Dec 9, 2014 5:19 AM
After big 1st half, Packers hold off Falcons 43-37
The Associated Press
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) It had been a while since an NFC team pushed back against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
The Atlanta Falcons gave the Packers a four-quarter wake-up call on Monday night.
Eddie Lacy ran for a touchdown and caught one of Aaron Rodgers' three TD passes, and Green Bay built a 24-point halftime lead before holding on for a 43-37 victory.
The Packers (10-3) earned their fifth consecutive victory to stay a game up on Detroit in the NFC North. They remained tied with Arizona for the NFC's best record.
But Green Bay had plenty to think about.
Atlanta star receiver Julio Jones shredded the secondary for a career-high 259 yards before leaving with a hip injury in the fourth quarter. Matt Ryan threw for 375 yards and four second-half touchdowns.
"We can't play one half or three quarters or anything like that," Packers defensive end-linebacker Julius Peppers said. "We've got to finish games."
The New York Jets and New England Patriots each stayed within a touchdown of the Packers this season. But the four previous games against NFC foes were all blowouts, effectively over following a first-half Packers onslaught.
This one appeared headed that way, too, after the Packers built a 31-7 halftime lead.
The first play of the third quarter provided a clue that things might turn out differently against Atlanta.
Jones' 79-yard catch-and-run to the Packers 3 on the first play of the third quarter set up a 5-yard touchdown catch by Eric Weems on fourth down. Jones added a 22-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
Ryan's 1-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White with 6:20 left in the fourth quarter trimmed Green Bay's lead to 40-30. Jones didn't come out for Atlanta's failed 2-point conversion attempt.
Atlanta coach Mike Smith said it was difficult to lose Jones late. But the Falcons did damage even with their No. 1 receiver hobbling on the sideline.
The Falcons dropped to 5-8, but remained in a first-place tie with New Orleans in the woeful NFC South.
White found a big bright spot.
"We scored 37 points tonight. If you can't believe in that, then you don't need to be in this locker room we need to cut some people," White said.
Some other takeaways after Green Bay improved to 7-0 at home this season:
HOME COOKING: It may have been challenging in the second half, but in the end the Packers held on and stayed in contention for home-field advantage through the playoffs.
"There's been some ups and downs on both sides of the ball all season," Rodgers said. "But we're really getting this home-field advantage thing going, with the crowd noise, with the footing, with the way we're playing, being really balanced on offense."
Rodgers finished 24 of 36 for 327 yards. His other two touchdown passes went to Jordy Nelson, including a 60-yarder in the fourth quarter.
Rodgers also extended his NFL records to 396 straight attempts and 34 consecutive touchdown passes at home without an interception.
JULIO'S BIG NIGHT: Only the hip injury stopped Jones.
Jones set a career high for receiving yards for a second straight week, after going for 189 yards the previous game against Arizona.
The Falcons didn't offer specifics on the injury afterward. Jones was spotted after the game having trouble walking up a flight of stairs to the locker room.
NOT HIP, EITHER: Lacy also left the game with a bruised hip. Backup running back James Starks took over on the final drive and effectively ended Atlanta's upset hopes with a 41-yard run to the Falcons 6 with 1:37 left.
Lacy said he thought he would be OK, though he was sidelined as a precaution. Asked when the injury occurred, Lacy joked, "Whenever I ran into the two big dudes."
DEFENSIVE WOES: Atlanta's NFL-worst defense sprung leaks early, even with the Falcons seemingly determined not to let the Packers beat them deep.
Rodgers found openings checking down to Lacy and Starks. Lacy finished with 73 yards on 13 carries, while Starks had 75 yards on 10 attempts.
Rodgers also took off five times for 28 yards.
"We gave up the big, explosive run. We did not tackle well across the board," Smith said.
ODDS AND ENDS: Packers coach Mike McCarthy tied Vince Lombardi with 98 career victories, second on the franchise list behind Curly Lambeau (209). ... LB Clay Matthews beat his cousin, left tackle Jake Matthews, to give him 5 1/2 sacks this season. ... S Dwight Lowery had a team-high 13 tackles and a forced fumble for Atlanta.
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