The Atlanta Falcons put on a dominant performance to move on to Super Bowl LI in Houston on February 5th. They defeated the Green Bay Packers by a score of 44-21 in the final NFL game to ever be played in the Georgia Dome.
The Packers came into the game having won eight straight games (including playoff games), a streak during which they never trailed by double digits. The Falcons wiped that stat off the board early in this game, and the Packers were never able to come back.
Atlanta Falcons Dominate Green Bay Packers in NFC Championship Game
Atlanta opened up the game with a 13-play drive that took over six minutes off the clock. The Falcons showed that the offense–led by likely MVP Matt Ryan–was here to play in this game and that it would challenge the Packers defense all game long. After the Packers next drive ended in a missed field goal, the Falcons once again went for double-digit plays–this time 59 yards on 12 plays, ending in a field goal.
Trailing 10-0, the Packers needed a big response and seemed to get it. Aaron Rodgers led a successful drive inside the Falcons’ 15-yard-line, but Jalen Collins stripped fullback Aaron Ripkowski and recovered the fumble himself for a touchback. Some questioned whether the fumble recovery should have actually been a safety–it appeared at first glance like Collins recovered the ball at the one-yard-line then rolled backwards into the end zone–but the play was ruled a touchback.
Atlanta responded with another touchdown, and it looked like the game might get out of hand. Then again, the Falcons led San Francisco 17-0 in the NFC Championship Game four years ago, which ended in a 28-24 49ers win. After the teams traded punts, many thought that the Packers might be able to mount a score at the end of the half then come back to start the second–something that Aaron Rodgers is famous for being proficient at. There was no such comeback to be had, as Atlanta forced a stop (an interception on a 60-yard throw downfield on third down that essentially functioned as a punt. The Falcons followed up with a 59-yard touchdown drive in under two minutes to take a commanding 24-0 lead into halftime.
After giving up 325 yards of offense in the first half, the Packers needed to start getting stops. Even if the offense could pick up the slack, there is no way to come back from 24 points down without a lot of defensive stops.
The second half got off to the worst imaginable start, with the Packers going three-and-out, including two dropped passes. Atlanta responded by scoring a touchdown on a 73-yard catch by Julio Jones, who broke tackles down the sideline to take the ball to the house, and the game was all but over from there. However, when Green Bay responded with its first touchdown drive of the game, coming back from a 24-point deficit in 25 minutes wasn’t unimaginable.
Of course, any comeback of any magnitude is impossible if the defense can’t get stops. Green Bay couldn’t slow down Matt Ryan, which meant that there was no doubt as to who would win at any point in the fourth quarter. The Packers never gave up, and the offensive effort during the second half is one that fans should appreciate, but it was far too little, far too late. The game was well out of hand.
Difference in the Game
It’s hard to pinpoint the few things that made a huge difference in a blowout this big. It could all boil down to Green Bay’s inability to get stops and Atlanta’s defensive pressure and ability to really get after Aaron Rodgers. This game was a domination across the board.
There were a bunch of little things that could have made this game closer, though. Green Bay had chances to take advantage of Atlanta’s mistakes and just couldn’t. The Falcons had a fumble on a mistimed snap late in the first half that Green Bay failed to recover; two drives later, there was a chance at intercepting Matt Ryan in the end zone at the very end of the first half that LaDarius Gunter couldn’t quite haul in. Right before Atlanta’s second touchdown of the third quarter, Matt Ryan fumbled a snap inside the five-yard line, but Green Bay couldn’t recover. On the opposite side, Ripkowski fumbled deep in Falcons territory and Atlanta recovered. The Packers also dropped an unfortunately high number of passes.
Plays like this wouldn’t have flipped the result of a blowout this big. The Falcons dominated the game in all facets. But plays like this bouncing the other way could have made the game look a fair bit more respectable for Green Bay, for whatever that’s worth.
For the Packers, there will be evaluations all off-season of what went wrong. The coaching staff–particularly the defensive staff and defensive coordinator Dom Capers–will be under heavy scrutiny. Meanwhile, the offense and the team in general will try to recover–from both the physical injuries of the season and the emotional impact of this game.
For the Falcons, it’s time to say goodbye to the Georgia Dome and try to bring Atlanta its first Super Bowl. They will face the winner of the AFC Championship Game, which will be contested later today between the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers.