Evan Siegle/Green Bay Packers
Jordy Nelson’s presence helped, but didn’t save the Pack against the Falcons.
Well, it was fun while it lasted.
From the Atlanta Falcons’ 80-yard opening drive in Jan. 22’s NFC Championship Game, it seemed almost certain the Green Bay Packers’ eight-game winning streak was over. What wasn’t clear right away was how embarrassing that ending would be for this organization and its fans.
The Falcons dominated the Packers in a 44-21 victory — Green Bay’s third-worst defeat in the team’s 81-year playoff history.
Let’s be realistic: Nobody outside of Green Bay’s locker room expected the Packers to advance this far after starting the season at 4-6. And no team in NFL history with that record after the first 10 games of the season ever advanced to the Super Bowl.
Injuries decimated the Packers this season, and the team listed 15 guys on its injury report coming into the Atlanta game, compared to only three for the Falcons. Wide receiver Jordy Nelson played with broken ribs, plus quarterback Aaron Rodgers and other players were bit by the flu bug earlier in the week.
Green Bay ran the table and won its final six regular-season games to make the playoffs, but as announcer Joe Buck declared at some point during Sunday’s long and trying afternoon, “We haven’t seen the Green Bay Packers play like this since November.”
Now comes the offseason of the players’ discontent, during which they will have time to process how they self-destructed in the NFC Championship Game for the second time in three years. Green Bay was outplayed in every aspect of the game, especially on the defensive side of the ball, as Atlanta racked up nearly 500 total yards.
Head coach Mike McCarthy likely won’t be sitting in the same hot seat he was at mid-season, although he’s now 1-3 in NFC Championship Games. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is another story; if he has a job when training camp opens in late July, the Packers faithful will see red along with green and gold.
Atlanta enters Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5 as three-point underdogs against the New England Patriots, which will play in their 10th Super Bowl despite “Deflategate” quarterback Tom Brady sitting out the first four games of this season.
But if Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan (27 of 38 for 392 yards against Green Bay) continues to connect with wide receiver Julio Jones (who caught nine passes for 180 yards), the Falcons will finally win their first Super Bowl.