Falcons prepare for ‘terrific challenge’ from Rodgers, Packers

Credit: Kevin C. Cox

Credit: Kevin C. Cox

The Falcons have another playoffs rematch, this time against an opponent they beat the first time around. That doesn’t mean coach Dan Quinn is changing his script.

The Falcons will face the Packers in the NFC championship game at the Georgia Dome on Sunday after they beat them on the same field in October. The Falcons lost at Seattle during the regular season before defeating them in an NFC divisional game on Saturday.

Quinn played down that first game with the Seahawks, which wasn’t surprising because the Falcons lost. But he is doing the same thing with the second meeting against the Packers, who lost 33-32 at the Georgia Dome on Oct. 30.

“Both teams are a better version of what they were at that time,” Quinn said Monday.

There’s a big difference, though. Unlike the Seahawks, the Packers have proven they are capable of matching the Falcons’ league-best offense score for score, if it comes to that.

The Packers averaged 30.8 points per game over the final six games of the regular season and continue to score big in the playoffs. They beat the Giants 38-13 in the wild-card round and upset the Cowboys 34-31 in Dallas on Sunday.

Green Bay’s loss to the Falcons was the first of four in a row. The Packers were 4-6 at the time but quarterback Aaron Rodgers vowed that they could “run the table” from there, and they did so as he regained his MVP form.

“Every team you coach has a personality,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy told reporters in Green Bay, Wis., on Monday. “This team’s personality is one of a unique energy. They don’t swing too high, they don’t swing too low. I think that’s really helped us over this course and it will help us again this week because this is going to be a tough, tough football game.”

The Falcons have put up points all season, even against very good defensive opponents, and the Packers have a below-average group. The Falcons had little trouble scoring on Saturday against the Seahawks, who had the third-ranked scoring defense during the season.

If the Falcons keep scoring at a high clip, they may not need much help from their defense. But they feel as if they are in a better position to receive it because the defense improved over the final six weeks of the regular season.

The Seahawks finished a 14-play drive with a TD on their opening possession on Saturday and scored another TD after the Falcons had a big lead late. In between Seattle couldn’t do much else.

“We are ready to battle against anybody,” Falcons safety Ricardo Allen said afterwards. “They may say we can’t hold up against this (certain) team and we’ve given this (many points) up. But we go out week in and week out and we battle.”

The Falcons did show real defensive improvement over the final six games. Quinn said the defense played faster once the players improved their communication. The Falcons also “attacked the ball” better while forcing more turnovers, Quinn said.

But the Falcons didn’t face any elite offensive teams during that span until they faced the Saints in the season finale. The Falcons controlled the Saints for three quarters but gave up three touchdowns and 255 yards in the final period before recovering an on-side kick to preserve the 38-32 victory.

The last two strong offensive teams the Falcons faced — the Packers and Saints — both put up big numbers against them. And Rodgers, like New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, is capable of rallying his team.

At Dallas, Rodgers moved the Packers 43 yards in less than 35 seconds to set up Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal as time expired. According to ESPN Stats and Information, it was Rodgers’ eighth completion of 30-plus yards in the final minute of the half over the past two seasons.

Rodgers gave the Falcons fits in October by escaping their pass rush and making plays outside of the pocket. But he couldn’t lead the Packers to victory after Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan’s 11-yard TD pass to Mohamed Sanu proved the game-winner with 36 seconds left.

“We do expect this to go down to the end,” Quinn said Monday. “(Rodgers) is one of the very best at that. For us, it’s a terrific challenge.”