After coming off the first-half field to a chorus of well-deserved boos, the suddenly vivacious Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) revived their season by dominating the final 30 minutes of play with a second-half shutout and three scoring drives from backup quarterback Matt Flynn to outlast the three-win Atlanta Falcons, 22-21.
It was over when…
…Jarrett Bush intercepted Matt Ryan’s comeback attempt with just four seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Packers leading by one. Bush’s pick ensured Atlanta’s third and final effort to make up the one-point deficit would come up short.
- Andrew Quarless: The Packers tight end was essentially called out by his position coach this week. To be perfectly fair, Quarless deserved the rare public disapproval. But instead of packing it in, Quarless delivered a career-best effort. He caught a team-high six passes for 66 yards and the eventual game-winning touchdown. In a post Jermichael Finley-world, Sunday was far and away the best delivery yet from the Packers tight end group.
- Johnny Jolly: ‘Tis the season? Jolly recovered the fumble that eventually led to Quarless’s game-winner, batted down a Ryan pass during a Falcons’ three-and-out and stuffed Jason Snelling for a two-yard loss before Matt Bryant came up short on a long field goal try. He also helped anchor a recently shaky run defense that allowed just 83 yards rushing on Sunday, including only 19 in the second half. Can’t ask for much more out of a 3-4 defensive lineman.
- Jarrett Bush: The boxscore will say the much-maligned Bush recorded zero tackles Sunday. But it will also credit him for two passes defensed, and those two plays essentially saved the game for Green Bay. He made a fourth down catch difficult for Tony Gonzalez difficult (it fell incomplete), and he picked off Ryan to end the contest. Maybe Bush should be a captain every week.
The Falcons rushed for just 83 yards and averaged only 3.6 yards on 23 carries. Atlanta’s 10 rushes in the second half netted just 19 yards…The Packers were 2-for-5 scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Mason Crosby had to settle for three kicks inside 40 yards. But the Falcons only made one trip into the redzone (1/1)…Each team had two turnovers. The Falcons scored 14 points off Green Bay’s pair, while the Packers scored seven and ended the contest with their takeaway duo…Atlanta ran just 59 plays and held the football for 26:28. Sunday marked just the second time since Aaron Rodgers’ injury that the Packers led the time of possession battle and held an opposing offense under 60 plays…Jordy Nelson caught four passes for 85 yards. In the process, he went over 1,000 yards for the second time in his career (2011)…Eddie Lacy rushed 20 times for 65 yards and a score. He set new Packers rookie records for carries (227) and touchdowns (seven). He is now just 113 yards short of 1,000. John Brockington has the rookie record for yards at 1,105…The Packers received 10 receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown from the tight end position…The Falcons had five sacks, despite coming into Sunday with the NFL’s lowest total (22)…Two of Tim Masthay’s three punts were downed inside the 20-yard line, including his 62-yard blast that pinned the Falcons deep with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter…The Packers went 7-for-15 on third down, 11 days after the Lions held Green Bay to 2-for-10…Seven of Green Bay’s 12 drives began at their own 30-yard line or better. The Falcons had just two of their 10 drives start past their own 30…The Packers had 334 yards on 70 plays and 20 total first downs…Green Bay outscored Atlanta 12-0 in the second half.
– A disappointing season churns on for safety Morgan Burnett. Despite leading the team in tackles with eight, Burnett was responsible for both Ryan touchdown passes and made nearly zero positive impact on the game. It’s hard to nail down the problem. Is he thinking too much? Does he not trust who is he playing alongside? Or was he never that good of safety? The Packers paid for progression from Burnett, but 13 games into his extension, there’s been nothing but regression and disappointment.
– Lost in a spiraling season has been the redemption of Mason Crosby. After finishing a perfect 3-for-3 Sunday, Crosby is now 29 for 33 this season. That’s a solid 87.9 percent. Crosby has already hit both roster bonuses (in Week 5 and 10), and he’s on track to collect the maximum $800,000 in incentives for connecting on 85 percent or better of his kicks. Back in October, I wrote about how Crosby was finally tying it all together from a physical and mental standpoint. His run at redemption has now spilled into December.
– The Falcons are a really bad defense, but Matt Flynn deserves credit for the way he bounced back and delivered on a cold, miserable day. He completed 24 passes, averaged over eight yards an attempt and moved the Packers offense in the second half. Flynn still took all day in the pocket (resulting in five sacks) and remained slow reading through his progressions. But he did just enough from the quarterback position to get his team a win it had to have. And could any one really have expected anything more out of his three-game stint? He rallied for a tie, got blown up in Detroit and then managed to get Green Bay back into the win column. It’ll due for a guy that wasn’t wanted in either Oakland or Buffalo.
– The Packers defense contributed as much to Green Bay’s five-game collapse as the quarterback position, but today the defense was the reason Green Bay won. The Falcons scored just 14 points on offense, including zero in the second half, and the Green Bay defense came up with big stop after big stop as the Packers clung to a one-point lead. Atlanta rushed for just 19 yards in the second half and made just one trip inside the red zone. Also, Mike Neal’s strip sack set up the Packers winning touchdown. It was a rare winning performance from Dom Capers’ side.
– Only in the NFC North can you go five games and well over a month without a win and still be alive and well in the playoff hunt. The Packers are now only a half-game back in the division. That’s unreal. This team should really be thinking about the offseason. But now, winning the last three games of the season might just push the Packers into the playoffs. I think 9-6-1 would do it for a third straight division title. What an erratic, volatile year in the disappointing but wildly entertaining NFC North.
– Up next on the Packers revival tour is a trip to Dallas, where the Cowboys have seemingly won 100 straight games over Green Bay (it’s actually nine). The Packers haven’t beaten the Cowboys in Texas since 1989. Then again, Green Bay is 1-0 all-time in Jerry’s billion dollar spaceship. I sense a Rodgers and Romo shootout forthcoming, but only if a certain left collarbone cooperates in the X-ray room. Let another week of speculation begin.
Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at email@example.com.