Packers Overcome Pivotal Interception Return
by Mike Conklin
December 9, 2013
The fat lady was already warming up by halftime on Sunday, but she was never called to the stage.
The fortunes for the Packers appeared bleak when an unfortunate bounce resulted in a pick-six just before the half. After that play, the momentum was heavily in favor of Atlanta. The season was very much on the brink.
It was not unreasonable to think that such an unlikely series of events would have spelled doom for the Packers. Look no further than what happened another time these two teams played.
When the Packers and Falcons met in the divisional round of the 2010 playoffs, the script started off in a very similar fashion. The teams traded scores throughout the first two quarters. The game was knotted at 14-14 with a minute left in the first half before the Packers scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to James Jones.
At that point the Packers were up by a touchdown, but there was plenty reason to think that the teams would continue to trade scores. Atlanta immediately started another drive successfully, and appeared to be well on their way to picking up some more points before the intermission.
Then came the pick six.
Tramon Williams stepped in front of a Matt Ryan pass and ran 70 yards into the end zone just as time expired.
Just like that, the Falcons were down two scores and were looking at each other with the same puzzled expressions as the Packers players had after that crazy play Sunday afternoon.
In that game in 2010, the Atlanta was never able to regroup and make it a game again.
Interceptions returned for touchdowns often have that effect.
"It definitely has a chance to take some air out of your balloon," said Mike McCarthy after the game.
The Packers only know that too well. Just within the past month, all the air went out of the Packers' proverbial balloon when Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul scored on a similarly shocking play in its own right. It was clear right at the moment it happened that the game had taken a violent swing in one direction. The Giants went on to win rather easily.
This past Sunday, the game had clearly swung in favor of the Falcons after their interception return with 23 seconds remaining before halftime. There were blank expressions from players on the sideline, wondering what just hit them. Jeers cascaded down from the stands. Some fans and pundits even questioned whether the Packers should go ahead and put Scott Tolzien in the game in the third quarter.
Mike McCarthy and the Packers stayed the course. Harking back to the team’s mantra from earlier in the season, they kept calm and carried on.
By the time the dust settled at the end of the game, the Packers had overcome a great deal of adversity and their playoff hopes were still very much alive. Mike McCarthy called it a "character win."
Atlanta may not be an elite team this year, but coming back to win that game was no small feat for the Packers. The team showed tremendous determination, and the defense stepped up in ways that hadn’t been seen for weeks. In the previous five games since Aaron Rodgers had been knocked out of the lineup, the Packers defense had given up 77 points during the second halves of games. Against Atlanta they didn't give up a single point.
If told three months ago that the heroes of a late season game for the Packers this season would include Matt Flynn, Andrew Quarless, and Jarrett Bush, most observers would assume that something must have gone terribly wrong for the Packers this season.
That may be true, but thanks to a gritty second-half performance in the face of difficult circumstances the Packers still have a chance.
After all that has happened the last six weeks, that should be worth something.
Photo Credit: Evan Siegle, Green Bay Press Gazette