The Green Bay Packers were one step away from a trip to Super Bowl 51. They had the momentum of eight straight wins, but the Atlanta Falcons made sure the momentum came to a screeching halt.
The Packers won the toss but deferred. That allowed the Falcons to take the opening possession and drive the length of the field for an opening touchdown. By the time the first half was over, the Packers trailed 24-0, on the way to a 44-21 loss in the final game at the Georgia Dome, which is not set for demolition.
Matt Ryan threw for 392 yards and four touchdowns. He also added a 14-yard run for a touchdown, his first rushing touchdown since 2012.
Wide receiver Julio Jones, after barely practicing during the week because of a toe injury, finished with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
The Packers defense had no answer for Ryan and the Falcons all day.
The Packers had chances to keep the game close early, but Mason Crosby missed a 41-yard field goal, ending his string of 23 straight playoff makes. Then, with the Packers driving on their next possession, fullback Aaron Ripkowski fumbled after a big run, with Atlanta recovering.
Aaron Rodgers finished 27 of 45 for 287 yards and three touchdowns, but he also threw an interception and was sacked twice.
Atlanta finished with 493 total yards, to the Packers 367. The Falcons scored touchdowns on six of their nine drives.
The Packers had the football to start the second half, but quickly went three-and-out. Two plays into Atlanta’s next possession, Julio Jones caught a pass and ran 73 yards for a touchdown. At that point, any thoughts of a Packers comeback were over.
The Packers finished the season at 12-7. After a four and six start, they did what only they believed was possible by running the table in the regular season and winning their first two playoff games.
Nobody wants to use injuries as an excuse, but looking back now that the season is over, the constant battle to win despite the injuries caught up on the Packers.
Coach Mike McCarthy said it after the game, they ran out of gas. He’s right. It was uncharacteristic of the Packers to not be able to fight back when they fell behind. They had done it so many times before. But Sunday in Atlanta, once the Falcons jumped out to a lead, the Packers didn’t have an answer. It was as if they had nothing else to give.
The offense carried the load all season. The defense did their best, but it is an area the Packers will have to give some strong consideration to in the offseason, both in the draft and free agency.
After Sunday’s loss, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “I don’t think we need to rebuild. We need to reload.”
It would appear to be a direct message to general manager Ted Thompson.
Rodgers added, “We’ve just got to make sure we’re going all-in every year to win. And I think we can take a big step this offseason.”
The 33-year-old Rodgers said his window of opportunity to get to, and win, a second Super Bowl hasn’t started to close. But his post game comments would suggest that it’s at least on his mind.
Rodgers said re-signing tight end Jared Cook should be a “priority. He’d also like to see free agent to be T.J. Lang get a new deal.
Thompson, McCarthy and Rodgers have just one Super Bowl title during their time in Green Bay. The general belief is that it should be more. The question is, will Thompson give Mike McCarthy the necessary tools to win another.