If the Green Bay Packers have closed the gap between themselves and the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons, it certainly didn’t show on Sunday night in a 34-23 loss.
A retooled defense looked exactly as it did last January, as reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones picked up right where they left off in the conference title game. The duo hooked up on gains of 19 and 34 yards on the opening drive, one that was finished off by Devonta Freeman, the first of two touchdowns for the running back who ended up with 84 yards on the ground. Jones had 105 yards on just five grabs, while Mohamed Sanu added five catches and 85 yards.
Green Bay had an answer, going 75 yards in 11 plays before Ty Montgomery plunged in from 1-yard out to tie the game. After that, though, it was all Falcons, as they scored 24 unanswered points, including taking an Aaron Rodgers fumble back for a 15-yard touchdown. Rodgers also threw an interception, his second of the season, and Atlanta made him pay for it by scoring a touchdown just before half to make it 24-7.
“I gave them seven [points] on the fumble, gave another seven on the [interception] and we lose by 11,” Rodgers said. “We were in the game. I can’t turn the ball over like that.”
Unfortunately for the Packers, the real story of the game was a mounting injury list. They played without starting tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari, and then lost defensive tackle Mike Daniels, wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, along with defensive backs Davon House and Kentrell Brice during the game.
It’s unclear how severe any of the injuries were, but they were just another discouraging aspect on a discouraging night.
“Well, I hope we can,” Rodgers said when asked whether he took comfort in the fact it’s still early in the season and they can play better. “This is a potential matchup down the line. Hopefully, we put ourselves in that position. It was a tough game.”
Rodgers called Atlanta a fantastic team, but also intimated that the Packers don’t believe there is a big gap between the franchises despite Green Bay having lost each of its last two trips south by double digits.
“I think we can beat anyone at home,” Rodgers said, a nod toward the advantage the Falcons have at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium. “We don’t look at it as [needing to close] the gap.”
Green Bay scored the final 13 points of the game, with Rodgers finding Davante Adams for a 33-yard score and then Montgomery on a shovel pass for a 1-yard touchdown. That one gave him 300 for his career as he became the fastest player in league history to reach that mark.
It’s back home in Week 3 for the Packers, as they welcome the Cincinnati Bengals (0-2) to Lambeau Field next Sunday.