For three-plus quarters Sunday, everything was going according to plan.
Jordan Love was excellent.
The defense was holding its own.
And the Green Bay Packers led host Atlanta, 24-12, heading to the fourth quarter. Then the roof caved in, the Falcons scored 13 unanswered points and shocked the Packers, 25-24.
“Obviously very disappointed,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “When you have a 12-point lead in the second half and you don’t make the plays and don’t play complementary football, and then you have mistakes, all those get magnified. Disappointed.”
Green Bay fell to 1-1, while the Falcons improved to 2-0.
“We had a chance to win that game and I think we hurt ourselves more than anything, so we lost it for ourselves,” Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love said. “But definitely something, we expect to execute in those situations. You know, up 12 points, we expect to come away with a win and we’ve just got to find a way to get that win.”
Here’s the good, bad and ugly from the Packers’ loss.
JORDAN LOVE: Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes in just one game last season. Love has already thrown three TDs in each of Green Bay’s first two games this year.
On Sunday, the Packers were without star running back Aaron Jones, standout receiver Christian Watson and left tackle David Bakhtiari from the start, then left guard Elgton Jenkins left with a knee injury.
But Love was largely unflappable, completing 14-of-25 passes for 151 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Love’s passer rating was an impressive 113.5.
Through two games, Love has thrown six TD passes, no interceptions and has a 118.8 quarterback rating.
“I thought he was playing really well and I thought he did a lot of great things,” LaFleur said of Love. “I thought he showed great poise, made some off-schedule plays, made the throws when they needed to be made, made great decisions, did a good job taking care of the football, so there was a lot of positives from that. I think that, quite frankly, I wish we would have had more opportunities for him.”
The only downside to Love’s day was that the Packers went scoreless on their final three drives. And with Green Bay trailing, 25-24, in the final minute, Love threw four straight incompletions.
JAYDEN REED: The Packers thought they got a steal when they plucked Reed in the second round of April’s draft. Through two games, no one is arguing.
After an impressive debut in Chicago, Reed caught a pair of touchdown passes Sunday — one from nine yards and the other from 10.
“You can just see the way he carries himself and his maturity level and you can have more complex conversations about running routes or coverages or whatever it is with him, and he can handle that kind of stuff and then adjust,” Packers offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said of Reed. “So yeah, I think the way he’s kind of carried himself so far and just his maturity level’s been good.”
GOAL LINE STAND: Atlanta had a first-and-goal from the Packers’ 1-yard line late in the first quarter.
On first down, Green Bay didn’t bite on Desmond Ridder’s play fake and forced an incompletion. On second down, Packers’ defensive end Kenny Clark blew up Atlanta rookie running back Bijon Robinson for no gain.
On third down, Ridder again ran play action and the Packers stayed home. Ridder wanted tight end Kyle Pitts in the back of the endzone, but Green Bay safety Darnell Savage took him away and forced an incompletion.
Atlanta lined up to go for it on fourth down, but was flagged for a false start. That forced the Falcons to settle for a field goal, which was a huge win for Green Bay.
ROTATING PARTS: Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) was inactive. Pro Bowl left guard Elgton Jenkins left with a knee injury in the second quarter and didn’t return.
The Packers showed, though, that offensive line might be the deepest and most talented position on the roster.
Rasheed Walker and Yosh Nijman rotated at left tackle, while Royce Newman played left guard. For the most part, Green Bay held up well.
Love was sacked just once and the Packers scored on four straight drives in the middle of the game while building a 24-12 lead.
“We just came out swinging and were playing well,” Packers center Josh Myers said. “From an offensive standpoint, yeah, early on we were really moving the ball well, we were playing well.”
THIS AND THAT: Packers coach Matt LaFLeur won a second quarter challenge that gave Green Bay a first-and-goal from the Atlanta 9. One play later, Jayden Reed had a 9-yard touchdown reception from Love. … The Packers netted gains of 44 and 43 yards on deep balls when Atlanta was flagged for pass interference on both plays.
JAIRE ALEXANDER: The Packers made Alexander the NFL’s highest paid cornerback in May, 2022, with a four-year, $84 million contract. That means Alexander makes $1.24 million per game.
Sunday, Alexander should have given Green Bay a refund as he was dreadful throughout.
Atlanta had a third-and-15 from its own 12-yard line early in the second quarter. Falcons wideout Drake London whipped Alexander, though, for a 22-yard reception. While the drive eventually died at the Packers’ 41-yard line, the Packers missed a golden opportunity to get off the field.
Alexander dropped a potential interception midway through the second quarter on a ball thrown right to his hands. If Alexander held on, there were no Falcons in sight and he likely would have had a 59-yard touchdown that would have given Green Bay a 14-3 lead.
“Man, I don’t know,” Alexander said. “Just didn’t catch it. I didn’t even see him throw it. I didn’t see him, but I seen the ball and it was — I should’ve caught it.”
On Atlanta’s next possession, Alexander lowered his head and whiffed on an embarrassing tackle attempt. And on that same drive, London again beat Alexander for a 3-yard TD that pulled the Falcons within 10-9 at halftime.
Finally, on Atlanta’s eventual game-winning drive, London again smoked Alexander for a 24-yard gain on the first play of the march.
A week ago, London didn’t have a catch against Carolina. On Sunday, working against Alexander much of the day, London had six catches for 67 yards and a TD.
