ATLANTA – The Packers let a 12-point lead in the second half get away Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, falling to the Falcons 25-24 on a late field goal.
Here are five takeaways from the tough defeat:
1. The fourth-quarter failures were on both sides of the ball.
The Falcons gained 166 yards on 25 plays in the fourth quarter, scoring a touchdown and two field goals to erase the 12-point deficit.
Getting the ball in the fourth quarter twice with the lead (five points, two points) and once while trailing by one, the Packers gained 11 total yards on 10 plays – two three-and-outs and a four-and-out to end it.
"Obviously very disappointing," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "When you don't make the plays and don't play complementary football, and you have mistakes, those get magnified."
The defense was clearly running out of gas, not getting any rest between long possessions, while the offense couldn't move the chains. There was just no shift in momentum once it started going the wrong way.
Green Bay's defense got some red-zone stops throughout the day, but running back Bijan Robinson (124 rushing yards, 48 receiving) and quarterback Desmond Ridder (237 passing yards, 39 rushing) were in command when it counted.
"You guys saw it, they shredded us," LaFleur said. "Consistently."
2. The Packers were severely shorthanded on offense, but that can't be an excuse after playing so well through three quarters.
Receiver Christian Watson (hamstring), running back Aaron Jones (hamstring) and left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) all missed the game, and guard Elgton Jenkins (knee) left due to injury in the first half.
That put the onus on a lot of young players up front and on the perimeter, but QB Jordan Love (113.5 passer rating) was protected well and threw for three TDs – to rookies Jayden Reed (two) and Dontayvion Wicks in building the 24-12 advantage.
"It's tough, not having those guys out there, but it's never an excuse," Love said. "It's always just the next man up. Other guys have to step up, and other guys did, but it sucks not having them."
3. LaFleur and Love wanted to go for it on a crucial fourth-and-short late, but everything went awry.
Leading 24-22 and facing fourth-and-short at their own 34-yard line with just over six minutes left, Love hustled up under center right after AJ Dillon was marked just shy of the first down following a third straight run. Love was looking for the sneak, or perhaps to try to draw the Falcons offside.
"If he thought he could get it on the sneak, then it's on him to check to it," LaFleur said. "I think he did and nobody heard him. It was loud, and it's an unfortunate situation. We were definitely going to call a timeout there and go for it on fourth down."
The timeout never happened, though, because Love did go for the sneak, except he didn't get the snap. The 5-yard procedure penalty forced the Packers to punt, and they were trailing with less than a minute left the next, and last, time they got the ball.
"I just messed up the operation with the cadence on that one," Love said. "Not everybody got the call to get the sneak.
"I said the wrong thing. It's pretty much not a play until I give the live word. I just messed it up."
Check out photos from the Week 2 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023.
4. Other missed opportunities certainly were regretful.
On the first possession of the game, the Packers were in field-goal range, only to take a delay of game and then be forced to punt.
LaFleur called that a "silly penalty" that can "get you beat."
Defensively, cornerback Jaire Alexander and linebacker Quay Walker both dropped interceptions that hit them right in the chest or hands. Alexander's might've gone for a pick-six if he'd caught it.
Given one last chance in the final minute, Love fired four incompletions, and even if a close one to Samori Toure would've counted, it would've been wiped out by an illegal shift penalty.
When it was all said and done, the Packers wound up 3-for-10 on third and fourth downs in the game.
"We hurt ourselves more than anything," Love said. "We lost it for ourselves. We expect to execute in those situations. Up 12 points, we expect to come away with a win. We've got to find a way to get that win."
5. Packers must move on quickly.
The home opener against the Saints is seven days away, and then another home game – against the division rival Lions, who also are 1-1 after an overtime loss at home Sunday – is on deck four days after that.
This is one the Packers know they let get away. They were in command of the game through three quarters, but then it all went wrong.
There's a lot to learn, but not much time to learn it, in order to make it worth something down the road.
"It's never just one thing," LaFleur said. "There's enough blame, if you will, to go to all of us, collectively."