 plays, 80 yards and nearly seven minutes, keeping Rodgers on the sideline. Their second touchdown followed a Green Bay fumble and used up another six minutes. They showed creativity with the play-calling, including a reverse to Julio Jones, a screen and a shovel pass to Jason Snelling, another short toss to Jacquizz Rodgers.
It was a Falcons’ dream … that didn’t last.
After those two early scores, the Falcons punted on their next five possessions (failing to get a first down on four of them). Meanwhile, the defense wilted. The Falcons ceased getting pressure on Rodgers and he started finding the soft middle of the zone defense. Trailing 14-9, Green Bay drove to consecutive touchdowns to jump ahead 22-14 (they missed a two-point conversion). The first was a 70-yarder pass play from Rodgers to James Jones, who blew past safety Thomas DeCoud to cradle the pass at the Falcons’ 40 and blasted off for the end zone. The second saw Jennings run a slant to a vacated areas over over the middle and catch a 29-yard touchdown.
The Packers led by only eight points. But it seemed like so much more, as the teams were headed in decidedly opposite directions.
Nothing Sunday was going to change that.
By Jeff Schultz