Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) is tackled with the football during the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 22-21. (Photo: Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports)
GREEN BAY, Wis. - The Green Bay Packers finally won a game without Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers, who were 0-4-1 since Rodgers sustained a broken collarbone, rallied from a 21-10 halftime deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons 22-21 at Lambeau Field. Coupled with the Detroit Lions' loss at Philadelphia, the NFC North race remains tight with one game separating the two teams and Chicago Bears (6-6), who play Dallas on Monday.
The Packers' maligned defense turned the tide. Green Bay forced consecutive three-and-out punts to set up two Mason Crosby field goals that pulled the Packers within 21-16. Then, on the second play of the fourth quarter, outside linebacker Mike Neal beat right tackle Jeremy Trueblood for a sack and stripped the ball from quarterback Matt Ryan. Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly recovered, setting up the Packers at Atlanta's 21 where Matt Flynn completed a back-shoulder pass to tight end Andrew Quarless against safety Zeke Motta for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
The two-point play failed, but Green Bay led 22-21 with 12:01 to play.
Matt Bryant's 52-yard field goal came up short on Atlanta's next possession, but the Falcons forced a key three-and-out, giving Ryan the ball at his 17-yard line with 4:38 to play. The Falcons reached the Packers' 38 when Green Bay's defense stiffened to force a fourth-and-5 from the 33. Due to the weather and the results of Bryant's last kick, a 51-yard field goal was out of the question. After a timeout, Ryan's pass to Gonzalez was broken up by Jarrett Bush, giving Green Bay the ball with 1:55 remaining. When Atlanta got the ball back, their last-gasp hopes were dashed when Ryan threw into double-coverage and was intercepted.
The Falcons seemingly took control late in the first half with a remarkable pick-six.
With Green Bay driving late in the first half, Flynn's pass to fullback John Kuhn was deflected by defensive tackle Peria Jerry. The ball went over Kuhn's shoulder, bounced off linebacker Paul Worrilow's foot and to linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon ran down the left sideline, broke T.J. Lang's tackle attempt near the 25-yard line and scored on a 71-yard return to give Atlanta a 21-10 halftime lead.
The Falcons spotted the Packers a 7-0 lead but came charging back. Ryan hit receiver Drew Davis for a 36-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-3 play in which Davis initially blocked Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. Davis beat safety Morgan Burnett, then broke safety M.D. Jennings' tackle attempt at about the 25.
On the first play of the ensuing possession, safety William Moore blitzed untouched off the Packers' left side for a blind-side sack of Flynn that forced a fumble. Ryan converted a third-and-9 with an 11-yard completion to Roddy White, and Ryan hit Gonzalez for a 1-yard touchdown on the next play after a great play-fake suckered Burnett.
NOTES: The Packers' opening touchdown drive of 18 plays, 90 yards and 9:07 was the team's longest of the season in terms of plays and time. ... Green Bay RB Eddie Lacy's 1-yard touchdown on that possession was his seventh of the season, breaking Samkon Gado's franchise rookie record. ... Falcons S Thomas DeCoud (concussion) and LB Sean Weatherspoon (shoulder) were injured on the first series of the game. Weatherspoon returned but DeCoud, a Pro Bowler in 2012, did not. ... Tony Gonzalez's second-quarter touchdown catch extended his streak to 208 consecutive games with at least one reception. Only Jerry Rice (274) and Gonzalez have caught a game for at least 200 consecutive games. ... At halftime, the Packers honored Glory Years linebacker Dave Robinson, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. ... Green Bay K Mason Crosby's third-quarter field goal gave him 877 points, a record for a player in his first seven seasons. Mike Vanderjagt scored 874 points with the Colts.