Instant Reaction: Falcons 34, Packers 23

The Green Bay Packers were unable to reverse their fortunes from eight months ago, falling 34-23 to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night at the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in a game that felt much more lopsided than the final score would indicate.

Here are some initial thoughts:

  • The Packers found themselves without both of their usual starting offensive tackles, as Bryan Bulaga and David Bahktiari were both scratched prior to game time. While it would be extremely easy to chalk up the outcome of the game to that misfortune, it would also be wrong. Green Bay went with the combination of Kyle Murphy and Justin McCray at the tackles and, for the most part, they filled in admirably. Atlanta’s defensive front provided decent pressure throughout the game, but many of the Packers’ missteps came from elsewhere.

  • Martellus Bennett will want to burn the tape from this one. The new offensive weapon dropped two passes officially, plus at least two more that were wiped out by penalties. He was also called for offensive pass interference—a questionable call, to be fair—late in the first half, negating a huge catch and run by Randall Cobb and helping to set the table for an Aaron Rodgers interception that would lead to an Atlanta touchdown just before the end of the half. Bennett did finish with four catches, but he and Rodgers just never seemed to get on the same page. The Packers are going to need that connection to work a lot better down the road.

  • Despite being mostly shredded by Matt Ryan & Co. for the majority of the night, there were some bright spots defensively, most notably rookie cornerback Kevin King. King replaced Damarious Randall and was even tasked with covering Julio Jones, but the rookie held his own, making sure tackles and disrupting passes. It looks like King may find himself in the starting lineup sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, Clay Matthews looked more like his old self, working the right side of Atlanta’s offensive front and bothering Matt Ryan quite a bit. Matthews has taken a lot of flak over his diminishing play in recent seasons, but tonight he seemed to prove he’s still got some playmaking to offer.

  • Besides Bulaga and Bakhtiari, the Packers lost Mike Daniels to a hamstring injury after the very first series of the game, as well as Jordy Nelson to a quad injury early on. Green Bay only had four defensive linemen active to begin the game, and that number shrunk to two after Dean Lowry left in the fourth quarter. The loss of Daniels seemed to show, particularly in the run game. Nelson’s departure no doubt changed the Packers’ offensive game plan, too, though Geronimo Allison stepped in serviceably in his first game back from suspension. Additionally, Randall Cobb left the game midway through the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury. I think the obvious hope would be that the team is being overly cautious in the early portion of the season.

  • Point to the energy of opening a new stadium, “bad” calls, whatever you want—the Packers failed to show up in a big spot again in Atlanta. The defending NFC champions took what they wanted when they were on offense and forced Green Bay into tough situations and mental mistakes when they were on defense. We’ve seen McCarthy/Rodgers-led teams win these types of games often enough, but they cannot afford to lay eggs against the top teams in the NFL if they hope to host games in the playoffs.