By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Green Bay ends losing streak at three; No. 12 sets NFL interception-less mark
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers ended their losing streak, Aaron Rodgers extended his interception-less streak, and for a week, at least, it’s business as usual at 1265 Lombardi Ave.
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Following ex-head coach Mike McCarthy’s firing last Sunday, Green Bay needed a win and a return to normalcy.
They got both at the expense of the free-falling Falcons.
The Packers’ offense found rhythm, their defense found the end zone and their fans went home happy after Green Bay’s 34-20 victory over Atlanta on a chilly Sunday at Lambeau Field.
For a few hours, anyway, the Packers’ coaching search gave way to the pursuit of victory.
The Falcons (4-9) were the perfect foil.
Green Bay’s sputtering offense finally kicked into gear.
It came in response to Atlanta’s opening-drive touchdown, which saw not one, but two challenge flags thrown by Packers’ interim head coach Joe Philbin.
Both plays were upheld by the officials, leaving the Packers without a challenge during the final 58 minutes.
“I had enough big decisions to make during the course of the day, and I didn’t want to make any more so I got that (the challenges) out of the way,” Philbin joked afterward. “Plus the flag didn’t fit very (well) in my pocket.”
Philbin, who was calling plays for the first time in 21 years, said he planned to do some “challenge” education this week.
“It certainly looks like I need it,” he said with a smile.
It also looked like a change was needed in Green Bay. The vibe was much more upbeat among the players, and Philbin got things going in the right direction offensively.
The Packers’ offense converted 7 of 13 third downs, which was their single-game high since converting 11 third downs in their win over Buffalo. Green Bay had converted just eight of 35 third downs in the previous three games.
Rodgers said the opening drive “felt great.”
“It felt like we were in a great rhythm downfield,” he said.
Rodgers completed 21 of 32 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. His 24-yard touchdown throw to Randall Cobb put the Packers up 27-7 and set the NFL record for most consecutive passes (359) without an interception. It breaks the record set by New England’s Tom Brady of 358 set in 2010-11.
The Packers literally showed some fight, too.
When Rodgers was hit in the back by Falcons cornerback Brian Poole, Green Bay offensive linemen Lucas Patrick and Corey Linsley came to his defense. A mid-field scrum ensued.
“I love it, I really do … I don’t think (the hit) was disrespectful at all, but I do love my guys coming in,” Rodgers told reporters. “Yeah, I think there’s a lot of fight left in this squad. It means a lot as a leader for the guys to jump in and back you up.”
The Packers’ Aaron Jones rushed 17 times for 78 yards and a touchdown. Rodgers also hit Davante Adams for six, which was his NFL-high 11th red zone touchdown reception this season.
Clearly, the Packers’ offense missed Cobb. His 24-yard touchdown catch was vintage Rodgers-to-Cobb and reminded everyone of Cobb’s value. One could argue they need a younger, faster version, I suppose, but either way the need is apparent.
The Packers ran 61 plays, which is an improvement in tempo, and only committed six penalties for 37 yards. They also committed zero turnovers, which was critical on a frigid day.
“Our play speed was a little better, for whatever reason, but I wish I knew the answer because I would have had it that way before,” Philbin said. “We had some momentum, too, which always helps.”
Indeed, Packers cornerback Bashaud Breeland’s interception and 22-yard touchdown return fired up the entire team. It was Green Bay’s first interception in four weeks, the last being Breeland’s pick against Miami.
Now, the Packers (5-7-1) must brace for a chilly reception from the NFC North’s first-place Bears (9-4) next Sunday at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
The Bears pounded the Rams (11-2) on Sunday Night Football to the tune of 15-6. Chicago’s defense relished the victory and spoke of bigger things to come.
They weren’t talking about the Packers’ game, either.
The Bears can do all the talking they like. They earned it.
That doesn’t mean the Packers won’t go into Chicago and come away with a major upset. This will be a critical test for Green Bay’s present and Philbin’s future.
For now, though, Philbin isn’t worried about whether he’ll become the Packers’ next head coach. Even before the Atlanta game, he didn’t want to talk about the long-term future, only the Falcons’ game.
“I’ve been around here before,” Philbin said last week. “I’m a football coach. I love coaching the game. I love being in the team meeting, whether I’m the head coach, the offensive coordinator, the tight end coach. I love walking on the field, the practice field. I still do. This is smart leadership here and they should do whatever is the best thing for the Green Bay Packer organization, and I’m fine with that.
“I’m going to do the best job I possibly can and help our team win this game against Atlanta, period.”
Now it’s on to Chicago, where the Packers and Philbin will try to succeed where the new-age Rams’ offense and “genius” head coach Sean McVay failed.
A victory at Soldier Field just might get NFL fans to take the Packers a bit more serious. It also might get Packers’ fans to take the interim head coach a bit more serious, too.