GREEN BAY – The Packers powered through an admittedly "emotional week" with interim head coach Joe Philbin at the helm and came out the other end not only victorious, but looking much more like they were expected to all year.
A 34-20 victory on Sunday over the Falcons at Lambeau Field wasn't as close as the final tally, with the Packers scoring 34 unanswered points after an opening-drive touchdown by Atlanta.
"There was a lot of emotion," Philbin said. "I told the team, and I meant it, I was very proud to be their head coach today. It's not always going to go this way, it's not always going to be 34-7, but it was a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon."
The Packers (5-7-1) certainly needed it after losing five of six games since the bye week and changing head coaches. As to how it came together under the circumstances, take your pick – an early rhythm on offense, 7-of-13 on third down, a defensive touchdown, an energetic start to the second half for the first time in a while, a downtrodden Falcons squad that has now lost five straight…
Whatever the choice, don't overlook the offensive line replacing three injured starters, with Jason Spriggs at right tackle, Justin McCray at right guard and Lucas Patrick at left guard giving quarterback Aaron Rodgers more than a fighting chance to start strong and extend plays later.
"We have a lot of faith in those guys," said Philbin, who credited offensive line coaches James Campen and Jeff Blasko for working "tirelessly" with the somewhat makeshift unit. "Those guys are tough guys. I'm proud of what they did."
Rodgers was sacked four times, but he did scramble three other times for 44 yards, and running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams combined for another 95 rushing yards on 21 attempts, with Jones' 29-yard scoring run in the third quarter putting the exclamation point on the 34 consecutive points.
"They battled really well," Rodgers said of the linemen up front. "They had a good week. We all did. I thought we had a good week of practice, and sometimes that gets thrown around and said … but in all reality this was probably the cleanest, fastest, most efficient week of practice this season. And it doesn't always do this, but thankfully it showed up today in our execution."
Rodgers posted a 103.1 passer rating (21-of-32, 196 yards, two TDs) and broke Tom Brady's record for consecutive passes without an interception in the process. The mark now stands at 368 attempts.
For a sign of how things just went differently for the Packers, look no further than the record-breaking throw, No. 359. It was a 24-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb for the veteran receiver's first score since Week 1. It came, just like his game-winning TD against the Bears three months ago, on third down, which had been the offense's kryptonite for weeks if not months.
"Very refreshing," Rodgers said. "It's things we always talk about, situational football, and being a two-half team."
Green Bay's defense deserves its share of credit too, shutting out the Falcons (4-9) on six consecutive possessions after an opening touchdown drive. The defense benefited from Falcons QB Matt Ryan, on Atlanta's second drive, losing the handle on a third-down throw and losing 16 yards, leading to a missed field goal.
From there, the next five drives produced four punts and cornerback Bashaud Breeland's 22-yard pick-six, which put the Packers up 17-7 midway through the second quarter. A lot of Ryan's numbers (28-of-42, 262 yards, three TDs, 97.5 rating) came after the game was out of reach.
"The defense really set the tone," Philbin said. "They got after them early in the second half."
Philbin also reiterated that whether you're talking about posting 23 first downs and 300 yards on offense, or relegating Julio Jones' eight catches for 106 yards and two TDs to a quiet day, it's "a players' game." Those players then gave him the game ball in the locker room after his debut triumph.
"There's no magic to this game," Philbin said. "I don't know if we did anything magically different than we did before. When the players make more plays, it looks a little better."