Some of you interpreted Sunday's column as criticism of the Packers. In this case, none was intended. The Packers have proved themselves to be a good team, and their performance Sunday would have been enough to win against most opponents. They're on track for a successful nine- or 10-win season. But this season wasn't supposed to be about "successful" for the Packers. It was supposed to be about challenging for the Super Bowl championship. To do that, they need to win some games like the one they lost Sunday. Not all victories are going to be blowouts. The Falcons, for instance, have won three games this season by three points or less. Dating back to last season and including the 2009 playoffs, the Packers have lost their last six games on either the final play of the game or within the final 10 seconds of regulation. Those losses have come by a total of 19 points. The Packers are right there. They're this close. The breakthrough just hasn't happened yet.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a career high in rushing attempts (12). According to ESPN Stats & Information, seven appeared to be improvisational scrambles and five were called runs. Anyone who has watched Rodgers' career knows he is a smart, willing and able runner. But often, teams who don't see him regularly seem to underestimate that part of his game. The Falcons rushed only three men on 15 of Rodgers' dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Four of Rodgers' seven scrambles came against that look. "The way they were covering us, they were dropping eight guys," he said. "And when that happens, I need to move around a little bit. If I'm moving and I feel like I can get us a positive gain, I'm going to take off." Perhaps the Falcons were willing to trade off Rodgers' runs for his downfield passes, but what he did Sunday should at least give future opponents pause when they game plan for the Packers' offense.
The Packers' defense entered the game with the NFL's lowest passer rating on passes shorter than 15 yards, but Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan still had the majority of his success in that area. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan completed 91.3 percent of the "short" passes he threw. In essence, the Falcons dinked and dunked their way down the field. It was a brilliant, low-risk approach that also included tailback Michael Turner's 110-yard day. The Falcons scored 20 points playing "December football" against the Packers. Read into that what you will.
And here is one issue I don't get:
I'm not sure if the Packers can score enough points to win December games if their running game is as ineffective as it was Sunday. Through three quarters, tailbacks Brandon Jackson and Dimitri Nance had combined for minus-7 yards on seven carries. Jackson got going a bit in the fourth quarter when the Packers started using some misdirection runs. But again, I'm thinking the Falcons were willing to take that tradeoff. The most important point is that the Packers were a one-dimensional team in short-yardage situations. Nance couldn't convert a third-and-1 attempt at the Falcons' 4-yard line in the first quarter, and for the most part the Packers' options appeared to be either a pass or a Rodgers scramble. That makes life much easier for opposing defenses.