There wasn't a lot for Packers fans to like in Sunday's 44-21 loss to the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. Here are ten key moments that helped swing the game:
Ryan finds Sanu for 13 yards on 3rd and 11 on first drive
On the first drive of the game, the Packers forced the Falcons into three 3rd-down situations. Atlanta converted on all three, but arguably the biggest was a 3rd and 11 from Green Bay’s 49-yard line. Matt Ryan found Mohamed Sanu over the middle, who took it 13 yards to move the chains. A stop there would’ve forced a punt or at least a 4th down. Instead, the Falcons kept rolling, and ultimately found the end zone to cap off a 13-play, 80-yard drive and set the tone for the rest of the game.
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Packers Missed FG (41 yards)
On the Packers' first drive of the game, Aaron Rodgers and Co. moved the ball with ease, including two long tosses to Jordy Nelson to move into Atlanta territory. But after Rodgers was forced to just throw the ball away on 3rd and 4, kicker Mason Crosby pushed his 41-yard field goal wide right. The Packers came up empty-handed and gave the ball right back to the dynamic Atlanta offense.
Ripkowski fumble torpedoes potential scoring drive
The Packers managed to hold the Falcons to a field goal, and then got something going on offense the next drive. On 1st and 10 though, Rodgers handed the ball off to fullback Aaron Ripkowski, who carried tacklers down to the Falcons 11-yard line before Jalen Collins managed to rip the football out. Collins recovered, and the Packers limping defense was forced back onto the field.
Ryan 14-yd TD run
After the Ripkowski fumble, Ryan got back to work. Three long passes to Julio Jones put the Falcons deep into Packers territory. On 2nd and 10 from the 14, Ryan, not known for his feet, left the pocket, faked a pass, and then scampered into the end zone to push the Atlanta lead to three scores.
Packers go three-and-out down 17 points
Desperately needing points, Green Bay was unable to do anything, and punted after three plays. The costly play came on 3rd and 1, when pressure from the Falcons defense forced a low throw from Rodgers out to an open Randall Cobb. Cobb was able to haul the catch in at the line of scrimmage, but the inaccurate throw gave cornerback Brian Poole enough time to recover and make the tackle short of the first down.
Jake Ryan can’t recover fumble after botched direct snap on reverse play
On the next series, the Falcons tried to get cute with a direct snap to receiver Taylor Gabriel, who was in motion coming across the line. Gabriel was unable to bring in the snap, and it looked like linebacker Jake Ryan had the easy recovery. But the football slipped out of his hands, and Gabriel pounced back on it. A Packers recovery there would have given Rodgers the ball at the 40-yard line late in the second quarter down only 17. Any points on that potential drive could’ve carried over into the locker room at half time, especially since they were starting the second half on offense.
Rodgers sack, then interception at end of first half
The Falcons did give the Packers another chance at the end of the half, but Green Bay was unable to take advantage. On 2nd down, Atlanta’s Ra’Shede Hageman got just enough of Rodgers’ shoe to trip him up for a sack. And then on 3rd and 21, Rodgers overshot Nelson deep down the field, right into the waiting arms of safety Ricardo Allen. It was a de-facto punt, but it was just another missed opportunity for Green Bay, and Atlanta still had ample time to score once more.
LaDarius Gunter can’t haul in interception with 7 seconds left at end of first half
After safety Marwin Evans was unable to bring in a pick on a deep ball, the Falcons marched down to the Packers 5-yard line. Looking for Jones in the back of the end zone, Ryan’s throw missed a little high and behind the target, right into the hands of cornerback LaDarius Gunter. But Gunter was unable to bring in the interception, and then gave up a touchdown to Jones the very next play. It was not a gift-wrapped interception, but if Gunter is able to make a play there, Green Bay would have trailed by just a manageable 17 points going into the locker room.
First drive of the second half, Packers go three and out
Coming out of halftime, a touchdown was a must for the Packers. Instead, they went three-and-out, including two drops by last week’s hero Jared Cook. The Green Bay offense was just nowhere near the offense displayed over the previous eight weeks.
Jones takes a slant route 73 yards to the house
The Packers offense wasn’t getting it done, and neither was the defense. Two plays after the Green Bay punt, Jones took a simple slant route 73 yards to the house, shedding a Gunter tackle and stiff-arming Damarious Randall in the process. It was a fitting dagger to the game; the Packers secondary had been an issue all season long, and Sunday’s NFC Championship game proved no different. Eight different Falcons players had a reception, including Jones who finished with 180 yards on nine catches and two touchdowns.
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