I’m old school. After the Packers kicked away a double-digit fourth-quarter lead in the fourth quarter for the first time in nine years, I had an oldie by the Shirelles running through my head: “Mama said there’ll be days like these. There’ll be days like these, my mama said.”
The Pack’s stunning fourth-quarter collapse was a combination of conservative play calling, poor tackling, untenable mistakes (like the penalty on the fourth-and-one sneak attempt), and not taking advantage of multiple opportunities to put the game away.
It’s a young team, and the Packers were missing four of its most talented offensive players for most of the game. Still, they had the Falcons right where they wanted them, up by 12 with 12 minutes to go. But Atlanta’s offense started to find its groove, getting sensational rookie Bijan Robinson in space where Kenny Clark and his linemates couldn’t get to him. Combine bad tackling with some tired defenders, and the Falcons were suddenly in business.
It would also help if Joe Barry had coached it better. Barry continued to show a two-high safety look despite his guys getting torched on the ground. And on one key third-down play, he had De’Vondre Campbell lined up opposite the explosive Robinson – nine yards off the line of scrimmage. An easy pitch-and-catch later on a slant, and the Falcons were moving the chains.
The offense shares just as much of the blame. They were unable to generate even one first down in the fourth quarter. The Falcons had the ball for 12 minutes in the quarter, and the defense was clearly gassed. The Birds ran 30 more plays on offense than the Pack and generated twice as many total yards for the game.
We probably should have known it would be one of those days after the Pack’s opening series. A flea flicker to open the game drew the PI flag, and 44 yards later, they were already in field goal range. But then: Three yards for AJ Dillon, an incomplete pass to Luke Musgrave, a false start penalty, and another incompletion. The Pack had to settle for a 51-yard field goal attempt. But no. Delay of game on Green Bay and out came the punt unit. Unforgivable. And why not try a 56-yarder? Anders Carlson made one from 57 last week outdoors at windy Soldier Field.
There were other lost opportunities. Jaire Alexander and Quay Walker dropped sure pick-sixes. The defense allowed Desmond Ridder to convert three out of four fourth downs and had more trouble containing him than Justin Fields a week ago. In no universe should Ridder rush for 39 yards in a game.
You knew Aaron Jones and Christian Watson’s absences would hamstring the offense, given they’re two of Green Bay’s most electric players. When David Bakhtiari was declared inactive, second-year tackle Rasheed Walker made his first start.
Good thing Pro Bowler Elgton Jenkins was right next to him, providing stability and leadership – for the first quarter. When Jenkins left the game for what’s being called a sprained MCL, the Packers found themselves playing without their two best linemen. We’ll wait and see how much time Jenkins will miss. Best-case scenario, he’s back after the Week 6 bye.
Despite all that offensive talent in street clothes, Love had another excellent day, with three touchdowns, no picks, and a passer rating of 113.5. It was nice to see rookie WR Jayden Reed be a playmaker on a day the offense desperately needed someone to assume that role. Clearly, Dillon was not that guy. Once again, he showed he could not carry the running game when the Packers ask him to. Dillon looks pedestrian. A backup running back with no burst, no elusiveness, and a penchant for tripping over his own feet at the most inopportune times.
Alexander also looked nothing like the league’s highest-paid corner on this day. Dropping a sure pick-six is one thing. Getting torched by Drake London is something completely different. It seems like Alexander had a few games each year where he’s a bit off. He’ll need to flush this one away and get ready for Chris Olave, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Davante Adams in the next three weeks.
My biggest concern right now is the injuries. Hopefully, Jenkins escaped a long-term absence, and we’ll wait to hear about Lukas Van Ness, who was having another strong game before exiting with an elbow injury. And we’ll wait throughout the week to see if Jones, Watson, and Bakhtiari can return for the home opener against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
The Falcons game was a chance for the young Packers to open the season with consecutive road wins, something no Packer team has ever accomplished, and they had it right in their hands. Green Bay had a chance to sit alone atop the NFC North after two weeks. Instead, they left us with questions about their run defense, the banged-up offensive line, and whether this team knows how to put a team away.
Call it an opportunity lost.