Aaron Rodgers is one of the greatest quarterbacks the game has ever seen. Unfortunately, he never stood a chance against the Atlanta Falcons.
For the sixth consecutive year, the Green Bay Packers have been eliminated from the postseason before the Super Bowl. And for the third straight year, their playoff exit has come on the road against a team they truly had no business beating anyway.
Despite this, the cheeseheads will forever consider these to be the ones that got away.
In 2015, it was the NFC title game. The Packers were in Seattle against the defending champs. Aaron Rodgers on one leg (he was dealing with a calf injury) against the Legion of Boom? This had lopsided affair written all over it in permanent marker.
But that never came to fruition, as the Packers took a 16-0 lead to halftime and played well enough to be minutes away from an improbable win against the best defense in the league. It would’ve sent them to SB 49 to give us the Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers match up we’ve longed for.
Of course, we know what happened next.
The game went to overtime and the rest was history.
Then in 2016, against the heavily-favored Arizona Cardinals, Rodgers completed one of the more memorable touchdown drives in recent postseason history to send it to overtime. Once again, an inferior Packers team was defeated in OT without Rodgers ever getting a chance to touch the ball.
Fast-forward to 2017. The final game at the Georgia Dome was a chance at retribution. Not just for the heartbreaking 33-32 Week 8 loss in Atlanta, but for all the gut-wrenching playoff departures that came without their Hall of Fame quarterback ever getting a chance to have a say when the game was on the line.
This development was different, though. In the aforementioned games, Rodgers didn’t have a chance in overtime. This time, he didn’t have a chance from the opening kick.
The disparity in talent was overwhelming. Green Bay had the better, more proven quarterback. But Atlanta just had a better unit — simply, a strength in numbers.
We knew this team could put up points in bunches and in a hurry. That exactly what they did. 44-21 was the final score and this one was over before the coin-toss, or better yet, the National anthem.
Before you criticize McCarthy for deferring, it’s important to recognize hindsight is 20-20, which allows second-guessing after the fact to be incredibly easy.
This is what he had done all season. Rodgers was as hot as anyone (finishing the season on a tear that thrust him into the MVP conversation), but so was Matt Ryan, who will probably win that award. If your defense does its job and gets one stop, it sets a profound tone for the rest of the game. Then Rodgers comes on the field and leads the team down the field for a score and just like that, the home team operates with some level of apprehension.
It obviously didn’t work out that way, but that wasn’t because of coaching malpractice. The Falcons finished this season with the 8th highest scoring offense of all-time and they lived up to that hype on Sunday afternoon. That was no fluke.
And how about the defense? It surrendered 25.4 points per game (27th in the NFL), but came on strong as of late. In fact, during Atlanta’s current six-game winning streak, opposing offenses have averaged just 19.3 points. This would’ve been good enough for 7th-best in the NFL.
This unit consists of fast, hard-hitting, young players that have risen to the win-or-go-home occasion. I guess they were tired of the narrative of this team being carried by its offense.
The task was to stop Rodgers, who was in an impossible situation. The Packers had been playing playoff games for the last two months. After falling to 4-6, they couldn’t afford to lose a game. Any miscue would’ve given them their first postseason DNP since 2008.
Remember last week when Tom Brady went 18-for-38 with 287 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions? The Pats won that game by 18 points. That’s not happening for Green Bay. Not even close.
This isn’t to impugn the greatness of Brady, but was there any quarterback in the postseason with more adversity than Rodgers? He had no choice but to be great for his team to have a chance. Without a superstar performance like one that culminated in a 3rd-and-20 miraculously throw to Jared Cook, how could this team be competitive?
We’ve made it this far without even mentioning how putrid the defense was. Ryan went 27-for-38 with 392 yards and four touchdowns. He finished the game with a QBR of 97.8, the third-highest mark ever.
This epitomizes how pathetic the defense was in the biggest game of the season.
#JetJones✈️ has taken off!
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) January 22, 2017
The Packers had a chance to make a statement. Instead, they allowed the Falcons to go 3-for-3 on third downs on the first drive.
Even after defensive ineptitude, the opportunity was still present, as Rodgers marched his team down the field for what should’ve been an easy field-goal. Last week’s hero, Mason Crosby, missed it from 41-yards.
The ensuing Packers possession looked promising. They were in the red zone, but Aaron Ripkowski fumbled. Mistakes cost them 10 points in a game they trailed 10-0. You can’t have that on the road in a hostile environment against a superior team. The Falcons made them pay.
Aaron Rodgers isn’t perfect. He missed some throws and made some poor decisions at times. But declaring this hurts his legacy is foolish. Getting this team within one win of a SB is a testament to how phenomenal he is.
Atlanta took control early and never took its foot off the gas, handing Rodgers another playoff loss. He’s now 5-6 since winning his lone Super Bowl (9-7 overall), but his No. 1 receiver played with broken ribs, his No. 2 played with a severely sprained ankle, their No. 1 running back had been converted to that position midseason and was dealing with injuries, and the defense was a mess.
Is there a QB in the history of the league that could’ve overcome that? If so, name ’em.