The Atlanta Falcons play the Green Bay Packers again Sunday night. Excuse some of us going to the game if we walk around during the second quarter and just refuse to watch.
The second quarter was the nightmare that happened in January in the playoff game between the two teams. Green Bay ran away with the game, and a loud crowd was quickly silenced.
It was such a monumental event that it will probably be easily recognized with just three words, “The second quarter.” It’ll be like when someone says, “The Dallas game,” which will make longtime Falcons fans remember the 1981 playoff game that we really want to forget.
But Sunday’s game will give the Falcons a chance for redemption. This is a different team, a different season. And even while the Packers are arguably even better than they were back in January, the Falcons might be better, too.
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The record might not reflect that, as Atlanta has been surprisingly mediocre so far with two wins and two losses. But when preparing for the Falcons, Green Bay undoubtedly has more to worry about now than it did 10 months ago.
Julio Jones has quickly become a favorite target for quarterback Matt Ryan, and that’s a weapon Ryan didn’t have in the playoff game. Plus, Ray Edwards has been an upgrade at defensive end for Atlanta. We haven’t seen that in the form of sacks yet, but there’s no doubt Edwards is better than Jamaal Anderson.
And since Edwards played in Minnesota for so many years, he has chased Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers from time to time. Remember, the Falcons chased Rodgers all around the field in January, but unfortunately they couldn’t catch him. Maybe Edwards will Sunday night.
Rodgers is very, very good, and the Super Bowl win in February confirmed that. The Falcons are going to have to put pressure on him and hope he shoots himself in the foot. Rodgers doesn’t do that very often, but the more a quarterback is disrupted, the better chance he will make mistakes.
Atlanta’s secondary is the part of the defense that will be under the gun Sunday. Rodgers picked it apart in January, and the Falcons can’t let him do it again.
But if Atlanta is going to win Sunday, the offense has to be clicking on all cylinders. We’ve seen signs, but it just seems like the Falcons aren’t there yet. First, they have to run the ball, in spite of Green Bay’s standing as the second best team against the run in the league. Atlanta can’t afford to get away from its core philosophy, which is to run the football.
The Falcons got away from that two weeks ago in Tampa Bay, and it cost them. Then last week in Seattle, Michael Turner ran the ball 26 times, and it helped the offense get an early lead. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey needs to do the same thing Sunday against the Packers.
If Turner can establish the run, Falcons fans can then hope Ryan can find Jones and Roddy White. Don’t be fooled into the hype about White’s two big missed catches. Sure, they hurt the Falcons when he didn’t catch the one in Tampa Bay and then the one last week in Seattle. But White is still an elite receiver in the NFL.
Now that Jones has joined White and tight end Tony Gonzalez (who just gets better with age, by the way), Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers has a bit more to deal with than he did in January. That could make the difference for the Falcons.
This is one of those “fork in the road” games for Atlanta. A loss might make it hard to stay in the NFC playoff race, while a win could be something they look back on as the game that got the team on track.
And as long as they get through the second quarter unscathed, the Falcons will have a great chance of winning Sunday night at the Georgia Dome.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.