January 15, 2011 – Georgia Dome – Atlanta, Georgia
What’s the phrase? A mile wide and an inch deep? Perhaps that was the best way to describe the Atlanta Falcons’ confidence as they prepared for their divisional playoff game against the now-very-dangerous Green Bay Packers.
The Falcons had constructed a very nice regular season. Behind QB Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan, dynamic wide receiver Roddy White, and a solid if unspectacular defense, the Falcons had claimed the NFC’s top seed with an impressive 13-3 record, including a 7-1 home record in the Georgia Dome.
They had already beaten the Packers once, an entertaining 20-17 November victory in Atlanta at which time White had proclaimed, “We don’t want to go to Lambeau in January. We want them to come here.” What’s the old saying? Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it.
The Falcons were confident and rested and talking about how ready they were to take the next step forward. They talked with a swagger that was not earned–at least not yet. This was, after all, still a franchise that didn’t have the history, the pedigree to build on. There were no Super Bowl titles just yet.
The Packers, on the other hand, had been in crisis mode for a month. They won 3 straight games they had to win, including a mugging on the road of the always-dangerous Eagles the previous week. Green Bay knew it would have no more home games, so the team hunkered down & prepared to do what it needed to do.
In front of a raucous, deafening crowd at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons did indeed strike first, forcing a Greg Jennings fumble on the Packers’ 3rd play from scrimmage & converting the turnover into a 12-yard Michael Turner touchdown run.
However, by the 2nd quarter, the Packers had settled in. Led by Aaron Rodgers with rapidly rising & potential superstar cornerback Tramon Williams, Green Bay buried the Falcons and their championship hopes.
Rodgers first threw a touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson to tie the game at 7-7. However on the ensuing kickoff, Atlanta’s Eric Weems electrified the crowd again with a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The longest post-season touchdown in NFL history.
Green Bay was undaunted because, well, they’d been here before. Rodgers response was a 10-play 92-yard drive capped by a 1-yard TD run by John Kuhn. The Falcon defense was on the field for 23 out of 24 plays with their only breather Eric Weems 102-yard TD return. They were gassed.
Nine plays later, Tramon Williams picked off Matt Ryan in the end zone & Rodgers came back the other way driving another 80 yards in 7 plays, hitting James Jones who made a tremendous “gimme the ball” play vs. Grimes, arguably the Falcons best cover guy.
Then came a crushing blow for the Falcons.
As Ryan was trying to drive his team into field goal range in the final seconds of the first half, he threw an out pattern read perfectly by Williams. Tramon jumped the route & returned the pick for a 70 yard touchdown & a 28-14 lead as time expired in the half.
The Georgia Dome was as quiet as a tomb.
“I probably shouldn’t have thrown that,” Ryan said simply after the game.
The Packers kept it going in the second half as Rodgers played about as close to a perfect game as a quarterback could play.
He ran for one TD in the 3rd quarter and threw for another to Kuhn & the win turned into a rout.
By the end of the game, the 3/4 empty stadium belonged to the Packer fans who chanted, “Go Pack GO!” through most of the final 15 minutes.
Rodgers’ numbers were borderline unbelievable. He completed 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards and 3 scores. He eluded tacklers, he made pinpoint accurate throws, he did everything he was supposed to do–and more.
“This was probably my best performance,” Rodgers admitted after the game. “The stage we were on and the importance of the game. It was a good night. I felt like I was in a zone.”
The Packers dominated the Falcons in all aspects of the game, rolling up 442 yards in offense and holding the Falcons to 194.
Meanwhile, the Falcons had received another harsh lesson about the difference between regular season football and playoff football. “We will learn from this,” coach Mike Smith said. “That’s the important thing.”
For the Packers, it was 2 down & 1 to go. They knew their rivals, the Bears, were playing the next day against the upstart Seattle Seahawks & while none of the players professed to care who won, they cared. A lot. The Packers wanted the Bears…badly.
How does that old saying go? Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it?