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Monday, Dec. 9, 2013

Keeping Playoff Hopes on Life Support, Flynn and the Packers Survive a Nail-Biter

Looking Pack: Week 14

packers falcons 2013 recap green bay matt flynn
Jim Biever / Packers.com
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It looked so good on paper. At the beginning of the season, the Dec. 8 matchup carried the promise of two perennial playoff teams converging on frigid Lambeau Field for a late season Sunday Night Football meeting likely to help determine postseason seeding in the NFC. Apparently neither team got the memo. Instead, the game—understandably moved to a noon start time—saw a pair of hobbled teams with losing records, each lacking their primary playmakers, playing a lackluster Week 14 contest before fans (many of whom bought their tickets below face value).

Playoff seeding wasn’t at stake. The Atlanta Falcons were already mathematically eliminated by the time they set foot on the frozen tundra. After an awful Thanksgiving Day performance that put distance between the Packers and Lions, Green Bay was essentially playing for its playoff life. By game’s end, the Packers were still alive.

In stark contrast to the Pack’s lack of offensive attack last Thursday, the Rodgers-less squad wasted little time—or a lot of time, depending on how you look at it—hitting paydirt with a nine-minute first drive that culminated with an Eddie Lacy touchdown lunge from a yard out as the opening quarter expired. The Falcons answered back, knotting the game at seven by way of a 36-yard Matt Ryan to Drew Davis touchdown pass on Atlanta’s subsequent drive. Ryan gave the dirty birds one of its rare leads of the season later in the quarter with a two-yard toss to add another touchdown to Tony Gonzalez’s Hall Of Fame resume.

Everything (save for a Mason Crosby field goal) seemed to be going Atlanta’s way in the second quarter—even some crazy bounces. As the Packers were driving into field goal range in the waning of the opening half, a Flynn pass deflected off John Kuhn’s hands before being kicked by Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow, caught by Sean Weatherspoon and returned 71 yards to put Atlanta up 21-10 at the midway point. But the pendulum would swing Green Bay’s way in the second half.

First, Crosby would add another field goal to reduce the Packers deficit to one score. Then the combination of timely Flynn passing accuracy and some punishing Lacy runs got Crosby in range to kick a third field goal to shrink Atlanta’s lead to just five. One the next Falcons’ drive, the struggling squad’s streak of three-and-out drives would stop at two, as Mike Neal forced a Ryan fumble. The Packers offense would make good on the rare show of defensive support, as Flynn would connect with Andrew Quarless (the favorite target on the day, with six receptions) for a two-yard go-ahead touchdown that capped off a 79-yard drive. Green Bay would fail on the two-point conversion attempt, but now had a one point lead with 12 minutes left.

Fortunately, that single point would prove to be enough, thanks to the suddenly sturdy Packers D. A 62-yard Tim Masthay punt would make a trademark “Matty Ice” fourth quarter comeback a tall order. He made it interesting, driving the Falcons into Packers territory. While it bent, the Packers defense didn’t break. A Jarrett Bush intercepted served as the dagger that broke a winless streak that stretched six weeks and four quarterbacks. At 6-6-1 and the benefactor of a Lions loss in Philadelphia, the Packers live to play another day.

Player Of The Game (Offense) – Matt Flynn

After a dreadful showing in Detroit, Flynn managed a quietly decent afternoon against the Falcons. While just 258 yards, a single touchdown, an interception and a fumble don’t look outstanding on paper, the backup was efficient (24 of 32) and made plays when he needed to.

Player Of The Game (Defense/Special Teams) – Tim Masthay

Though the defense stepped up compared to last week (and, really, the unit only gave up 14 points), no defender stood out statistically. Jarrett Bush sealed the game with an interception and Mike Neal forced a fumble, but Masthay nailed three punts for a 47.3-yard average, including a 62-yarder that pinned Atlanta back at its own one.

Up next: at Dallas Cowboys at 3:25 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15.