Here, though, is where we draw the line in this game and maybe in Quinn’s reign as coach. Rodgers embarrassed his defense in the first half. The Packers led 24-19 and got the ball first after the break. Another touchdown and the lead would have been double figures. And here, of all times, the team without a pass rush mustered a pass rush.
Green Bay’s first two possessions of the second half ended with Adrian Clayborn sacking Rodgers. The Falcons were blitzing – “We knew we had to find some way to affect the quarterback better,” Quinn said – but much of this heavy lifting came from the front four.
Two Green Bay punts changed the game. The Falcons nosed back ahead. When finally Rodgers regained his mojo, the home side was positioned to answer with one score. Which it did. Then its defense needed to make a 31-second stand. Which it did.
Rodgers found Jeff Janis for seven yards. Then he overthrew Jordy Nelson deep. If that’s a completion, the Packers probably win. It wasn’t, and they didn’t. Sub cornerback C.J. Goodwin batted down a third-down throw. Fourteen seconds remained. One last time, Rodgers dropped back. One last time, the Falcons flushed him from the pocket. One last time he threw, only to nobody in particular. if it was an oddly subdued finish to a frantic game, the Falcons didn’t care. They’d won 33-32.
If you want to call it the biggest victory under Quinn, go right ahead. The Falcons entered having lost twice at the bitter end. Falling to Green Bay – which was missing Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb and nearly all its running backs – would have dropped them to 4-4 with consecutive road games upcoming. If they were going to beat the Packers, it had to be on a day like this. If they’re going to a playoff team, they had to start acting like one.
“We wanted a game like this,” said Quinn, meaning close all the way. As night fell on the A-T-L, this team and its coach could rest a bit easier: This inspection revealed that these Falcons have the requisite complement of guts – and some talent to boot. We knew about this raging offense. What we didn’t know was if this defense could hold Mr. Discount Double Check to one second-half touchdown. Now we do.
A big-time game was won by a team that has renewed reason to feel it’s becoming big-time. This was the kind of victory that teams playing in January invariably reference as a touchstone.