(WLAX/WEUX) – One quarter of a pandemic-tainted 2020 NFL season is in the books, and the Green Bay Packers are perfect: 4-0.
The Atlanta Falcons are the opposite. The Falcons left Lambeau Field in five buses just after midnight, headed to the airport and then home with a fourth straight defeat, 30-16.
Green Bay, the only NFC unbeaten along with the Seattle Seahawks, heads into its bye week in first place in the NFC North and in need of some much-needed rest.
Without top receivers Davante Adams and Adam Lazard on offense and stalwarts Kenny Clark and Rashan Gary on defense, the Packers took care of business against an inferior opponent at home.
“Hey, the Packers need this win,” former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka said Monday evening before the contest. “All that matters is getting W, any way you can. It’s the ‘next man up’ mentality. The good teams have players that step up and get the job done when they’re called upon.”
Aaron Rodgers continued his magnificent start to the 2020 season, completing 27 of 33 passes for 327 and four touchdowns–all in the game’s first 40 minutes. Rodgers riddled the porous Atlanta secondary mainly with his backs and tight ends and distributed the ball to seven different receivers.
“I like where we’re at, I really do,” Rodgers said. “I like kind of the diversity in our approach. Again, I think Matt (LaFleur) was really good at trying to mix up the calls. Obviously, we had to do some different things without Davante (Adams) and without Allen (Lazard) and without Marcedes (Lewis), but we had a nice plan and then we executed really well.
“We had a couple of guys who stepped up and played really well. Jamaal Williams, to have almost 100 yards receiving was fantastic. Aaron Jones getting involved in the run and pass game, obviously, again, he’s just such a consistent, solid player in so many different areas. I love him as a teammate and a person. And then Bobby (Tonyan) having a big game was important. I thought the line was excellent again. I thought the calls, I thought Corey (Linsley, center) did a really good job handling everything up front.”
Williams led the way with eight catches for 95 yards, both career highs. Jones powered the running game with 71 yards in 15 attempts for a 4.7-yard per carry average and he contributed 40 more yards on five receptions.
Tight end Robert Tonyan stepped up as the playmaker in the red zone, setting career highs with six receptions for a game-high 98 yards and three touchdowns. He continually worked his way open against outmatched Falcon linebackers on his touchdowns catches of 19, 8, and 21 yards.
“I think going into it, we knew we wanted to get the backs a bunch of touches and the same with Bobby Tonyan,” said head coach Matt LaFleur. “All those guys consistently perform at a high level. They’re guys that we can trust. Certainly, I think Aaron (Rodgers) has a lot of trust in those guys and I think you saw that come through tonight.”
Despite the absence of Kenny Clark in the middle and frequent double-teams, Smith disrupted the Falcons offense with five quarterback hits on Matt Ryan, three sacks for 25 yards, and eight total tackles. Alexander continued his stellar play, as star Julio Jones was limited to four catches for 32 yards in one half before departing with due to his hamstring injury and the Green Bay secondary stifled Calvin Ridley with no receptions on five targets.
Alexander recorded six total tackles in the contest. “Our defense had some great moments,” LaFleur said. “Jaire, he was outstanding.”
The Green Bay defense set the tone for a quick start, forcing a three-and-out of the Falcons’ offense after the opening kickoff.
Rodgers went to work immediately, dissecting the Atlanta secondary with a 27-yard pass to Robert Tonyan, a 9-yarder to Aaron Jones, and finishing with a 6-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jones, who had split out solo wide left. Jones had runs of 9 and 23 yards in the middle of the 7-play drive, which consumed 73 yards in 3:32 minutes for a 7-0 lead.
After another three-and-out, the Packers drove to the Atlanta 1 and went for it on fourth down. The Falcons defense rose up and stuffed Jones at the one, igniting Ryan and the offense.
Atlanta proceeded to march 94 yards on a marathon 20-play drive—featuring two 4th down conversions—that consumed 10:36 minutes and culminated with a 23-yard field to cut the Green Bay lead to 7-3.
It also reflected perfectly the Falcons game plan: clock-draining scoring marches that kept the NFL’s top scoring offense on the bench.
Once back on the field, Rodgers again orchestrated an impressive 11-play, 75-yard drive that he finished with a 19-yard scoring pass to tight end Robert Tonyan. Mason Crosby missed the extra point and Green Bay lead 13-3.
Safety Raven Greene sacked Ryan on third down forcing an Atlanta punt, which Tyler Erwin returned 11 yards to set up Rodgers and the offense at the 50-yard line with 1:37 remaining before halftime.
Rodgers capped off a sensational first half—18 of 22 for 228 yards and three touchdowns–with an 8-yard pass to Tonyan for a 20-3 cushion at intermission. Atlanta had one last opportunity with in the quarter’s final 45 seconds, but Za’Darius Smith sacked Ryan for an 8-yard loss on third down and the Falcons let the clock run out.
On the opening possession of the second half, the Packers punted and the Falcons got back in the game with an impressive 8pplay, 67-yard drive. Todd Gurley capped it with a 5-yard touchdown burst and Elliot Fry missed the extra point to shave the deficit to 20-9 with 7:20 remaining in the third quarter.
The Packers answered two minutes later on Rodgers’ 21-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Tonyan for a 27-9 cushion. In the final stanza, Atlanta closed to within 27-16 before a 48-yard field coach by Crosby sealed the victory with 5:55 remaining.
Green Bay can now rest and recover during its bye week, with the toughest four-game stretch of the season on tap: at Tampa Bay, at Houston, host the rival Vikings, then four days later face the 49ers in San Francisco on Thursday night.
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