“Yeah, I always wanna be perfect and I always wanna be the best and I didn’t display that today,” Alexander said. “So yep, a little frustrated. Nobody’s perfect.”
SNEAK ATTACK: On Green Bay’s second-to-last series, it faced a fourth-and-1 from its own 34.
The Packers lined up to go for it and planned to run a quarterback sneak with Love. Instead, Love barked the wrong command, then was the only who moved.
Love and the Packers were issued a five yard false start penalty and punted.
“Yeah, just messed up the operation with the cadence on that one,” Love said. “Not everybody got the call to get the sneak, so I messed that operation up right there.
“I said the wrong thing so it’s pretty much not a play until I give the live word pretty much and I gave the wrong live word on that one.”
DAVID BAKHTIARI: The Packers’ once great left tackle played in just 12 of 34 games overt the last two seasons. He’s also had four surgeries since tearing his ACL on Dec. 31, 2020.
Bakhtiari played and played well in Green Bay’s Week 1 win at Chicago. But he was back in street clothes Sunday.
Bakhtiari hasn’t practiced since Aug. 30, and the Packers have no idea what to expect from him moving forward.
“I’m not going to get into that,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of Bakhtiari’s status. “We all know this is two years now. I’m not going to get into it. It’s probably going to be like this from here on out.”
GOING BACKWARDS: Green Bay drove to Atlanta’s 28-yard line on its opening drive, but proceeded to go backwards.
Left tackle Rasheed Walker — playing for the injured David Bakhtiari — was hit with a false start penalty sending the Packers back to the 33. Green Bay was then penalized for delay of game, taking the ball back to the 38.
On fourth down, the Packers could have attempted a 55-yard field goal with strong-legged Anders Carlson. Instead, they punted and rookie Daniel Whelan sent his kick into the endzone for a net gain of just 18 yards.
Every element of that stretch was an epic fail. And had the Packers not gone backwards, those potential three points would have been enormous later in the game.
“It was a silly penalty,” LaFleur said of the false start. “You can’t have that. Those are penalties that get you beat, and obviously when you lose a game by one point, that’s one of the critical points of the game.”
THIS AND THAT: Alexander wasn’t the only Packer to drop an interception. Linebacker Quay Walker had a ball thrown right to him, but like Alexander, failed to secure it. … Rashan Gary lost containment on the edge allowing Desmond Ridder to run for a 6-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that pulled the Falcons within 24-19. … Atlanta outgained Green Bay, 212-118, in the first half and had 14 first downs to the Packers’ nine. Overall, the Falcons held a 446-224 edge in total offense and a 27-17 advantage in first downs. … A.J. Dillon had a chance to shine as Green Bay’s lead back. Instead, Dillon was awfully pedestrian and finished with 55 rushing yards on 15 carries (3.7). … Reserve safety Jonathan Owens was hit with a 15-yard facemask penalty early in the fourth quarter. That boneheaded play by Owens gave Atlanta the ball at its 35 instead of the 20.
RUN DEFENSE: If there’s been one constant since Joe Barry was brought to town to coordinate Green Bay’s defense it’s that the Packers struggle to stop the run.
Green Bay ranked 26th against the run last season and allowed a whopping 5.0 yards per carry. The Packers beefed up their defensive line this offseason in hopes of improving their run defense, but that certainly didn’t happen Sunday.
Atlanta ran for 211 yards on 44 carries — an average of 4.7 yards per attempt.
“You guys saw it,” LaFleur said. “They shredded us – consistently.”
Atlanta rookie Bijan Robinson led the way with 124 rushing yards on 19 carries (6.5 average), while Tyler Allgeier (48 yards) and quarterback Desmond Ridder (39) also hurt the Packers at times.
While the Falcons have one of the top rushing offenses in football, Green Bay’s performance against the run was dreadful. And it was a huge reason the Packers let a 24-12 lead get away and eventually lost an extremely winnable game.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. Nothing went right,” cornerback Rasul Douglas said. “Mother (Robinson) was making plays. He just made plays. He’s a good player.
“You gotta tackle him. I think we missed a lot of tackles today. We gave him opportunities to keep running.”
Love and the Packers trailed, 25-24, when they took over at their own 25 with 57 seconds left and no timeouts remaining.
On first down, the Packers lined up four wideouts, Atlanta rushed five, and Love threw wide of Jayden Reed. On second down, the Falcons rushed four and Love was hit as he released the ball. Love was fortunate his flutter-ball wasn’t intercepted. Instead, it landed 20 yards downfield between Romeo Doubs and Reed.
On third down, Love was protected well, but overthrew Doubs, who had gotten behind cornerback Tre Flowers.
“I think the one to Romeo I threw on the sideline I feel like I missed,” Love said. “And the first one to J-Reed just kind of, we weren’t on the same page where he was breaking in and coming out of the route. So, just something we’ve got to look at the film and clean up.”
Then on fourth down, the Packers were penalized for an illegal shift and Love threw incomplete for Samori Toure.
Four passes. Four incompletions.
“Just get a completion,” Love said when asked of how to get better results on the final drive. “Get a completion to get the drive started. That’s what we weren’t able to do right there was get the drive started. Ended up being a fourth-down play and it’s tough, but we’ve got to do a better job getting the drive started.”