The Green Bay Packers won their first game under interim coach Joe Philbin, 34-20 over the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field. The win increased the Pack’s record to 5-7-1 and momentarily kept their slim playoff hopes alive. Aaron Rodgers threw for 196 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Packers offense.
Here are eight key takeaways from the Packers win over the Falcons:
1. Joe Philbin Had Growing Pains, But Bounced Back Well
Packers interim head coach Joe Philbin got off to a questionable start on Atlanta’s opening drive of the game, challenging two officials calls in the first 1:04 of the game. It turns out Philbin was probably correct on both calls, but foolish to challenge them both.
First, neither play was a game-changer that would have a huge effect on the outcome. Second, it left the Packers without a challenge for the remaining 59 minutes of the game which could have been very costly.
Once the opening drive was over, Philbin settled down and showed his expertise. The overall atmosphere around the team seemed less tense and more efficient.
The offense didn’t make many big plays, but they moved the ball and were able to establish a rhythm in the first half and early in the third quarter while the outcome was still in doubt.
The defense made one big play, the pick-six by Bashaud Breeland, and was able to do enough to allow the Falcons to self-destruct for the rest of the game.
Overall, a solid if unspectacular start for Joe Philbin and a much-needed shot in the arm for the team.
2. The Packers Offense Was Smarter
The Packers offense got the job done. The team called more plays designed to scheme receivers open and keep the chains moving. The picked up 23 first downs and were 7-of-13 on third down conversions, a big step up from their earlier offensive struggles.
This was due in part to Rodgers’ willingness to complete a nine-yard pass on third-and-seven instead of consistently going for the 25-yard strike downfield. The offense took some shots but did so after they started moving the football and established what they were trying to do.
The Packers again got away from the running game in the first half with Aaron Jones rushing only three times at the break, but they made sure they fed Jones in the second half, giving him the ball 14 times on the ground and three times through the air while protecting the lead in the second half.
Davante Adams was the focal point of the passing offense with Randall Cobb making a solid contribution as the number two receiver.
The Packers knew they were without three starters on the offensive line and that made shorter passes smarter. Philbin was able to establish that and although Rodgers was sacked four times, the offense was still able to move the ball efficiently and earn the victory.
3. The Defense Adjusted Well
Mike Pettine’s defense looked shaky on the opening drive, with Julio Jones making three catches and scoring the game’s first touchdown. Jaire Alexander could have grown frustrated early, but he settled down and the Green Bay defense did, too.
The Packers seemed content to allow Atlanta to run the football since their rushing offense has been so ineffective all season. They allowed penalties and sloppy play by the Falcons undermine any attempts at longer drives until the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt.
Jones finished with eight catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns, but after the opening drive and until the Packers led 34-7, he was not a major factor.
The Falcons offense never felt dangerous and struggled all game. Despite missing so many starters and losing Kenny Clark for part of the game with an injury, Pettine found ways to slow down and harass the Falcons attack and win the football game.
4. Bashaud Breeland Came Up Big
Breeland made the play of the game for the Packers, a pick-six in the second quarter that gave Green Bay a 17-7 lead with six minutes left in the half. Breeland also later recovered a fumble by the Falcons in the fourth quarter that ended any doubts about the outcome of the game.
This was only Breeland’s fourth game with the Packers since signing as a free agent earlier this season. Had he been healthy, there is little doubt he would have added experience, stability and big-play ability to the Green Bay secondary. It would be wise for GM Brian Gutekunst to see if Breeland is interested in signing an extension with the Packers to return in 2019.
5. Davante Adams Is a Huge Key to the Offense
Adams finished with seven catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. He had another strong game, doing everything asked of him and providing Rodgers with the security he so badly needs with so many inexperienced receivers in the Green Bay lineup.
Adams unquestionably belongs in the Pro Bowl this season for his efforts, especially considering there is nobody else on the roster that defenses truly need to respect after Adams.
Statistically, this doesn’t look like a big game for Adams, but it was, and the players and coaching staff recognize his value to the offense.
6. Aaron Rodgers Record-Setting Performance Deserves Respect
Aaron Rodgers set a new NFL record early in the third quarter on his 24-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb. That gave Rodgers 359 consecutive passes without an interception, breaking the previous record held by New England’s Tom Brady.
This season, Rodgers has 23 touchdown passes and one interception and this is an off-season for the Packers’ franchise quarterback.
This ability to avoid mistakes helps separate Rodgers from Brett Favre when comparing the two quarterbacks and is one of many factors that make him an all-time great at the position.
7. Clay Matthews Had His Best Game of the Year
Clay Matthews had a solid game for the Packers. Statistically, he was not spectacular, coming up with three tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack, but the plays he made were big ones that disrupted Atlanta scoring drives.
At this stage in his career, Matthews is no longer a dominant player, but he is still capable of coming up with big plays in key situations. He did that against Atlanta which still makes him an important contributor for the Green Bay defense.
8. This Was an Ugly Win, But a Very Good One
The Packers entered this game having lost five or their last six contests. The season had gone from one of high expectations to a complete bust since the bye week and their Super Bowl-winning head coach of 13 seasons was fired.
The Packers won a game against another struggling and underachieving team, but they got the job done and did it with relative ease. This win wasn’t pretty, but it was necessary and felt good and gave the locker room a much-needed boost.
The Packers proved they can still get the job done and they lifted some weight off their collective shoulders today with a solid if sloppy performance.