Matty Ice is back.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who’d uncharacteristically tossed two late-game interceptions in two previous losses, returned to old game-winning form.
Ryan tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu with 31 seconds left to lift the Falcons to a 33-32 victory over the Green Bay Packers before 70,165 jubilant fans on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
“For me, I saw an opportunity to give him a high-ball in the end zone and he made a great catch,” Ryan said of Sanu. “He came down and got his feet it, which was nice to see.”
The touchdown pass allowed the team to overcome a late-game pre-snap penalty that helped the Packers, who didn’t have a rushing attack, take a lead.
Without running back Tevin Coleman and a hobbled Julio Jones, the Falcons improved to 5-3. The Packers dropped to 4-3.
“There was a real belief that we were going to get this job done today,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.
The win was crucial for the Falcons, who blew late-game leads against Seattle and San Diego in their two previous outings.
“We’ve certainly talked about it a bunch and had the uncomfortable conversations knowing that the league that we play in, most of these games are going to come down to this kind of finish,” Quinn said. “We relished that chance to be finishers.”
Here are the five things we learned from the game:
1. Falcons stay aggressive but a bit disorganized. After a failed fourth-down gamble last Sunday against San Diego in overtime, Quinn promised to stay aggressive and he stayed true to that on the Falcons’ opening drive.
Quinn elected to go for it on a fourth-and-1 from Green Bay’s 42. The Falcons faked a dive to fullback Patrick DiMarco and tossed a pitch to Devonta Freeman, who raced around left end for 17 yards and the first down.
The drive stalled on Green Bay’s 18 and Quinn elected to kick a 36-yard field goal by Matt Bryant instead of going for it on a fourth-and-3.
In the second quarter, after Ryan tossed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Freeman to make it 21-19, Quinn decided to go for the two-point conversion. Ryan was sacked.
The Falcons had three illegal formation penalties and a costly penalty for having 12 players on the field.
Ryan completed 28 of 35 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns. Jones had just three catches for 29 yards, all in the first half. Sanu, who was signed five-year $32.5 million contract as a free agent essentially to replace Falcons career-leading receiver Roddy White, turned in his best game with the Falcons as he caught nine passes for 84 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
“Really, Sanu was on point in a number of ways today,” Quinn said. “He caught some screens, some crossing routes that he had and made some firsts downs.”
2. Rookie mistakes. With the Falcons up 10-7, rookie Keanu Neal made a mistake to keep Green Bay’s second possession alive.
On second-and-21 from Green Bay’s 46, Neal came up on wide receiver Davante Adams in the flat. He went for the highlight-reel big hit instead of just a sure open-field tackle.
Adams escaped and blazed down the field for 22 yards to the Falcons’ 24. Six plays later, Rodgers tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison to re-take the lead. Mason Cosby’s point after made it 14-10.
Later in the second quarter, Neal was called for a unnecessary roughness that put the Packers in point-blank field-goal range with :04 left on the clock in the first half. Cosby’s 29-yard field goal gave the Packers a 24-19 halftime lead.
3. Jones under control. Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones pulled himself out of the game twice in the first half.
The first time, he was grabbing his hand, but he returned after a few plays.
In the second quarter, Jones came out and was flexing his right leg on the side line behind the bench. He was later taken to the training table and examined by the doctors.
He returned to the game but came out again during the Falcons’ first possession of the second half.
“I’m good, ain’t nothing going on,” Jones said when asked if he was injured.
4. Pass rush made some key stops. Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley came up with a sack of Rodgers on a third-and-8 from Green Bay’s 27 in the second quarter. Courtney Upshaw flushed Rodgers out of the pocket on the play.
Beasley’s sack, which pushed his total to 7.5 for the season, forced the first punt of the game as the offenses scored on the first five possessions and Packers held a 14-13 lead
On the Packers’ first possession of the second half, Adrian Clayborn came up with a sack on third-and-6 from Atlanta’s 47 to force a punt.
After the stop, the Falcons put together a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to retake the lead 26-24.
On the Packers’ second possession, Clayborn went to work again from the defensive tackle spot in the nickel. On third-and-13 from Green Bay’s 43, Clayborn did a swim move to get past Green Bay guard J.C. Tretter to sack Rodgers and force a punt.
5. Rodgers rough on the defense: Rodgers, operating without a rushing attack, scored on four of their five possessions in the first half as the Packers took a 24-19 lead.
Rodgers tossed all of his touchdown passes while being flushed out of the pocket. The TD passes went to Jordy Nelson, Allison and Trevor Davis.
After being stopped on the first two possession of the second half, Rodgers led the penalty-aided touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
“Both quarterbacks were on fire the entire game,” Quinn said. “The last two weeks have been extremely hard on us as some finishes went. We are a resilient group. As a coach, honestly, we wanted an opportunity to come back and do that again.”