A 47-yard field goal from Matt Bryant with nine seconds left pushed the Atlanta Falcons past the Packers 20-17 in a matchup of two of the NFC’s best Sunday. The Packers offense failed to convert key plays, the defense missed tackles, and the special teams reverted back to its old ways in the loss, leaving the team empty-handed in what could have been a season-defining game.
With the loss, the Packers (7-4) move a game behind the Chicago Bears for the NFC North lead and are currently on the outside looking in the playoff race. That being said, the Packers still control its destiny in the North and will have plenty of opportunities to make a jump in the standings over the next five weeks.
As for Sunday, here are a few grades for key players on all three units.
Aaron Rodgers had an excellent game on paper, spreading his 26 completions to eight receivers, and the Packers had over 400 yards of total offense, but the unit was never fully on track and never got into a rhythm it had become accustomed to over the past three weeks. One big reason was the lack of a running game, something the Packers were able to hide during its four-game winning streak.
Aaron Rodgers: Unfortunately, an otherwise excellent game from Rodgers will be overshadowed by his lost fumble at the Falcons’ goal line in the first half. Early in the second quarter, with the score tied 3-3, Rodgers rushed up the middle on a third-and-one quarterback sneak and lost control of the ball on his way in. The Falcons recovered and proceeded to drive 80 yards for a touchdown to put them up seven at halftime.
It was a momentum-shifting play and ended up being the only turnover of the game for either team, making it all that more important. Still, Rodgers passed with accuracy and poise and used his legs to run 12 times for 51 yards, including a one-yard improvised touchdown run in the third quarter to tie the game.
His touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson on fourth down with 12 seconds to go was a throw that, at best, a handful of quarterbacks in the league could make. The fumble was a huge blemish on his day, but Rodgers still had one heck of a day. GRADE: A-
Brandon Jackson/Dimitri Nance:
The Packers responded from a slow first quarter to embarrass the Vikings in a 31-3 blowout win Sunday. The offense moved like clockwork, the defense was all over the field, and special teams was once again a positive in the win. The win moves the Packers back into a tie with the Chicago Bears for first place in the NFC North and has momentum on its side entering a huge game against the Falcons next week. Here are five game balls to give out for Sunday’s huge division win.
Dom Capers: This is more like a monthly game ball, but the Packers’ defense has been the best in the league since Week 8 and has allowed just 10 total points in their last three games (3-0). Capers has mixed up schemes, sent different players from all different angles, and still managed to not give up the big play that haunted the Packers at times in 2009. Capers will once again need to bring his “A-game” against the Falcons next week, but it sure looks like the Packers’ defense is up to the task.
Green Bay Packers 45, Dallas Cowboys 7: Mini-Game Balls
Clay Matthews: If he wasn’t already in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, Clay Matthews certainly moved his name to the top of the list Sunday night. He tallied a sack, four tackles (two for a loss), two quarterback hits, two passes defended, and a 62-yard interception return for a touchdown off an A.J. Hawk batted ball. He is proving to be the most important player on the Packers’ defense, and quite possibly the team.
James Jones: Filling in for the injured Donald Driver (quad), Jones went for 123 yards on eight receptions, including a 10-yard score on a screen pass from Aaron Rodgers in the second quarter. Jordy Nelson is probably the more consistent option going forward, but games like these show why Jones could certainly take over the starting role from Driver sooner than later. It should be noted he also fumbled and dropped a touchdown pass, but in all it was an excellent game for Jones.
Charles Woodson: Tramon Williams and Sam Shields deserve plenty of credit for the defense’s excellent performance, but Woodson finally put together the type of performance that helped him win Defensive Player of the Year honors a season ago. He sacked Jon Kitna once, provided plenty of quarterback hurries from the outside, and finished with five tackles. It was great to see Woodson flying around the field like his old self.
Chad Clifton: The mid-season MVP of the offense could very well be Clifton, who once again dominated in pass protection against one of the game’s elite in DeMarcus Ware. Rodgers was sacked just once Sunday night and the Packers now rank tied for 17th in sacks allowed (17), a huge improvement from last season. Clifton is the main reason for that improvement.
Honorable Mentions: Jarrett Bush, Josh Sitton, Sam Shields, Greg Jennings
Packers Release Cornerback Al Harris
The Packers are eight games into their 16-game schedule, so it’s time to grade out the team on both sides of the ball. Today we’ll take a look at the offense. Through eight games, the offense ranks 16th in yards per game, 10th in passing yards per game, 22nd in rushing yards per game, and 13th in points per game. It’s a far cry from their pre-season expectations, but season-ending injuries to running back Ryan Grant in Week 1 and Jermichael Finley in Week 5 have not made things any easier. Here are the grades through the midway point of the 2010 season:
QB – Aaron Rodgers: Many expected Rodgers to put together an MVP-type season, and while he has played well, it hasn’t been at that level. He’s on pace for 4,000 yards and 24 touchdowns and has been key in wins over Philadelphia and Minnesota, but there’s a lot to be desired based on what was expected from him. Grade: B
RB – Brandon Jackson: He might not be the Marshawn Lynch or Marion Barber many Packers’ fans wanted, but he has performed admirably under pressure to succeed and has kept the run game relevant in Green Bay. He is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and, while he hasn’t received as many carries as a true feature back, he has made the most of them. Grade: B
RB – John Kuhn: It’s been an odd year for Kuhn, who has transitioned from fullback to running back post-Grant injury, but he has done what has been asked of him in situational roles. His running stats aren’t all that impressive but his importance to the offense is undeniable. Grade: C+
WR – Greg Jennings:
Despite the injuries on defense piling up over the last few weeks and a struggling offense, the Green Bay Packers willed their way to a huge 9-0 road win Sunday over the New York Jets. It was certainly the biggest win of the season for the Packers (5-3), handing the Jets their first loss since Week 1. It wasn’t the game most expected but the end result was a positive one, putting the Packers alone in first place for the first time all season.
Packers’ Secondary: There’s no question the run defense was huge in shutting down the Jets’ offense, and they did so with a plethora of injuries, but the secondary came up with huge play after huge play all day. Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson each intercepted Mark Sanchez by stripping the ball away from receivers. Charlie Peprah also put together an admirable performance, including two pass break-ups in the fourth quarter that stalled potential game-winning drives. Nick Collins was all over the field as usual and was key in the win.