The Packers and mostly QB Aaron Rodgers pulled a formerly 4-6 team through an eight game winning streak to make it to the NFC Championship game. But there were problems under the surface and they all seemed to take center stage against the Falcons.Finality of losing in NFL playoffs is stark. One day losing game, next day packing boxes to leave for months, some never to return again.— Andrew Brandt (@AndrewBrandt) January 23, 2017
It felt like that first round bye made all the difference. The Falcons were mostly healthy while the Packers were losing players due to injury left and right. How much of that was due to having to play an extra playoff game (against a great opponent) and having that one extra week to rest?"I think it's a credit to the Falcons and frankly we ran out of gas." Mike McCarthy.— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) January 23, 2017
Losing CB Micah Hyde in the 2nd quarter from a paper thin secondary was horrible. DT Letroy Guion finished up the last few minutes of the game at right guard because the Packers ran out of offensive lineman (Taylor, Lang and Bulaga were all hurt). Holding WR Jordy Nelson's ribs together with military-grade kevlar was kind of symbolic of the game. The Packers just ran out of gas.
On offense: They played OK but they had a couple uncharacteristic problems. They didn't do a good job of picking up the blitz, and I haven't seen the receivers drop that many receptions in a while. In someways, the drops are nothing new; TE Jared Cook seems obligated to drop every third pass to mix in with his great receptions. The fumble near the goal line by FB Aaron Ripkowski hurt too. But these problems alone didn't decide the game.
Special teams: K Mason Crosby missed his first FG attempt in the playoffs since 2010. Again, he didn't cost them the game, but they couldn't afford to miss out on any points.
On defense: The defense had to slow them down, make them settle for field goals, like the did to the Cowboys the week before. Instead the pass rush didn't get anywhere near QB Matt Ryan, which was especially a problem on 3rd downs, they didn't force any turnovers, and the Falcons scored a touchdown on nearly every drive. Other than the long TD reception by WR Julio Jones when he ran through a couple tackles, the Packers did a good job at preventing the big plays. But it didn't do them any good because the Falcons were marching down the field. The Falcons spread the ball around through the air, and were still able to take advantage of Jones against CB Ladarius Gunter, who's had a fantastic season considering he wasn't expected to be more than the No. 4 CB this season. He has a role on the defense but not against No. 1 wideouts. And I lost count of all the missed tackles. The entire team struggled but the defense fell apart.
While this could be viewed as another lost opportunity (Mike McCarthy now has a record of 1-3 in NFC Championship games) another way to look is that this was a flawed team (especially in the secondary) that still got within a game of another Super Bowl. It was a great season, even if it didn't end up with a trip to Houston and another championship.